Did academics finally discover left-wing authoritarianism?

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A team of researchers believe that they have finally found left-wing authoritarianism, long referred to as “the Loch Ness Monster” of social psychology. At least, that’s what they’re claiming. And in the rich tradition of poorly communicated science, instead of an analysis meant to convey the information in the paper to a broader audience, it is first put through an ideological blender.

Here’s the short version: this team of researchers used a different definition of authoritarianism and found that it exists on “both sides.” (Yes, there’s a lot of “both sides” in the article and the popular press articles. That alone might tell you enough…)

The value of exploring definitions

Before I get into the article’s substance, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with exploring how definitions of concepts create biases. In fact, good science relies on thoughtful definitions. However, there is no such thing as a definition without a bias. Definitions are explicitly biased. That’s the point.

Let me show you what I mean: I use the definition of the term “cat” to differentiate between my sweet Lorelei from, say, a Mack truck. My definition, when I’m searching for my cat, biases me to look for small furry things instead of metallic diesel-powered behemoths. Does that mean that Mack trucks are the “Loch Ness Monster” of cats? Because if I changed my definition enough, I could indeed fit them both into the same category of “cat.”

LOOK AT THIS VOID ANGEL

If it isn’t obvious, I’m using hyperbole to make a point. The authors of this flawed study didn’t do anything quite so outrageous but they did make some choices that undermine the findings and study. And the study certainly does not live up to the popular press reporting on it.

Because the vast majority of people will get to this study through the popular press, I’m going to start there and might do a more serious analysis of the journal article itself if there’s interest.

How the popular press talks about this study

Images

The article in The Atlantic, titled “How Experts Overlooked Authoritarians on the Left” is my case study. Right away, we see an attention-grabbing image:

Inside you there are two wolves… (Getty Images/The Atlantic)

The large, bared fangs of an obligate carnivore and its snarling muzzle are in this person’s brain. This is an animal about to attack. So before we read anything at all about the study, we are primed to fear (and thus hate) whatever we read about, because we have been signaled about danger. Now, I’m not opposed to using images to help tell a story. But what story are we telling?

Just for fun, compare this to another Atlantic article about a journalists’ experience of being embedded in the Alt-Right for four years:

Inside you is an obvious bias against the Left… (The Atlantic)

Right, got it. Left-wing authoritarianism is super dangerous and scary–so scary that it took academics 70 years to (maybe) find it. It deserves a scary image!

The Alt-Right, a prominent hate movement in the US, gets an oblique reference to their symbols. The Alt-Right is a major force in our society, with nuanced and monied propaganda machines to recruit more people. They got a President elected, and have a firm grip on the Federal government.

Anyway.

Who wrote the article?

Who wrote the article for the Atlantic? Was it someone trained in reading and interpreting social science–maybe even a social scientist?

No, it was written by a psychiatrist who works for a right-wing think-tank. The think-tank credited as being the seat of neoconservatism. They’re also pals/long time co-authors with one of the authors on this paper. They have a personal stake in this, and we can also infer (to some extent) the politics of the authors of the scholarly article too. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to further the career of someone in a think-tank that I’m ideologically opposed to…

Does this sound like an unbiased source? On top of it all, a psychiatrist is a clinical role and not a research role. They’re more like engineers than scientists. I don’t mean this disparagingly–when I need medical help, I need someone trained to help me!

Psychiatrists are skilled in diagnosing and prescribing medications, not reading and interpreting the nuances of statistics and research methodology. I’m not saying you need a degree to be able to read research papers but since we don’t know the author personally, all we can go on are their credentials and what they write.

So far, we know they are obviously biased and not formally trained in interpreting scientific research. We can’t throw away what they’ve written, but we do need to read it with a healthy dose of skepticism. So, what did they write?

The Atlantic’s analysis of the study

They give a brief overview of the history of study of authoritarianism, claiming that it’s unfairly biased to pick on people on the right. Satel (the author of The Atlantic piece) specifically name drops a scholar named Adorno.

“In the 1950 book The Authoritarian Personality, […] the German-born scholar Theodor W. Adorno and three other psychologists measured people along dimensions such as conformity to societal norms, rigid thinking, and sexual repression.”

– Satel

Why do we need to know Adorno was born in Germany? Why do we need to know HIS name and not the others’? These are allusions to tired right-wing talking points: Adorno is the boogeyman, and he was German and alive during WWII and the Nazis were socialists (just so we’re clear: they most definitely were not), blah blah blah. It’s a canard to “The Frankfurt School.” You know, the conspiracy theory about how “the Jews” via the Frankfurt School pushed their “postmodern cultural Marxism” to control the world. Think of it as an easter egg for neonazis. So, we’re off to a good start.

But note the dimensions: conformity to social norms, rigid thinking, and sexual repression. Sounds like typical right-wing talking points. They’re proud of their conformity, their rigid thinking, and sexual repression. There are a lot of other dimensions that Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford identified but they did indeed include the ones Satel mentioned.

What is the original conceptualization of “authoritarianism”?

Here’s what was actually examined in The Authoritarian Personality:

  • Conventionalism: Adherence to conventional values.
  • Authoritarian Submission: Towards in-group authority figures.
  • Authoritarian Aggression: Against people who violate conventional values.
  • Anti-Intraception: Opposition to subjectivity and imagination.
  • Superstition and Stereotypy: Belief in individual fate; thinking in rigid categories.
  • Power and Toughness: Concerned with submission and domination; assertion of strength.
  • Destructiveness and Cynicism: hostility against human nature.
  • Projectivity: Perception of the world as dangerous; tendency to project unconscious impulses.
  • Sex: Overly concerned with modern sexual practices.

(Thank you, wikipedia, for that handy bulleted list.)

The researchers also discuss the relationship between the above list of things with anti-semitism, ethnocentrism, and conservatism. Spoiler alert: they’re ALL highly correlated. People prone to the exhibit high amounts of the above dimensions are also very likely to be anti-semitic, ethnocentric, and conservative.

This, of course, is very upsetting to conservatives who refuse to acknowledge the consequences and implications of their belief systems. It’s also not perfect research, and the researchers had their own biases and ideas. But in short, they are saying that people that score high on these measures are the kinds of people that are also likely to vehemently support fascists like Donald J Trump or Joe Biden.

Drowning in false equivalency

“The Trump era likely deepened psychology’s conventional wisdom that authoritarians are almost always conservatives; the insurrection at the Capitol earlier this year showed the urgency of understanding the phenomenon. And yet calls to de-platform controversial speakers and online campaigns to get people fired for heterodox views suggest that a commitment to open democratic norms is eroding, at least in some quarters, on the left.”

– Satel

An armed group of people storming the Capitol with clear intention to kill or at least capture elected officials is the same thing as people not wanting to listen to someone spreading obvious lies. Great take on that one!

Satel paints a quaint picture, too. Getting people fired for heterodox views is a funny way to put it when the views in question are, say, “we should run over protestors with our cars,” or “women are biologically inferior to men,” or “trans people are all pedophiles and sex pests.” Not every view deserves a platform, and it’s awfully funny to see how upset conservatives get when The Free Market doesn’t reward them. No one’s buying what these people are selling.

Dogma over analysis

Satel repeats the tired old line here, about universities being “far to the left,” which is something I’ve written about already and you can read here. Universities are run by conservatives, and staffed by conservative faculty, carry out conservative agendas in pursuit of conservative goals. True, many faculty in some departments will Vote Blue No Matter Who. That means they support candidates that do the exact same terrible things the Bad Orange Man did, but also do it more. Is conservatism defined purely by the color-coding on the candidate? I don’t think so, but this is what Satel seems to be purporting.

Scholars who personally support the left’s social vision—such as redistributing income, countering racism, and more—may simply be slow to identify authoritarianism among people with similar goals.

– Satel, emphasis added. Always interesting when conservatives tell on themselves.

Enough table-setting, what does the new research say?

Costello and his colleagues [authors of the new research] started fresh. They developed what eventually became a list of 39 statements capturing sentiments such as “We need to replace the established order by any means necessary” and “I should have the right not to be exposed to offensive views.” Subjects were asked to score the statements on a scale of 1 to 7.

– Satel

These sound like radical statements! And to a degree, they are. Replacing the established order of fascism/capitalism is crucial to the survival of humanity. A case in point is the struggle to combat climate change. We might already be past the tipping point, too, because of the failures of capitalism despite the incalculable amount of work put in by activists historically and presently.

Self-Defense

Our society enshrines the right of self-defense, which means it’s legally acceptable to even kill someone if they’re a real threat to you. (In practice, it often means it’s legal for people with power to kill whomever they want of lesser power, as long as they can come up with a half-assed cover story.)

If we’re allowed to protect ourselves… what’s so wrong about the desire to protect ourselves? It’s radical, sure, but it’s not without reason. By removing these beliefs from context, they appear to be just as irrational as people that think we need to “preserve the white race.”

I find Satel’s analysis offensive

What are these offensive views that “The Left” wants protection from? Are they things like “Wow, I’m so glad that Chris Pratt is going to play Mario,” or are they more like “[incoherent transphobic drivel]”? The latter is dangerous. That’s the kind of offensive views I don’t want to hear. It’s not because they’re offensive, it’s because they’re violent and false.

The authoritarianism is coming from inside the house

Furthermore, Satel conveniently ignores all of the illiberal and authoritarian ideals within neoconservatism. Controlling what people do with their bodies is not very freedom-loving, for example, and it is a consistent interest of neoconservatives: the war on drugs, the war on women and reproductive rights, and the systematic/systemic oppression of Black and other people of color.

Surely there’s more to it…?

Other measures include:

  • “Getting rid of inequality is more important than protecting the so-called ‘right’ to free speech.” (Labeled as “top-down censorship” be the researchers, and interesting leap in logic.)
  • “If I could remake society, I would put people who currently have the most privilege at the bottom.” (Again, shaky phrasing here. Feels like a gotcha. It is coded in a way to allow conservatives to connect “privilege” to “white privilege” and there we have it: evidence that The Left hates white people; when the respondent may be talking about wealth, political power, etc.)
  • “I cannot imagine myself becoming friends with a political conservative.” (Labeled as “anti-conventionalism,” another interesting leap without any consideration as to why that might be. Satel and the authors’ presumption is that conservative viewpoints are inherently valid by virtue of being conservative.)

By measuring things this way, without paying any attention to the why is how the researchers and Satel create misleading narratives. I would have a hard time being friends with someone that hates who I am or thinks we need a white ethno-state, for example. That’s not exactly “anti-conventionalism.”

Who owns convention in the 21st century?

This also shows how conservatives believe they are the true vanguards of our society and convention. They’ve got The Truth and we don’t. There’s a rich tradition in America of defying convention. In fact, that’s where neoconservatism comes from.

Neoconservatives defied the conventions of conservatives that came before them to set new standards (while pretending their new standards are very old). George Bush Senior went on record to support abortion rights, for example, when he was a senator. (His father, however, tried to do a fascist coup in America. Oops!) This was before Nixon realized he could galvanize the base with the issue.

So, who exactly “owns” conventionalism? Maybe no one party or ideology does, since they all have their own conventions. America is not, and never has been, a monolith. Except maybe about capitalism. But of course, that’s not what they’re talking about here. Mustn’t question capitalism!

So what are the actual findings?

The authoritarian mentality, whether on the far left or far right, the authors conclude, exerts “powerful pressures to maintain discipline among members, advocate aggressive and censorious means of stifling opposition, [and] believe in top-down absolutist leadership.”

– Satel

But what is their opposition trying to do? You can’t just claim these are equivalent without examining that. And pointing a finger at the left’s attempts at self-defense while ignoring whom or from what they’re defending against is just bad faith.

At the very least, Satel is honest enough to acknowledge that left-wing authoritarianism is not prevalent in the US (while right-wing authoritarianism is), and right-wing authoritarianism is far more dangerous. Credit where credit is due, I suppose.

What is to be done?

Satel has a very helpful idea:

If academic psychology had more viewpoint diversity, the political biases that distort researchers’ work would all counterbalance one another.

– Satel

Ah yes, if we just get more ethno-state fascists into psychology, that’ll help things.

More scholars producing half-assed ideological hitjobs like the one discussed here would not improve the state of discourse. It’s like saying we need a debate about race in America between Dr. Cornell West and David Duke to really get the full picture. For people that decry the ills of postmodernity, they sure love postmodernity. Truth? Reality? Reason? Who cares! As long as we believe it hard enough, it’s true and real.

I’m exhausted

There’s more I could talk about in Satel’s article in The Atlantic but my brain is melting. Did researchers find left-wing authoritarianism? Sure, if you accept their fundamentally changed the definition of authoritarianism that removes any and all context.

I’ll leave you with this nugget:

[E]ducation has become ever more highly correlated with political ideology.

– Satel

Sometimes they say the quiet part out loud.

And this is why we need major reform in education, to make it more accessible. Education (and I don’t mean specifically through universities) is our only known tool to de-radicalize people and reduce hate.

The big lie about Academia

The big lie about Academia

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You’ve heard this lie before, though there are a few iterations on it: Academia is run by liberals/leftists/Marxists/”postmodern cultural neo-Marxists.” I had to put the last on in scare quotes and I’ll get into why later. The evidence provided is often vaguely convincing if you don’t think about it at all, or if it serves to reinforce pre-existing beliefs. It’s also a ubiquitous lie, told by people all over the spectrum of the American political landscape, which is mostly populated by right-of-center to far-right ideologies.

Contextualizing American politics

But before we get to the important stuff, I need to talk about definitions a bit, because so many words have different meanings. First, let’s discuss political alignment. In the context of American politics, we often label our right-of-center authoritarian party as “liberals” because they are to the south and left of our far-right and rabidly authoritarian party of “conservatives.” In American political discourse, we use these terms as relative positional indicators, not absolute position indicators. Relative to Republicans, Democrats are left/liberal. But when we consider what these words mean and imply, we quickly discover that the Democrats are not left at all, even if some members do hover around the center, and maybe a couple even inch to the left. Our “radical leftist” politicians wouldn’t be suited for left-leaning parties elsewhere in the world, because they’re far too moderate, and most often have more in common with centrist parties.

Even the home of America’s vaguely socialist grandpa, Bernie Sanders, is still in the Authoritarian / Right category

The image above is sourced from The Political Compass. Vermont, under Bernie Sanders, is as far to the left as I could find in this dataset. Supposed liberal bastions like California and New York are thoroughly to the right and squarely in authoritarian territory, and of course Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky is way out there. It’s worth noting that I’m not cherry-picking Kentucky, this was a readability choice. See below for what I’m talking about.

See what I mean?

You can see exactly what states I selected to make this version here, but my logic was to include every state in the dataset that had two Republican senators. Not a lot of diversity in the party of open markets and free speech, oddly enough.

While there is a measurable difference between parties, it’s more like the measurable differences between dog breeds: surface-level differences that can appear profound (consider the humble mastiff and the mighty chihuahua, for example), but in actuality they’re one and the same in every way that actually counts. These mostly cosmetic differences can appear exaggerated, too, when they’re all we know.

Examining the claim

Other than in your schools of business, economics, and other extra-miserable places (that, it should be noted, hold disproportionate amounts of sway over the academy because they tend to be the money makers for the school), it is true that most professors are registered Democrats. In some departments, even radically disproportionately Democrats. This is often the crux of the claims regarding who runs academia, if any evidence is presented at all. But, as we’ve just established above, this means that professors (as a group) are right-wing authoritarians of various flavors that range from extreme to mild.

“But what if professors harbor personal views that are different than the candidates they vote for? What if they’re being strategic and voting for viable candidates?”

Absolutely, I think (and know from experiences) that some professors do that. But this is not the action of a radical; supporting and voting for a candidate that fundamentally opposes their supposed interests. This is the action of someone who prides themselves as being pragmatic about not effecting any change while enjoying a sense of moral superiority. Insufferable? Yes. Radical? No.

But this is all a red-herring anyway, because professors have little, if any, say in how academia is run, its policies, and its goals. That power is held by administrators, Presidents, whatever the hell a “Chancellor” is, and the shadowy “Board of Trustees.” The latter is a group of CEOs, politicians, and the mega-rich; not exactly a collection known for liberal or even compassionate ideologies. And University administrators are keen to disrupt any enclaves of leftists that may form.

Case study: a history of Communication departments at IU

In the olden days, there was one big communication department at Indiana University, with scientists, media production-types, and cultural scholars working side-by-side. They didn’t get along, and I have sympathies for all groups in this conflict. So, the department splintered, leaving the scientists and media production in one department, and the cultural scholars partitioned off in another. This split brought peace; allowing the social scientists to grope in the dark, totally disconnected from humanity and meaning-making; and it allowed the cultural scholars a chance to retreat from even attempting to communicate with society writ-large, and far more time to hole up in their ivory dungeon to write needlessly complex texts.

The cultural scholars, as a group, were far more left-leaning than run-of-the-mill Democrats, and they collected others like them in their new department and created a space for leftist scholars. Years later, then-President “I need a body guard with me at all times because I live in a fantasy land where I’m very special” McRobbie unilaterally decided to recombine these departments, along with the lucrative school of Journalism, to form The Media School.

Curiously, when these three departments were combined, all of the Journalism faculty were brought to the Media School, along with all of the social scientists and media production faculty. But, gosh, it’s the darnedest thing but somehow not all of the Communication and Culture faculty qualified to be part of The Media School, despite all of them studying media and communication. The whole point of The Media School was, supposedly, to consolidate everyone that studied media and communication together. Some were cut loose entirely, others where pushed into departments far from the limelight of the shiny new Media School, forced to toil in obscurity in a department that they don’t fit into. In other words, all of the authoritarian-right professoriate were combined, and the ones that leaned left were scattered to the winds. Many ended up leaving IU all together.

I’m not saying I think The Media School was created specifically to disrupt a leftist space on campus. No, the creation of The Media School was simply motivated by money and power: the old communications departments were under the College of Arts and Sciences. The lucrative Journalism department was its own school, meaning it had far greater autonomy and control. McRobbie’s move infused money into the beleaguered College of Arts and Sciences, a basic book-keeping shell game that addresses nothing but makes for some nice press releases. And perhaps more importantly, it removed a Dean of the School of Journalism that had power more or less equivalent to the Dean that oversees the whole College of Arts and Sciences, and replaced them with a Dean-in-name-only of The Media School, who served under the College of Arts and Sciences Dean.

This newly formed school-that’s-actually-a-department did not need friction, it needed compliance. It needed a very small man to be its new Dean, who was pleased with bullying the people under him instead of pushing upwards. A stooge, if you will. And to that end, McRobbie’s formation of The Media School was wildly successful: his shell game made the numbers of the College of Arts and Sciences look better after absorbing Journalism, he further eroded the tenuous amount of political power of the faculty, and he got to chase out anyone that might cause too much trouble for him.

McRobbie may well be a Democrat, I don’t know. But suffice to say that his actions at IU are in no way identifiable as furthering the even the basic goals of left-leaning politics. IU doesn’t even have a faculty union. Graduate workers, thanks to the hard work of a dedicated team, are closer to having a union than faculty. Instead, IU under McRobbie’s paranoid guidance has become a technocrat’s dream. IU truly has a fantastic technology infrastructure, and McRobbie oversaw the building of it. It’s paid dividends back to IU, too, through lucrative military industrial contracts that keep pouring in. Unless “helping the military murder brown people for oil and lithium” is somehow now a liberal or leftist goal, we’re pretty far removed from anything that even most Democrats support, or at least the closer-to-the-center Democrats.

But what about the LGBTQ+ centers, the free condoms, and other social programs?

I don’t know how to explain this, other than saying that putting a rainbow sticker on something doesn’t make it “leftist.” It’s more like a veneer of social awareness and compassion. It’s true that universities such as IU do have more robust social programs than most places in America, but they also perpetuate policies and programs that run counter to those social programs. They are their own antagonistic force here, putting on a show so that the students hopefully stay distracted.

Let me put it this way: a student can go to campus and get access to very basic and underfunded mental health resources, many of them for the first time in their lives. This is a good thing, even if the program is ultimately inadequate. Then, the student can go to class where the professor can espouse any number of obviously hateful and false things. The student must appease this professor to pass the professor’s class. God forbid the student is of an identity that the professor openly despises. And if the students complain enough to get university administrators to take notice, the “punishment” that this professor is given is being placed on paid vacation. The Provost that commented on this matter claimed their hands were tied! It’s so odd that conservative professors get put on vacation for saying racist lies, but universities have no problem finding ways to humiliate moderates for reporting factual information about racism.

Aside from classwork, many students struggle to make ends meet or even feed themselves. A big part of this is the cost of rent, since students have the opportunity to go to college on credit and let their future selves deal with that mess. But why is rent so high? Why, it’s the policies and structure of IU and its relation to Bloomington, the town it is situated in.

IU works hard to attract wealthy students, because wealthy students pay more for college than poor students. And the parasitic leeches that offer no benefit to society; sorry, I mean “landlords;” are pleased by this arrangement, and price rents and build units to attract those wealthy students. It’s not at all uncommon to pay around $1500 a month for a one bedroom in Bloomington. Why does this matter? Because poverty is a leading cause of mental health issues.

The university makes it possible for students to pay for basic mental health to support students struggling to cope with attending the university. Logically, wouldn’t it be better to make the university less of a miserable place? Of course! An eighth of prevention is worth an ounce of treatment, as the saying goes. The problem is that addressing the issues themselves means changing how the university operates, which threatens its goals, such as self-enrichment for the administrators that make nearly-or-greater-than a million dollars a year to write documents like this one, full of errors (if we’re being charitable) and flaws in logic so plentiful that if an undergrad had written it for a 200-level class, they would probably not get the grade they’d hoped for.

And on top of it all, those social programs are funded directly from student fees and tuition. So while using that money to create programs that benefit students is desirable, IU has no proverbial skin in this game. If enrollment drops, so does the funding for these programs. Furthermore, because of the funding model, IU is not incentivized to spend this money efficiently. Instead, they are incentivized to spend all of the money they receive, regardless of the necessity. You truly haven’t seen rows of perfectly maintained racquetball courts (19 year olds love the 80s fad sport of racquetball!) until you’ve been to a university rec center, full of student workers that can’t afford more than instant ramen for dinner.

Ok, but what about these Marxists?

I’m sure they exist somewhere in the university faculty, but I haven’t met any in any of the 4-7 departments that I spend time in (depending on how you define departments). To complicate things, “Marxist” doesn’t mean what grown men wearing bowties on TV seem to think it means. Marx (and Engles, but no one ever evokes him in their disparaging rants) revolutionized economics because he dared to consider the human component of economy.

Lithium, a resource that Elon Musk thinks we should do a coup for whenever we want, doesn’t do anything. Lithium is an element in the ground. To be able to do anything with it, human beings must do work to extract it, purify it, maybe do a little overthrowing of democratically elected governments, and so much more, before it becomes a battery that runs your phone, laptop, or car. It is because of this, Marx argues, that labor is the true fundamental resource of any economy. Tools and resources don’t do work, people do work with tools and resources.

Marx and Engles also observed prior attempts at communal living, such as the one in Paris that lasted a little while before the army rolled through and killed everyone for having the audacity to work for each other instead of making bosses and aristocrats rich. They claimed that anyone that isn’t an aristocrat or oligarch needs to band together, because there is strength in numbers, and workers could resist and even gain control of the very systems originally meant to keep the workers in line, and turn them against the aristocracy. Back in their day, the military couldn’t simply kill everyone instantly and anonymously with drones like they can now. Times have changed.

The reason I’m going through this explanation is to illustrate two points: there’s nothing really that exciting or radical in Marx and Engles writing; they wrote it a long time ago and it’s hard to disagree with, at least the economics part. The other point is that when people say “Marxist” or “communist” or “socialist,” most of the time they mean “boogeyman.” It’s just a label that means “thing I don’t like.” Even more funny, in the I’m-lauging-so-I-don’t-cry-instead way, often times pop critiques of supposed Marxism are really direct results of capitalism. (Scroll that linked thread for examples.)

So in other words, are there some professors in academia that agree that labor is the fundamental resource of any economy? Yes, at least a few. So what, people are upset that some professors (not in right wing enclaves like economics departments, funnily enough!) recognize that labor is what makes things, or at least labor makes the machines that make things? Or are they maybe just lying, because conservatives see their children leave their tightly controlled home environment and meet a more diverse group of people, and they learn things that make them realize their parents had lied to them. It might be that latter part, I think.

Well what about all those leftist-cultural-postmodern-neo-Marxists?

Jordan Peterson, a major star in the alt-right, decries this group all the time. When asked to simply identify one example of who he’s talking about, he couldn’t. That might be enough to convince you.

Žižek asked Peterson to name him personal names of “postmodern neo-Marxists” in Western academia and from where he got the statistical numbers because according to him the over-the-top political correctness is opposed to Marxism, on which Peterson did not mention any names.

Wiki article on the “debate” between two supposed titans

It’s not just that Peterson was famously unprepared for the “debate,” it’s also that they don’t exist. Let’s start here: postmodernism is a critique of modernism; they are antithetical. It’s like trying to have a hot ice cream cone; the two things literally cannot go together, because one undoes the other. Marxism is absolutely a hallmark of modernist thought, it cannot survive postmodernist analysis because postmodernism is about deconstructing anything and everything, and Marxism requires a whole hell of a lot of structure.

And as we peel the layers back, we find that this is just a new costume for a very, very old conspiracy theory: that “the Jews” control the world. No really, I’m serious. Ask someone lamenting about these leftist postmodern cultural neo-Marxists, ask them to explain what that is and where it comes from. Inevitably, they’ll point back to The Frankfurt School as the originators of Neo-Marxist thought. This was a real group of scholars; ranging from the thoughtful, to the the provocative, to the downright annoying. Most of them write in needlessly complicated prose to say very silly things, like Adorno’s infamously stupid take on music. So, why do the alt-right thought leaders of today care about very dead and largely irrelevant scholars such as these?

Well, dear reader, it’s because several of the members of The Frankfurt School, while engaging in their masturbatory writing about social criticisms (how dare they challenge the status quo!), did so while being Jewish. See, there’s this utterly fabricated book that claims that “the Jews” are working together in a coordinated fashion to control the world. And here’s a group of Jewish scholars in The Frankfurt School, questioning authority. That’s the connection. They’re supposedly “evidence” to support the claims of this book, as if professors writing obscure texts have any means to actually produce change.

This is only the beginning

In this post, I aimed to debunk the big lie, but there is so so much more to consider, like how state legislatures (overwhelmingly controlled by far-right wing politicians) shape the policies that determine how the university can function, or the role of the Board of Trustees at a university, and more. People far more thoughtful, well-read, and well-spoken than I have written on this topic, too, and I encourage you to read them.

You may be unaware, but Teen Vogue has recently become a real powerhouse in thoughtful analysis. Check out this article by Asheesh Kapoor Siddique, explaining more depth about the power structure of the university.

Michael Parenti delves into the sham that is the University Board of Trustees in Contrary Notions.

John Warner provides another case study of a different university, UNC Chapel Hill.

Marshall Steinbaum’s article for Boston Review demonstrates how the university serves conservative interests.

A team of academics, lead by Gildersleeve, analyze how conservatives have reshaped higher education.