I had no interest in politics during my early adult years, a circumstance for which I am now grateful. Like most Americans, I assumed that “politics” meant electoral contests between hardly-distinguishable parties.
In early adulthood I encountered The Gulag Archipelago and gained a proper appreciation of just how high the stakes of politics could be. Initially, I gravitated toward that combination of anti-Communism and status quo Social Democracy known as neo-conservatism. In the academic bubble I then inhabited, such a stance was viewed as radical.
As a college instructor, I was baffled to receive student essays vehemently maintaining the “equality” of black and white, or singing the heroism of Rosa Parks. My classes were in philosophy and I never mentioned race at all. Clearly, this was the stuff students had been taught to write for their professors before they got to me.
The stridency of their language suggested they were defending an idea under heavy attack. But where was the attack? All I had ever heard anyone say about races is that they were “equal.” If this is all the students wanted to say, what were they getting so worked up about? They wrote as if they were trying to scratch an itch.
I wished to devote my life to learning and scholarship, with no thought of practical application beyond eventually sharing my knowledge with the generation that came after me. Of course, I quickly learned that few of my colleagues shared this elevated, quasi-monastic notion of the scholar’s calling. Some turned out to hold beliefs weirdly similar to the jailors described by Solzhenitsyn; many more did not, but were untroubled by — or afraid of — those who did.
Accordingly, my first practical cause belonged to the realm of academic politics: defending the life of the mind from ideological corruption. I was also fascinated by the sheer power which ideology exercised over many men’s minds, and by how a band of resentful mediocrities armed with little else had infiltrated and virtually subjugated an institution made up of highly intelligent people.
(The Occidental Quarterly, October 1, 2009).