The old lament of Ultramontane Catholics is that when the wicked apostates and schismatics destroyed the unity of the Church, Christendom ended up with an ungovernable ‘Babel’ (or ‘babble’) of heretics speaking every tongue under heaven. One true church, on earth as it is on heaven.
No doubt, for many people, accepting this idea requires a certain degree of cognitive dissonance and ‘unbelieving belief.’ So also the Soviet Union. How many people really believed in their heart of hearts, rather than on a more superficial level, that Stalin was the vice-regent of the proletariat upon earth? How many thinking people are willing to accept such notions today? Some, perhaps, will be irrational in this way, and rational enough in their own spheres of excellence. But the idea of an infallible and pristine centre of intellectual and moral knowledge is surely discredited, nonetheless.
The UK academy (I could say also the US academy) is certainly not Stalinistic in character. Regardless of what conspiracy theorists from the reactionary right say, there is not some kind of unified agenda, some sinister plot to infiltrate our institutions and to weaken them, and to eventually overthrow them. The scarecrow of ‘Cultural Marxism’ is a lie, and a bigoted and a hateful lie. But however nonsensical (and indeed cunningly anti-Semitic) such speculations may be, there is something going on; it is just that (surprise surprise!), the reactionary right have given a distorted and highly ideological (read: ‘deeply mystifying’) account of what is happening.
No, the academy is not Stalinistic; in the sense of a monolithic, conspiratorial agenda. I am not even convinced it ever has been. However, I do believe the current academy of the ‘postplex,’ (postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and many others) is heading for a ‘post-Stalinist condition.’ This is not ‘post-’ in the sense of ‘the stage after Stalinism;’ after all, as I have just said, there never was a Stalinistic academy (whether in the economically deterministic Cold War fellow traveller sense, or the sense of the ‘Cultural Marxist’ far right conspiracy theories). On the contrary, I actually mean ‘post-’ in the sense of ‘going beyond the logic of Stalinism.’
In other words, what happens when the Pope is assassinated? The various fragments of his body are cast to the four winds…
Now, as myths from the ancient Egyptian wisdom go, this is as pertinent to our current situation as anything that can be imagined! The partial breakdown of liberalism, Marxism and universalist humanism, or at least the substantial crisis of confidence in such, has certainly not demolished dogmatism. To quote some current technical vocabulary (some might say jargon), the dogmatic power and authority of ideology and of ideologues has become ‘decentred.’ Humanity may or may not be dead; but there are a thousand ‘little humanities.’ Marx may or may not have met a grisly fate; but there are ‘little Marxes’ aplenty. People may be critical of the notion of ‘the national interest’ or ‘the global village,’ but there are a thousand little island nations and sacred spheres who will not permit the slightest sharp corner of criticism, nor any foaming ocean of dissent from the ‘ignorant horde’ surrounding them on all sides.
Ultimately, until there is enough investment of blood, sweat and tears to turn off our seats of learning off this path, the postmodern academy, (or rather, the juvenile post-everything playpen and intellectual hipster kiddy’s kindgarten), is neither a highfaluting aristocratic oligarchy, nor a radical and free-spirited egalitarian democracy. It is a disorderly anarchy, governed by mob rule. And while this ‘anarchy’ is one that preaches collectivism and despises individualism, there is no shortage of ‘clearly differentiated individuals’ standing out from the bestial clay and lifeless mud of ‘the masses.’ Everyone is an authority to themselves; if Bilbo Baggins has had no better fate than ‘escape from goblins to be devoured by wolves,’ academic radicalism (something, oddly enough, of truly radical potential) has evaded the iron sceptre of St Peter, only to be cannibalised (and self-cannibalised) by the barbarous hordes of John Calvin. It seems that any John Servetus or Joan of Arc risks being the casualty of the ruthless and remorseless ideological hipsterism which, not unlike good old Mephisotopheles himself, knows well enough how to make his ‘nay, nay;’ but never his ‘yea, yea!’
Part of the tragedy is that the ‘postplex’ actually has some very valuable ideas. Why not challenge inappropriately rigid views of the character and destiny of women? Why not realise that imperialists mouthing platitudes about ‘the good of Humanity’ are falling into metaphysical cant and pious nostrums? Why not ask serious questions about whether ‘races’ exist, or whether gay people are born or made, or both?
But sadly, the ‘anti-dogmatism’ of the postplex has often risked falling into an ‘anarchistic dogmatism,’ instead of a ‘tyrannical dogmatism.’ Instead of a single ‘Party Line,’ we now have ten thousand times ten thousand little Stalins, and many many thousands of infallible truths; infallible authorities are numerous, but no two such authorities seem to agree.
Some may say this is hyperbole. True, it is an ideal or ‘schematic’ picture, and the reality (fortunate for anyone of character and integrity!) does indeed fall short of what I have said here. But perhaps one ought not to be ashamed of a little pinch of Platonism, in such an Olympic Kosmos of enlightened sophists as this.
In the last instance, it does appear that the Nietzschean Superpersons of the times are as mediocre and conventional, in their own way, as anything Nietzsche ever dreamed of.
So, we’ve already passed through the age of a ‘monolithic’ academy. And now, today, this is what ‘intellectual diversity’ looks like; the mere faux-pluralistic inversion of academic Stalinism.
Well, I guess I fancy a little bit of dialectics…
Nah. Maybe pass on that one!