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IPFS News Link • Political Theory

Niall Ferguson: The Treason Of The Intellectuals

•, by Niall Ferguson

By that point, although Benito Mussolini had been in power in Italy for five years, Adolf Hitler was still six years away from power in Germany and 13 years away from victory over France. But already Benda could see the pernicious role that many European academics were playing in politics. 

Those who were meant to pursue the life of the mind, he wrote, had ushered in "the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds." And those hatreds were already moving from the realm of the ideas into the realm of violence—with results that would be catastrophic for all of Europe.

A century later, American academia has gone in the opposite political direction—leftward instead of rightward—but has ended up in much the same place. The question is whether we—unlike the Germans—can do something about it.

For nearly ten years, rather like Benda, I have marveled at the treason of my fellow intellectuals. I have also witnessed the willingness of trustees, donors, and alumni to tolerate the politicization of American universities by an illiberal coalition of "woke" progressives, adherents of "critical race theory," and apologists for Islamist extremism. 

Throughout that period, friends assured me that I was exaggerating. Who could possibly object to more diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus? In any case, weren't American universities always left-leaning? Were my concerns perhaps just another sign that I was the kind of conservative who had no real future in the academy?

Such arguments fell apart after October 7, as the response of "radical" students and professors to the Hamas atrocities against Israel revealed the realities of contemporary campus life. That hostility to Israeli policy in Gaza regularly slides into antisemitism is now impossible to deny.