Posted on | May 1, 2014 | 115 Comments
Some things are predictable to observant students of human nature. There is a Newtonian principle of equal and opposite reactions in social, political and cultural trends. After the radical anti-war protests and bohemian lifestyle experimentation of the 1960s — LSD, campus sit-in demonstrations, psychedelic rock, hippie communes and meditation gurus — a discernible backlash took hold. This was first manifested in politics: Ronald Reagan’s election as governor of California was perhaps the first omen, as his campaign made a clear issue of opposition to student radicalism at the University of California Berkeley. The 1968 election of Richard Nixon, when Democrat Hubert Humphrey was handicapped both by left-wing opposition to the Vietnam War and blue-collar support for the third-party candidacy of George Wallace, was another harbinger of the emerging backlash.
Nixon was re-elected by a landslide in 1972 and, although the subsequent Watergate scandal temporarily derailed the political manifestation of backlash, it was still evident in social and cultural trends. By the mid-1970s, an increased visibility of fundamentalist Christianity — it was Jimmy Carter who made “born again” a universally recognized synonym for evangelical faith — further manifested the rightward shift in culture. Even the disco music trend could be seen as symptomatic of this shift: If it was a hedonistic expression of urban culture, disco also emphasized stylish fashions and a commercial show-biz ethic that was diametrically opposed to the politicized themes of anti-establishment protest that suffused much of the rock scene from the mid-1960s onward. The look made famous by John Travolta in 1977’s Saturday Night Fever — short, carefully styled hair and a flashy white suit — was a stark contrast to the grungy look of mud-covered naked hippies at Woodstock in 1969.
By 1977, kids didn’t want to change the world. They just wanted to boogie down. A couple years later, partly inspired by the nostalgic frat-boy movie Animal House, the “preppy” fashion trend swept college campuses, and suddenly Izod shirts, madras shorts, khaki slacks and Bass Weejuns were all the rage. (Does anybody else remember preppy girls with gold “add-a-bead” necklaces?)
To anyone who had been paying attention to cultural trends during the 1970s, the landslide election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was not really surprising. The average American who pulled the lever for Reagan might have had difficulty articulating what it was they were voting for, by they damned sure knew what they were voting against. It wasn’t just the manifest incompetence of Jimmy Carter’s administration and the political/economic “malaise” that they opposed. From the mid-1960s onward, Americans had felt a growing sense of helpless anger toward the youth counterculture that manifested itself in rock music, drug use, radical protests, and orgiastic sexuality. That counterculture had never really represented the mainstream majority of American youth, but by 1980, young people themselves were as fed up with the counterculture as their parents had been for the past 15 years.
It is too early to say we are witnessing a new youth backlash against the dominant progressivism of the Obama years, but why else would Princeton University freshman Tal Fortgang unload a powerful denunciation of the regnant left-wing campus orthodoxy?
There is a phrase that floats around college campuses, Princeton being no exception, that threatens to strike down opinions without regard for their merits, but rather solely on the basis of the person that voiced them. “Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year. The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. “Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.
I do not accuse those who “check” me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive. . . .
You should read the whole thing, if you haven’t read it already. Fortgang’s resentment of endless lectures about his alleged “privilege” is almost certainly shared by millions of students on today’s hyper-politicized campuses, where critical skepticism toward progressive ideas is streng verboten. Liberal hegemony in academia — Democrats outnumber Republicans on liberal arts faculties by a ratio of at least 4-to-1, and at elite campuses, by far more — means not only that progressive ideas are taken for granted, but that those who challenge such ideas are condemned as hateful extremists.
Empty accusations of “privilege” stem from a progressive worldview that Shelby Steele examined in his 2007 book White Guilt,. Further examination of this worldview can be found in Thomas Sowell’s 1996 book, The Vision of the Anointed. There is already a well-developed intellectual critique of progressivism and identity politics, if only young people were made aware of it. Unfortunately, there are so few conservatives on university faculty now that students are ill-equipped to interrogate the dominant campus culture. Yet there is evidence that many students want access to alternative ideas.