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    Speaking on condition of anonymity, students in Sociology 510 [at the University of Michigan] also told a student newspaper about a
    confrontation with [Professor David] Goldberg following an examination.  Some students, who felt that the test had been too difficult,
    asked Goldberg why it was so hard.  He told them that he had been trying hard to find out how much different students in the class
    had learned.  'Before Goldberg finished.' the student newspaper reported, 'a student raised his hand with a question.  What right, the
    student wanted to know, did Goldberg feel he had to administer a test that presumed a variance of ability among his students?'  As
    they saw it, his presuming a 'variance of ability' was more evidence of his racist and sexist attitudes.
        -Telling the Truth

If nothing else, Lynne Cheney's tenure as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1986-93) exposed her to all the multifarious delusions and insidious popular trends of the modern academy--postmodernism, multiculturalism, radical feminism, queer theory, Afrocentrism, political correctness, wicca, deconstruction, critical legal studies, critical race theory, dominance theory, and so on, ad nauseum.   In this extended polemic she lays into all of them with a vengeance, and for good measure throws in the degradation of journalism, brought on by the press's abandonment of standards of objectivity and the cheapening of political discourse under Bill Clinton.   She ties them all together and shows how each represents an attack on reality and a refusal to accept the very idea of objective truth.

Drawing on depressingly innumerable examples, she demonstrates the utter ridiculousness of assertions like that of the Afrocentrists, that Greek culture was stolen from black Africa, or of the influential feminist law professor Catharine MacKinnon, that "only 7.8% of women have never been sexually assaulted", or of racial sensitivity trainers, that only whites can be racist, or of extreme egalitarians, that the very act of grading students involves unfair and necessarily prejudiced judgments about them.  This level of detail should suffice to remove any concern that she's attacking a straw man, and is likewise helpful for anyone whose read Frederick Crews's Postmodern Pooh and found his devastating satirical portrayal of various academic disciplines to be improbable.   Sadly, even the most ludicrous views that conservatives attribute to the tenured radicals turn out not to be misquotes or exaggerations but actual philosophies, shared by many and taught to students.

The book is worth reading just for the thoroughness with which Ms Cheney depicts these intellectual pathologies.  Also helpful is the way in which she unifies them as a general assault on truth.  But strangely missing is any effort to discern why this should be.  Her argument that the academic Left is at war with reality and the truth is compelling, but the reader is left wondering what the point of their war is.

This omission is curious because you need only look at what all these theories oppose and at what their adherents say and you can see the purpose quite clearly : they seek to discredit Western Civilization.  Given this context, many of these theories begin to make a lot more sense, because for the most part they accurately portray our culture as an exclusive product of straight, white, male, Western European, democratic, capitalist, Judeo-Christians.   The flaw in their collective theories arises not because they are wrong about this basic assertion, but because they think that this fundamental fact, in and of itself, serves to condemn Western Civilization.  It is unsurprising that groups that had little to do with the creation of this culture would seek to denigrate it and it must be particularly galling to them that this culture is responsible for laying the groundwork upon which most of the progress of their cohorts has occurred--after all, women, people of color, gays, etc., have achieved more in the West than in any country or culture that is dominated by their own kind.  To a significant degree, their critique of our culture should be seen as mere envy.

However, this analysis also points out the genuine danger of taking such a critique seriously, allowing it to go unchallenged, and allowing them to foist it upon our young; it's all well and good for them to chatter about how wonderful an idealized feminist culture would have been or how much more inclusive a world denuded of religion and morality might be or how much fairer a socialist epoch might have been, but the fact remains that such cultures, if they have ever existed, have been buried by Western Civilization.   The reality that they seek to deny is that Western Civilization is the most successful culture that Man has yet created, and not only has it benefited the dead white European males who dominated it in the past, but also the women, people of color, and others to whom it has now granted a full share of power, freedom, and opportunity.

The other problem with their theories, and this Ms Cheney does not get into, is that most proceed from an idealized and naive conception of Man's nature.  They believe in an absolute equality of all mankind which is at odds with human experience.  They assume that variances in ability and achievement must be the result of human oppression and other unnatural factors, rather than a reflection of actual differences.  They would, therefore, impose egalitarianism on society--the equality of results rather than of opportunity--despite the loss of freedom this would entail and despite the dismal track record of societies which have tried this course--see the sorry history of socialism and communism for evidence of the self-destructive legacy of this course of action.  It is here that their denial of reality is the most obvious and the most destructive.

Though there is much to admire in this book, it does not suffice for us to merely deny postmodernist criticism of modernity, we must also celebrate the culture that has given us the affluence and liberty that characterize modernity, even the freedoms which allow people to criticize it.  Ms Cheney does an admirable job on defense, but it is long past time for those of us who value modern civilization to go on the offensive.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

Websites:

See also:

Literary Criticism
Book-related and General Links:
    -BIO : Lynne V. Cheney (Whitehouse.gov)
    -American Council of Trustees and Alumni (Founder)
    -American Enterprise Institute : Lynne V. Cheney : Senior Fellow
    -Independent Women's Forum (Board Member emerita)
    -National Endowment for the Humanities (Chairman 1986-1993)
    -BOOK SUMMARY : Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense--and What We Can Do about It by Lynne V. Cheney (AEI)
    -ESSAY : Politics in the Classroom (Lynne V. Cheney, Excerpted from Telling the Truth)
    -ESSAY : Whole Hog for Whole Math (Lynne V. Cheney, The Wall Street Journal, February 1998)
    -ESSAY : EXAM SCAM : The Latest Education Disaster: Whole Math (Lynne V. Cheney, August 4, 1997, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY : A Failing Grade for Clinton's National Standards (Lynne Cheney, September 29, 1997, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : President Clinton's Mandate for Fuzzy Math (Lynne V. Cheney, June 11, 1997, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : Whose National Standards? (Lynne V. Cheney, Wall Street Journal, April 2, 1997)
    -ESSAY : Calling Henry Higgins : All she wants  to be is a proper  lady but she ain't going to learn it from this professor  (Lynne V. Cheney, Spring 1996, The Women's Quarterly)
    -AUDIO LECTURE : Lynne V. Cheney : Topic: Academic Freedom  (Major Issues Lecture Series, Ashland U, April 1, 1992)
    -PROFILE : THE SPOUSE : The Real Conservative in the Family (ELAINE SCIOLINO, July 26, 2000, NY Times)
    -PROFILE : Lynne Cheney, Policy Assassin (Jonathan Chait, April 1999, American Prospect)
    -PROFILE : Lynne Cheney, Feminist Intellectual? (ELAINE SHOWALTER, September 29, 2000, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    -ESSAY : Schooled (Ryan Lizza, February 2001, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : Slim-Cheney : The wife of George W. Bush's running mate stands up to Eminem at a Senate hearing on Hollywood violence. (Anthony York, Sept. 14, 2000, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Gays blast  Lynne Cheney's denial about her daughter : Friends say Mary Cheney has publicly declared she's gay. Does mom's discomfort mean Mary will campaign from the GOP's closet?  (Dave Cullen and Daryl Lindsey, August 1, 2000, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Real World (Andrew Sullivan, September 2000, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : An Organization on the Lookout for Patriotic Incorrectness (EMILY EAKIN, November 24, 2001, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE : Women's Forum Challenges Feminists, Gains Influence (Richard Morin and Claudia Deane, Washington Post, May 1, 2001)
    -RESPONSE : "The Pursuit of Truth Is Inherently Disruptive and Anti-Authoritarian" (Betty Jean Craige, University of Georgia, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 6, 1993)
    -ARCHIVES : Lynne Cheney (Salon.com)
    -ARCHIVES : "lynne v. cheney" (Find Articles)
    -LINKS : Dr. Lynne V. Cheney (American Patriot Friends Network)
    -REVIEW : of Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense--and What We Can Do About It , by Lynne V. Cheney (Nick Gillespie, Reason)
    -REVIEW : of Telling the Truth. By Lynne V. Cheney (First Things)

GENERAL :
    -Center for Education Reform
    -Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Foundation)
    -Junk Science
    -Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
    -Mathematically Correct : devoted to the concerns raised by parents and scientists about the invasion of our schools by the New-New Math and the need to restore basic skills to math education
    -The National Association of Scholars (NAS) : academic organization dedicated to  the restoration of intellectual substance, individual merit,  and academic freedom in the university
    -National Center for Policy Analysis
    -ESSAY : Goodbye to all that: why Americans are not taught history (Christopher Hitchens, Harper's Magazine, Nov, 1998)
    -ESSAY : 50 States, 50 Standards : The continuing need for national voluntary standard in education (Diane Ravitch, Summer 1996, The Brookings Review)
    -ESSAY :  Historiography and Postmodernism (Christopher Kent, 12/01/99, Canadian Journal of History)
    -ESSAY : Making Room for Moral Questions In the Classroom (Katherine G. Simon, November 7, 2001, Education Week)
    -ESSAY : `Imagined tyranny'? Political correctness reconsidered. (Paul Hollander, Academic Questions, 09-01-1994)
    -INTERVIEW : Hard Lessons : Diane Ravitch argues for a return to academic rigor in our nation's public schools (Atlantic Monthly, November 1, 2000)
    -ESSAY : The New School Wars: How Outcome-Based Education Blew Up (Peter Schrag, December 1995, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : Deconstructing Deconstructionism (Robert Locke, FrontPageMagazine.com | November 28, 2001)
    -ESSAY : The Killing of History : why relativism is wrong  (Keith Windschuttle, September 1996, The New Criterion)
    -REVIEW : of Faded Mosaic: The Emergence of Post-Cultural America. By  Christopher Clausen (Eric Adler, Partisan Review)
    -REVIEW : of Symptoms of Culture by Marjorie Garber (Scott Stossel, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America by Robert Hughes (James Bowman, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW : of The Undoing of Thought by  Alain Finkielkraut (Roger Kimball, New Criterion)

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