The Humanities and the Culture Wars in the USA: On the "Lamentable Behavior and Pessimism of University Humanists."
The so-called culture wars in the United States, which originated during the Vietnam war era, had lost much of their intensity a few years ago. They appear to be heating up again, however, and the occasion is yet another war. The war in Iraq has brought up the issue of the role and responsibility of the University in general and the Humanities in particular, in terms that are reminiscent of the controversies marking the 1960s. Thus the recent special education issue of the National Review bemoaned the behavior and attitude of scholars in the humanities by exhuming old and familiar arguments concerning the betrayal of the university's educational mission.
The similarity of the arguments should not prevent us from recognizing some fundamental differences between the 1960s and the present time, however. The progressive, even utopian ideas and ideals marking the 1960s brought about radical changes in the humanities. These changes, in turn, were to be the principal motivation for a conservative reaction that, over the years, has attempted to stem the tide of innovation that swept across the campuses of the country. Today, this reactionary ideology finds itself reinforced by a conservative religious movement that is not only vastly popular but has acquired tremendous political power and prestige.
In light of these developments, it becomes crucial for humanists to understand the current socio-political climate in terms of the dangers-as well as the opportunities-this situation presents for the future of the humanities.
Karlis Racevskis (United States)
Professor of French
Department of French and Italian
Ohio State University
Karlis Racevskis holds a PhD in French from Columbia University and teaches French literature and Critical theory at The Ohio State University. His publications include books on Voltaire, Foucault, the Enlightenment, and Postmodernism.
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)