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If a country´s universities are healthy, it is pretty safe to say that country is healthy too. Unfortunately, in most countries (e.g. Mexico) that is not the case. They have an acute case of the malady which afflicted American universities in the 60s.
That malady had permanent effects on the faculty. On the one hand, they became more concerned about their students (and also more frightened of them). On the other they became ideologically committed; that was when the expression "politically correct" was invented.
The result has been turmoil in the once dull academic associations. This is the subject of the feature article in the Jan./Feb. issue of Society, an important social science journal now in its 36th year. The symposium on "Ferment in Professional Associations" opens with a general statement by Jonathan Imber and Irving Horowitz. It mentions the "revolt" among anthropologists which has led to the absurd division into two of Stanford's Anthropology Department.
"Consensus and Fragmentation in the Learned Societies" by Stephen Balch discusses the reaction which led to the creation of the National Association of Scholars. "Discontent in the Historical Profession" by Jerry Muller describes the similar creation of the Historical Society. "Literary Study Right and Left" by Eugene Goodheart tells how the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics was founded. The very title of two articles, "Hijacking the Modern Language Association", by Paul Cantor and Sanford Pinsker respectively, indicates the degree of bitterness among the partisans. The symposium closes with a therapeutic piece, "Restoring American Cultural Institutions" by Jerry Martin.
The symposium does not make encouraging reading for those who like WAIS are concerned with world affairs. Historian Jerry Muller says "One of the most striking contemporary trends in the discipline of history is the marginalization of the history of international relations...and of political history more generally." In all of these pieces there seems to be no mention of geography, which faces a crisis in the United States, but not elsewhere.
The symposium deals almost entirely with the social sciences and the humanities. This would suggest that, while the hard sciences have had their usual fights, the result has not been as divisive. Transaction Publishers, which puts out Society, announces the publication of a symposium The American Academic Profession edited by Stephen R Graubard, Professor Emeritus of History at Brown University. As editor of Daedalus, published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he must cover all of knowledge, and his symposium will contain chapters on the sciences.
Where does knowledge go from here? WAIS Fellow James H. Billington organized at the Library of Congress a symposium entitled "Frontiers of the Mind in the 21st Century" at which some 50 scholars discussed 24 broad areas of knowledge, covering the humanities, the social sciences and the hard sciences. From the viewpoint of WAIS, Pierre Manent's paper was especially significant. While he celebrated democracy's triumph, he said that political philosophy is withering away. This is uncomforably reminiscent of the "We won!" philosophy prevalent among American conservatives. Such complacency has always been dangerous in the past. History marches on.
Ronald Hilton - 07/10/99