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Twilight of the Wonks

Walter Russell Mead
Tablet, Mar. 26, 2024

“A hatred of wonk privilege pervades both the right and the left in American politics today.”

Impostor syndrome isn’t always a voice of unwarranted self-doubt that you should stifle. Sometimes, it is the voice of God telling you to stand down. If, for example, you are an academic with a track record of citation lapses, you might not be the right person to lead a famous university through a critical time. If you are a moral jellyfish whose life is founded on the “go along to get along” principle and who recognizes only the power of the almighty donor, you might not be the right person to serve on the board of an embattled college when the future of civilization is on the line.

And if you are someone who believes that “misgenderment” is a serious offense that demands heavy punishment while calls for the murder of Jews fall into a gray zone, you will likely lead a happier and more useful life if you avoid the public sphere.

The spectacle of the presidents of three important American universities reduced to helpless gibbering in a 2023 congressional hearing may have passed from the news cycle, but it will resonate in American politics and culture for a long time. Admittedly, examination by a grandstanding member of Congress seeking to score political points at your expense is not the most favorable forum for self-expression. Even so, discussing the core mission of their institutions before a national audience is an event that ought to have brought out whatever mental clarity, moral earnestness, and rhetorical skills that three leaders of major American institutions had. My fear is it did exactly that.

The mix of ideas and perceptions swirling through the contemporary American academy is not, intellectually, an impressive product. A peculiar blend of optimistic enlightened positivism (History is with us!) and anti-capitalist, anti-rationalist rage (History is the story of racist, genocidal injustice!) has somehow brought “Death to the Gays” Islamism, “Death to the TERFS” radical identitarianism, and “Jews are Nazis” antisemitism into a partnership on the addled American campus.

… [To read the full article, click here]

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