The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America
reviewed by Michael W. Apple - April 27, 2006
Title: The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America
Author(s): David Horowitz
Publisher: Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington, D.C.
ISBN: 0895260034 , Pages: 450, Year: 2006
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In a recent book of mine, Educating the Right Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality (Apple, 2006), I analyze the growing rightist turn in education and the larger society. One of the key points I make is that there may be elements of good sense as well as bad sense in positions with which we may strongly disagree. These elements of good sense need to be examined carefully if we wish to understand why many people turn to what are even ultra-conservative positions in a time of radical economic, political, and cultural transformations. I have tried to get inside the positions of what I call conservative modernization, a complicated and at times tense alliance made up of neo-liberals, neo-conservatives, authoritarian populist religious conservatives, and the new managerialism of some parts of the professional middle class. I have urged those of us who are justifiably critical of these tendencies to pay close attention to the ways in which the Right uses its power and money in the media and elsewhere to shift the discourse of rights and justice onto its own chosen terrain. Yet throughout all of this, I have tried to maintain a simple methodological principle. Dont look for conspiracies. Instead focus on why many groups find rightist positions increasingly sensible in their daily lives.
This has required that I engage not in name calling and stereotyping, but in a series of empirically, historically, and conceptually detailed and nuanced investigations that take these positions seriously. I am no less critical of these positions, but I believe this stance takes us much closer to understanding how they make sense of the world, why some groups find them compelling at this time, and what we might do to interrupt these processes of sense making. I take it as an ethical obligation as a serious scholar to take the best of ones opponents work seriously and to give it a reading that does justice to its complexities. I am not naive enough to assume that this is the case for everyone, nor for a number of supposed scholars who are paid by rightist foundations and their wealthy sponsors. But, at times, I am amazed at what these foundations will support and how they publish things that are deeply questionable. And this leads me to David Horowitzs The Professors.
This is one of the most difficult reviews I have ever had to write. The problem is not because the volume under review here is complicated or good. Indeed, the very opposite is the case. The Professors may be one of the least thoughtful anda word I have never before used in a book reviewmost noxious books I have read in years. Actually, it is not really a book at all. It is a series of very short (supposedly) biographical vignettes of the most dangerous academics in the United States, wrapped around by two poorly written essays on the lamentable state of the university by David Horowitz. No, the problem is that no matter what I say, those who support Horowitz would undoubtedly say that I am biased and that, as a progressive, I simply cant be trusted to have an opinion on anything that isnt fully tainted by ideologyunlike, of course, their positions, which are based on a vision of pure scholarship unaffected by anything other than the search for truth. One doesnt need to have read such important figures as, say, Wittgenstein or Bourdieu to realize that the conceptual naiveté of such a claim about truth is almost beyond comprehension.
Who are these dangerous professors? Among them are Derrick Bell, Marian Berry, Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill, Michael Eric Dyson, Paul Ehrlich, Richard Falk, Eric Foner, Todd Gitlin, bell hooks, Alison Jaggar, Leonard Jeffries, Robert McChesney, Manning Marable, Orville Schell, Cornel West, Howard Zinn, and the list goes on to include a considerable number of Moslem scholars, women, and others. A few on this list are ones about whom I too have worries. Yet, among the figures included in the book are some of the most distinguished scholars in their fields, individuals whose work in history, law, race and ethnic relations, popular culture, womens studies, and other fields is outstanding. The list is indiscriminate. Fonerone of the finest historians of his generationis equated with Jeffries, someone whose public pronouncements on race were more than a little disturbing. Churchillto whom Horowitz devotes nearly all of his introductory materialbecomes the lens through which all progressive scholars are viewed. If someone such as myself wrote this way, the Right would have a field day.
One can justifiably wonder how and by whom this selection was accomplished. Even with the few pages at the end of the volume that discuss the selection process, what is clear is that the process was incoherent and had little guidance other than a sample based on personal whim and innuendo. But let me be honest here. I did in fact look to see if I was included, but alas I was not. However, since I have been excoriated in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal for being unpatriotic, I guess that I have already had the honor of passing Horowitzs screening test.
But it is not simply individuals who are dangerous. Entire areas are ruled out as unimportant at best or dangerous at worst. Womens Studies and African American Studies can serve as examples. Indeed, nearly anything that is engaged in cross-disciplinary scholarship that focuses on social and cultural issues would in effect be ruled out.
Certain themes dominate. No matter what the United States (or Israeli) government does, serious criticism of it is unjustified. Indeed, such criticism is Marxist, socialist, or unpatriotic. There is no subtlety here. Take the discussion of The Nation, one of the leading journals of opinion in the United States. Rather than supporting serious debate, the author(s) offer the following description: The Nation is an apologist for every communist regime and American military adversary since before the onset of the Cold War (p. 292). Influential books are Marxist tracts. Their authors get six figure salaries, a phrase used over and over again.
Much of the books commentary on the individual professors is not based on an actual reading of the most significant scholarship of the many distinguished figures on the list, but on popular pieces of opinion or on rightist online sites. For a volume that argues that none of the figures they criticize engages in other than ideologically driven commentary masquerading as scholarship, the sloppiness of its own efforts is notable. Furthermore, since Horowitz is the author of only a rather small portion of this text, one must raise questions as well about the qualifications of the researchers he employed to do it. Are they the paragons of neutrality he extols as the ideal? Are they qualified to judge what counts as serious scholarship in all of the fields on which they are asked to comment?
After what Ive said here, the entire project raises an interesting issue. Let us assume that we should be concerned with balance in our major institutions. However, if we should indeed be so deeply concerned about balance in the major institutions of this society, why focus so much of our attention on a few academics in universities? These institutions are much less powerful in guiding the policies of the nation, or in influencing nearly every aspect of everyday life, than is the corporate sector. Because of this, I am tempted to say the following: Let me make a trade. Ill give you more, many more, ultra conservatives on the faculties of our universities, if you will give me 50% of all corporate CEOs and corporate board members. But, of course, Mr. Horowitz would not agree with that.
Let me conclude with what should be obvious from the content of this review. If someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum had produced a book such as this, I would have been utterly embarrassed. Yet, oddly enough, even though what I have written here is one of the most negative reviews I have ever had the occasion to write, I must admit that this is a book that might usefully be examined. It provides a model of what should never be done, no matter what ones ideological or political affiliations or sympathies.
Apple, M. W. (2006). Educating the Right Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality, 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge.