The War Against The Intellect by Peter Shaw

by | Apr 7, 2002 | Books

It is the radical thesis of this extraordinary book that rationality is under assault by the academic community.

It is the radical thesis of this extraordinary book that rationality is under assault by the academic community.

The author, a professor in the humanities, maintains that the universities are overtly hostile to reason and to the values associated with reason, e.g., justice, individualism, technological, progress, freedom. In 181 pages, Shaw provides overwhelming documentation of the existence of this war against the intellect and engages in a resolute attack against the attackers.

He shows how this war is escalating—hoy in the 1960s college professors would accept illogical arguments to rationalize some political stand (for example, on the Vietnam War), whereas today they openly denounce logic per se as an instrument of an authoritarian establishment Even those who regard themselves as defenders of traditional Western values, Shaw says, are intimidated into making repeated, fatal concessions to their nominal enemies. Across a variety of disciplines, the author demonstrates the prevailing contempt for reason, civilization, and man. He cites anthropologists who look sympathetically upon the practice of cannibalism while denouncing the “evils” of industrial life (and concocting facts to “prove” the relative happiness of primitive tribes). He presents zoologists who bestow the title of “Most Dangerous Animal in the World” upon man. He writes about historians who believe that “intuition and imagination” are more important to the discovery of truth than “precise definition and traditional procedures of verification.” These positions are not radical departures from the intellectual mainstream; they are the mainstream and are widely shared or tolerated.

Shaw devotes particular attention to literary scholars, whose rampant subjectivism he reveals, and condemns, In horrifying detail. He describes the ideas of the feminist literary critics, for instance, who believe that adherence to any objective principles of literature, such as the value of a plot, perpetuates male power. He offers the views of the deconstructionists, for example, who Insist that literature has no objective status and may legitimately be given any arbitrary interpretation whatsoever.

While Shaw is unable to provide a philosophical validation for what he is defending, and thus cannot offer much advice on how to reverse this malignant trend, his primary purpose is to convince the reader that a deadly war against the intellect is underway—a purpose he unqualifiedly achieves. It is unusual enough that a professor is willing explicitly to uphold reason. But for one to hold a wide range of rational principles and values—from objectivity to individualism, from idgic Americanism—and to want to protect these ideas from the putative scholars would destroy them is a rare exception. This book is highly recommended.

This review is made available by the Ayn Rand Bookstore (formerly Second Renaissance Books)

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The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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