Revolution: Fall 2007
[These articles were first published in Revolution #81, March 11, 2007]
The title of this special supplement of Revolution—WARNING: The Nazification of the American University—is not chosen lightly. A deeply intertwined agenda of right-wing political forces and Christian fascists, which finds concentrated expression at this time in the Bush regime, is working to remold the institutions of higher learning and turn them into active partners of empire, repression, and theocracy (a significant degree of rule by religion).
The scope and scale of this wide-ranging and accelerating attack on dissent and critical thinking in the universities is not widely known or understood. Nor is the vision of society and of the university held by those engineering it. But it is already taking a heavy toll, and moving forward with dangerous determination.
The search for the truth is a crucial part of knowing and changing the world. People need to and can understand how society works and how change comes about. People can learn about different spheres of knowledge, about the sciences and the scientific method. People do not have to cling to superstition, religion, and traditions that obscure the way things really are. People need to understand the world in order to change it. In short, people need to know what’s real and why it matters.
David Horowitz, architect of the conservative Academic Bill of Rights, demands “balance” in what he says is a “left-wing”-dominated academy. “Intelligent design” proponents call for “balance” in “secular” high school science classrooms. Fox News claims that it is restoring “fairness” in a mainstream media dominated by “liberal bias.”
Why are these right-wing forces calling for “balance”? And is balance what intellectual activity should fundamentally be about?
Ward Churchill, tenured Native American studies professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, was invited to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York in January 2005. Suddenly, right-wing forces went into action. They dragged out an essay Churchill had written three years earlier, right after 9/11, that was critical of the U.S. role in the world, and they demanded that Churchill’s speech be canceled. The governor of New York joined in. Right-wing TV and radio figures like Bill O’Reilly and numerous politicians, including the governor of Colorado, demanded Churchill’s firing.
There is a disturbing parallel between what is happening in academia today and the experience of Germany during the Nazi build-up and consolidation of power.
The Nazi movement organized among youth and students; and by the late 1920s, the Nazis had fortified a substantial following among students. At leading universities, these reactionaries were harassing and boycotting progressive and Jewish professors.
The 1993 movie Swing Kids takes place in 1930s Germany when Nazi marches, polkas, and German folk songs were the enforced culture of the Third Reich and membership in the Hitler Youth was near mandatory. Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale play members of the "Swing Kids"--an underground movement of youth who listen to banned jazz. They wear pork pie hats and baggy cool clothes, dance some ferocious jitter-bugging in underground clubs, and sing the lyrics of Harlem hits while spinning vinyl recorded by Black and Jewish musicians, like Count Basie, Artie Shaw, or Bennie Goodman. They frequently get into street fights with Nazi youth and after one of them, a guitarist, gets his hand smashed by a Hitler Youth, he declares he will now play like Django Reinhardt, the extraordinary Roma jazz musician who played with two fingers of his left hand. This was at a time when Roma people (derogatorily referred to as gypsies) were being targeted for persecution by the Nazis. Later, when asked by a Nazi to play a German song, the youth refuses as a matter of principle, saying "there are no more German songs, only Nazi songs."
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