An interesting piece from the NY Times about how the woke ideology of the American college campus is going over in France. The simple answer is not as well as you might imagine. In fact, there’s a lot of resistance to the import of American identity politics and woke ideology, at least among an older generation of French academics.
French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society. “There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities,’’ warned Mr. Macron’s education minister.
Emboldened by these comments, prominent intellectuals have banded together against what they regard as contamination by the out-of-control woke leftism of American campuses and its attendant cancel culture…
The publication this month of a book critical of racial studies by two veteran social scientists, Stéphane Beaud and Gérard Noiriel, fueled criticism from younger scholars — and has received extensive news coverage. Mr. Noiriel has said that race had become a “bulldozer’’ crushing other subjects, adding, in an email, that its academic research in France was questionable because race is not recognized by the government and merely “subjective data.’’
The statement by Macron’s education minister would be widely denounced if it were uttered here, especially on campus. But in France, a group of 100 intellectuals wrote a letter supporting those comments. The letter specifically mentions the need to be honest about the threat of political Islam.
Who could deny the gravity of the situation today in France, especially after the recent Nice attack – a situation which, whatever some people claim, does not spare our universities? Indigenist, racialist and “decolonial” ideologies (transferred from North American campuses) are very present there, fueling a hatred of “whites” and of France…
The reluctance of most universities and associations of university specialists to designate Islamism as responsible for the assassination of Samuel Paty is an illustration of this: their press releases only refer to “obscurantism” or “fanaticism”. “. While wearing the veil – among others symptoms – are multiplying in recent years, it is time to name things and also to become aware of the responsibility, in the current situation, of ideologies that have arisen and spread in the university and beyond. The importation of Anglo-Saxon communitarian ideologies, intellectual conformism, fear and political correctness are a real threat to our universities.
Samuel Paty was the French teacher beheaded in the street by an angry Islamist last October after daring to show his students some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to make a point about French secularism.
Of course there’ some irony in having French academics complain about an ideology on American campuses that originally came from…French academics. Still some of the comments left by NY Times subscribers argue the French are right to worry (though as is always the case, you need to look at the comments being upvoted by readers in general rather than the Times’ staff picks). Here’s the top comment as I write this.
Yes, importing the American political correctness/woke/cancel culture will destroy France. How do I know this? Because it is already destroying the US. It fuels social division, and it distracts from the real problems, which tend to be economic and environmental. Much of the recent scholarship coming from the US, obsessed about race and gender, is completely useless and extremely ideological. It is no wonder that many of the most important books of global interest from recent years, such as Picketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, do not come from the US. US universities are not free environments of vigorous intellectual debate anymore, and the faculty lives under constant fear of uttering the wrong word or phrase, and of being canceled because of their ideas. If a child of mine decided to study social sciences or a humanities field, the US would the last place I would send them to. I’m glad France is standing up against this nonsense. It gives me hope.
The 2nd most upvoted comment has a similar take:
I am sorry to see this toxic ideology infect so many young people. It is not just the post-2016 NYT. Educators are raising our children to view their freedoms as selfish. It is increasingly found in the US public schools and as a NYC public school teacher, it has given me a complete change of heart on school choice policy and vouchers, even if it goes against my own self interest as a teacher. Equality has been replaced with equity, competition replaced with cooperative learning, merit replaced with racism, intellectual rigor replaced with lazy emotional judgements and assimilation replaced with cultural segregation. Please supervise your child’s school curriculum to ensure that it is free of this cultish indoctrination.
And the 3rd most upvoted:
I attended university in the U.S. in the late 90’s and returned to school recently to complete a PhD program. What I found during my recent experience as a university student is that honest debate is no longer possible. Any opinion that deviates from the social justice warrior norm is scorned resulting in an atmosphere of censorship that is oppressive and stifling. I say this as an immigrant raised abroad by progressive academic parents. One professor got reported by a student for asking a question (politely in a non-offensive way) about her identity that was completely relevant to the class discussion. During one class discussion my cohort expressed outrage about the fact that someone asked me where I am from. Apparently this is a “micro aggression” even though I insisted (the supposed victim) that I was not offended by this. I explained that some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had since moving to the US started with this question. My daughter, who currently attends college, was considering majoring in English because she loves to write. One of her professors said that “good writing is a social construct” and most of the class time is spent on discussion. The pendulum has swung so far in the direction of left ideology that academia feels dictatorial. So much so that my original reason for pursuing a Phd -to teach- holds no appeal to me anymore.
I don’t know if France can prevent woke-ism from spreading on their own campuses, my guess is probably not, but they are right to at least try reject it. I wish we saw more of that here from academics.