Murray: postmodernism, Trump to blame for left's campus anger

Charles Murray spoke about the causes of the recent rise of violent mob protesters during a speech delivered at an Intellectual Takeout gala late last week.

Earlier this year, Middlebury students hijacked Murray’s planned speech by using mob rule, followed him outside of the building to attack his getaway car, and at least one person, Professor Allison Stanger, ended up in the hospital with a concussion.  

Murray opened his speech (which begins at roughly the 17:40 mark in the linked video) by explaining the Middlebury fiasco, and then segued into a discussion about the state of elite higher education. He said the Middlebury debacle was “pretty awful, because it represents the opposite of what a university is supposed to represent.”

He lamented that what happened at Middlebury wasn’t an isolated incident and that those types of protests have begun to spread, not just at his own lectures, but at other speeches, too.

“What is going on there?” he inquired.

Murray theorized that there are two major causes of the recent campus hysteria, “both a proximate reason, and a deeper reason” — the election of Donald Trump, and the tide of postmodernism throughout academe.

The political scientist believes students are projecting their anger about Trump onto him because he’s identified as a “person of the right,” which makes him an easy target.

"The election of Donald Trump aroused a great deal of anger throughout the left, and especially in academia,” said Murray. "If I'm on campus, I'm the way that [students’] anger against Trump's election could be vented,” he said, noting that he “did not run into that kind of protest right up until the election.”

While Trump’s election may be the proximate cause of the recent campus hysteria, he believes the roots of the problem go back many years.

“The deeper reasons I think have to do with something that's been going on for a matter of decades, and it has been led by the faculty. It has been led by the intellectuals. The 20th century saw a kind of intellectual nihilism that went against all of the values that produced the idea of a classical liberal education,” said Murray.

He explained that after the Enlightenment, after people like Darwin, Freud, and Einstein made their mark on the intellectual landscape, a new anti-intellectual force took over academe during the 20th century.

“Postmodernism took the ideas of classical liberal education and stood them on their head,” he said, noting that postmodernism has taken over many academic subjects such as English, to the point that many English majors don’t need to take a course in Shakespeare to graduate unless they are “going to use Shakespeare's texts to prove an obscure point about transgenderism.”

“That's at least my impression of what's going on,” he quipped.

He also argued that the “current academic orthodoxy” creates a situation in which incoming freshmen must “adopt a whole constellation of views which to the rest of the country seem to be completely out of whack with reality,” or risk losing friends.

“I don't know about you, but when I was 18-slash-19, I really wanted to fit in."

Murray believes colleges fail to teach students themes that could inspire them to live a better life.

“Isn't it odd that the university does not make as a central theme of its education in the social sciences and the humanities a central question: what does it mean to live a good life?” he asked. “It should be naturally at the center of things.”

Murray concluded by affirming that parents should teach their children what it means to live a good life and that students should do their best, even when nobody’s watching.

"As we go about our lives, we are in everything we do, carving in the eye of god."

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