Political correctness has found a new champion on our college campuses. Professor Betty Jean Craige of the University of Georgia argued in the Chronicle of Higher Education last January that truth has not been subordinated to political goals in American higher education; students today simply “examine critically long-standing ‘truths’ about race, gender, and our civilization’s past.” Using antipathy to Darwin’s theories as analogy, Craige maintains that “conservative” scholars criticize feminism and multiculturalism for the same parochial reasons they denounced Darwin. “Conservatives fear a vision of human society as a continuously evolving system of interdependent individuals and cultures,” she notes.

Presumably the diversity emerging from this dynamic is anathema to conservatives who, according to Craige, resist change. They resist because change undermines a natural order. “No natural law decrees that whites should be considered superior to blacks or that men should be considered superior to women. Diversity is natural, even desirable.” Ergo, any model of the good, true, and beautiful is suspect. Her Darwinian dynamism is incompatible with a literary canon, indeed incompatible with the ranking of anything, especially culture, race, or gender. As Craige maintains, “humanists are challenging the very possibility of objectivity.”

From the myth of objectivity, Craige draws the conclusion that the pursuit of truth is inherently disruptive. Yet if objectivity doesn’t exist even as a possibility, the pursuit of truth is comparable to the search for phlogiston, a nonexistent ingredient in fire invented by medieval scientists to account for an increase in atomic weight. Why search for what cannot be demonstrated?

In fact, Craige has embraced a truth emerging from her conceptualization of society. “Laying bare patriarchal values in literature, for example, may alert students to patriarchal values in our laws and customs,” she notes. Is that so? Does literature suggest law? What is the evidence for this linkage? Similarly, she contends that “exposing the racial attitudes implicit in Western historians’ accounts of the world may arouse criticism of American foreign policy.” Alas, it may, but such criticism could be ill-advised. Was the American foray into Somalia an expression of deep-seated racist views? Even to pose the question is to expose the absurdity of Craige’s conclusion.

Curiously, it is not most conservatives who adopt a static conception of society, but rather relativists who oppose objectivity—except the truth that they have already uncovered, The pursuit of truth is a tortuous road lined entirely with evidence that is weighed, sifted, and refined. For self-described “cultural holists” (Craige’s unfortunate phrase), truth is evolutionary until one confronts that epiphany, that moment when the blinding formula of revelation is apparent. There the cultural holists see the “truth” of race, gender, class, and multiculturalism.

Every conception, every idea from Plato to Shakespeare, is put through this formulaic scholarly net. If one deviates from the pattern, he is criticized as a conservative hopelessly devoted to a static view of society. If one calls for evidence to justify this conception, he is described as lacking the requisite imagination to appreciate our stage in evolution. If a conservative contends that the literary canon is dynamic, allowing for the addition of books whose universality and human experience touch every reflective student, cultural holists raise the banner of race, class, gender, and multiculturalism.

Yes, the academy must remain a site for vociferous quarrels over what is true. No quarter has a monopoly on its pursuit or acquisition. But it is not the conservative who wants to silence his academic foes; it is the cultural holist who, assuming she has found the cultural Rosetta stone, maintains that all scholars should embrace it. From the emptiness of relativism emerges a peculiar totalitarianism that rejects all views but those in the radical canon. This, I should hastily note, is called “antiauthoritarianism.” Of course, it may be called anything, but its fragrance is distinctly Orwellian and, for those who listen carefully, the drumbeat one hears is of a rigid orthodoxy pounding within ivy walls for recognition.