The fall of the Wall; the assertion by former communist leaders that they were engaged in systematic espionage against the United States; revelations provided by the Venona tapes of communist activity in this country; the admission by Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and other leaders that communism did not work; General Volkogonov’s concession that President Reagan was justified in describing the U.S.S.R. as the “Evil Empire”; the collapse of the Soviet economy brought about by decades of neglect and misunderstandings; the incontrovertible evidence of millions murdered during the Stalinist purges; Solzhenitsyn’s dark but accurate depiction of the Gulag; the blunt admission that Potemkin villages were built to dupe Western leaders into believing the Soviet Union was a secular paradise—all of this evidence should have damaged the Marxist mystique that has enthralled the American professoriate, but it has not. Dario Femandez-Morera of Northwestern University explores the reasons behind this monumental denial of the evidence and exposes the necrophiliac tendencies of the American academy.

Marxism is protean, changing constantly in form and appearance for lack of rules or logic to constrain it. Moreover, as Fernandez-Morera points out, truth itself can never be objective in a Marxist sense because it is fashioned by categories (class, race, sex, sexual orientation, geographic identification) and political power.

For the academic deconstructing a text or engaging in semiotics, there is no truth to discover, only social and cultural practice. His remarkable flexibility in this respect invites lies and the projection of raw power. If truth is relative, then lies are to be encouraged, and if the deconstructionist admits that a text has any authority, only he can reveal the hidden power relationship that gives the text its authority. Of course, one might ask who deconstructs the deconstructionist, but that is not a matter Marxists choose to discuss.

For the Marxist, the social construction of truth is situational, and truth itself is “infinitely malleable,” differing in accordance with various histories and cultures. When my university colleagues tell me that truth is relative, I usually tell them to leave my ninth-floor office via the window, not the door. Let us see if they really believe the law of gravity can be defied. Even if the scientific community should agree that the “paradigm” of gravity can be challenged, that does not in any way affect the law of gravity.

Since the Marxist and his ideological cousins contend that truth cannot and does not exist, it should follow for him that there are no lessons to be learned, no research to be pursued. As one American philosophy professor has observed, all research is inevitably political: “Yet we cannot take the idea of unpoliticized humanities any more seriously than our opposite numbers in the clergy can take seriously the idea of a depoliticized church.” Alas, his words reflect the academic trend to politicize everything, including literature and art. A highly regarded Australian political scientist, for instance, has declared the pursuit of truth to be less important than “winning.”

In the midst of academic institutions devoted to intellectual freedom, a rigid orthodoxy has expressed itself in the form of strict ideological controls. So complete is its commitment to the axiom “truth is arbitrary” that any view which challenges the infinite malleability of culture is deemed to be hopelessly retrograde. If a professor maintains that gender is not merely a social construct but a function of biology and histor}’, his view is dismissed as misogynistic.

Even that most feared enemy of Marxism, the scientific method, has been “demythologized,” with versions of social conditioning now in the ascendancy. Much of what passes for environmental science, for example, is a form of Lysenkoism in which the political conditioning of nature is emphasized to the virtual exclusion of universal scientific verities. History has been relativized by an approach that emphasizes political applications determined by time and place over evidence and heuristic technique. “Great Books” are merely the sneering assertion of bourgeois authority. Many humanities instructors see it as their goal to unmask hegemonic intentions, not to teach the universal moral or aesthetic principles that undergird the status of these books.

Professor Fernandez-Morera has done a splendid job of exploring the theoretical Marxist positions that have penetrated conventional approaches to scholarship. Yet his approach, while useful, ignores other powerful ideas that often account for the intellectual degradation described in his treatise. To cite one example, radical egalitarianism, with its obvious Marxist provenance, has a prominent place in higher education. It is true, however, that Freudians for years have denounced stratification based on performance. “Emotional scarring” for those left behind their cohorts is not a concept originally embraced by Marxists.

Dialecticism, rendering the canons of scholarship nugatory, has altered the academy. But it can also be argued that scholarship has been adversely affected by the imposition of puerility, an infantilization of learning that at its core is jejune, yet does not cater to any ideological persuasion. Perhaps television viewing, what Neil Postman calls “amusing ourselves to death,” is the real culprit in the university’s decline; or perhaps it is infantilization that accounts for the susceptibility of faculty members to Marxist and quasi-Marxist ideas in the first place.

The delegitimization of a moral code which can identify guilt and innocence, evil and goodness, envy and generosity in unambiguous ways contributes as well to the relativism Marxist professors promote. Orwellian logic and its non-Marxist equivalents are not merely a function of Marxist relativism; they are related to the breakdown of religious ideals that sustain a moral code. As a colleague of mine once noted, “Never underestimate the importance of ignorance and pleasure-seeking in explaining human behavior.” One doesn’t need Marxist ideology to invite pleasure and attempt to avoid the consequences.

While Fernandez-Morera’s monochromatic interpretation of higher education has its limitations, his book raises issues requiring extraordinary courage to address. If Marxist apologists cannot admit to the murderous forms their ideas have taken, then they are accomplices, witting or unwitting, to communist despotism. Those who do acknowledge their culpability must still be asked how, in the face of mounting evidence, they were able to deny reason.


[American Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas, by Dario Femandez-Morera (Praeger: Westport, CT) 204 pp., $59.95]