Of all the strange bedfellows that politics attracts, one of the oddest is the enduring liaison between the black civil-rights establishment and white liberal academics. One partner—the academic auxiliary—is most dutiful. It is always there: demanding legislation, concocting dubious constitutional interpretations, justifying quotas, or consoling struggling minority students. Criticizing the civil-rights establishment’s agenda invites the anger of a swarm of outraged white professors. By contrast, the civil rights establishment takes academics for granted.

What explains this enduring bond, especially given its one-sided character? Imagine if white academics treated blacks as indifferently as they now treat labor unions. Racial-preference ideology would degenerate into simplistic demands for “a piece of the action.” The entire elaborate legal edifice would almost vanish. Black political clout depends on thousands of vocal, energetic, quick-to-mobilize, university-entrenched allies.

Narrow financial self-interest cannot explain the bond. No personal gain comes to white academics who embrace the racial party line. Indeed, endorsement subverts selfish monetary advancement. Lucrative minority faculty appointments, separate “black studies” programs, and race-based channeling of research funds impose costs, not benefits, on white academics.

What about cultural affinity? Have white liberal faculty and blacks, like fundamentalist Christians and ultra-Orthodox Jews, built a brotherhood resting upon shared values? While such affinity might explain other odd political unions, the opposite is true here. How many white liberal academics voluntarily socialize with blacks? It is hard to imagine two more divergent cultures. When white liberal defenders put their sympathetic ideological spins on black underclass disorders, this does not flow from personal sympathy: Most white university types undoubtedly loathe the lifestyle of the underclass. Underclass blacks are defended in spite of their culture, not because of it.

What about noble, altruistic compassion? White liberal professors are keenly sympathetic to suffering groups, and who has endured more grief than American blacks? This explanation is only superficially true. The “compassion” dispensed by the academic-review committee is highly selective. Compare how blacks are regarded in contrast to lower-class “white trash.” Measured by educational attainment, employment, health-care access, housing, and similar indicators, lower-class white Americans resemble millions of destitute blacks. Furthermore, many poor folk are exploited economically and receive dismal treatment from banks, schools, the police, and the mass media. Nevertheless, poor whites are ineligible for compassion from the universities. Politically, they are regarded as incorrigible, eternal enemies, ready to rally to the next George Wallace, not as a disadvantaged group requiring professor-supplied enlightenment.

Equally important in unmasking this sham “compassion” is its doleful result. If these university friends truly cared, innumerable schemes that are still fashionable would have been junked long ago. A doctor administering expensive and clearly injurious treatment is hardly “compassionate.” How can professors honestly argue that admitting semiliterate students to elite schools or granting degrees in ersatz fields assists blacks? How can any sensible person contend that race-based hiring, not merit, genuinely produces “excellence though diversity”? As George Orwell observed, some things are so preposterous that only an intellectual could believe them.

This odd attraction is really about advancing an agenda. At heart, the white liberal professor embraces the centralized, allegedly benign, techno-bureaucratic state, an energetic, social-engineering Big Sister. This doctrine is not, of course, the only element in the Weltanshauung, but it powerfully permeates innumerable particulars. This Utopia is the evolutionary deepening of the bureaucratic Great Society. Governmental officials, in close concert with expert academics, will regulate an earthly paradise into existence. Congress might allocate billions to fight crime, but it is the technocratic specialist, in consultation with the university’s center for justice, who ultimately rules.

When stated plainly, it is a loathsome vision. Selling this grotesque fantasy is hopeless, at least if it is frankly acknowledged. Necessity requires chicanery: namely, promoting it as a well-intended intervention to solve a critical problem. And what better problem than overcoming centuries of ill treatment afforded black Americans? Deep down, it is a marriage of expediency, a confluence of interests. Black leaders fixated on academic-inspired “programism” to heal their wounds are but clueless totalitarian foot soldiers.

No inherent reason requires enrolling blacks to lead the charge; only convenience compels. Idealized proletarian “workers” once served Marxist purposes. Young children, the disabled, and confused immigrants are also suitable for justifying expanded bureaucratic intrusion. Environmentalists prefer to employ trifling critters.

Listen closely to the rhetoric of the self-appointed black leadership, and you will hear crude versions of lessons routinely espoused in campus classrooms. Theories of invidious cultural oppression, education as a tool for enhancing self-esteem, the ameliorative power of government, written history as hegemony—together with blank-check compensation for unique suffering—become revealed wisdom. Social-science texts are the new Bible; the omnipotent state replaces God in redeeming the righteous and punishing the wicked.

Consider the obsession with political action as the favored method of collective advancement. Unemployment can be overcome by a mass demonstration commanding Washington to provide jobs, if not careers. If housing is run-down, march on city hall. If schoolchildren cannot read, picket the board of education. Can’t afford a house? Have Congress force banks to lend you money. The voter-registration drive mimics a cargo cult. The infatuation with political power, together with unquestioned confidence in governmental effectiveness, is Social Science 101.

The academy also teaches that one’s plight flows from impersonal, almost mechanical social conditions, not autonomous individual choices. Society is merely the playing out of abstract “forces.” Insisting on personal responsibility is but covert white racism. Why are so many blacks poor? The answer, as any good liberal professor will demonstrate, is that societal forces—institutional racism, shifting economic structures, biased legal doctrines and traditions, the historical legacy of slavery—condemn blacks to despair. Why do black students perform so poorly? Must be the unequal distribution of wealth coupled with inequitable school funding and Eurocentric testing. The students themselves and their parents are blameless.

The prospect of prosperity and happiness via perpetual governmental edict becomes an inalienable right, not an imposition. Liberalism—being free, independent of domination by officialdom—has been converted into the right to be dependent. Abolishing guaranteed welfare, predictably, is thus judged mean spirited. Even to designate assistance “temporary” engenders outrage. And given the federal government’s record of success, the fear of losing eternal client status is probably groundless. Save as a result of funding cutbacks, it is hard to imagine a black-oriented agency folding up, mission accomplished.

The “womb-to-tomb” nature of this dependency is critical. Bureaucratic assistance exists for every stage of a person’s lifetime, regardless of his condition. Big Sister never retires; clients pass from one government agency to another. Even leaving welfare for private employment —the alleged big jump—does not bring release. This step might require a federal “transition” program which, in turn, might obligate other bureaucrats to monitor employment progress with periodic evaluations. If the newly gained “independence” misfires, safety-net programs stand by for additional retraining and counseling.

Ignoring blacks politically is precarious; inner-city residents are not detached Appalachian whites or apathetic Asians. They can burn down cities. Imagine professors opting for Korean immigrants to achieve their agenda—who would mind the store if millions marched in Washington? Obviously, the centuries of genuine mistreatment of blacks bestow an uncontestable legitimacy to clamors for assistance. Nevertheless, the threat of violence, especially of the mindless rampaging variety, lends a powerful urgency to their pleas.

To see how this all adds up, consider the example of employment policy. Begin with a simple question: Why do blacks lag economically? The ready liberal professorial answer, authoritatively announced to whites and blacks alike (but far more keenly absorbed by the latter), is that whites discriminate against blacks, consciously hiring less-qualified whites over capable blacks. Indeed, the nature of the American economy, from banking to the tax code, intrinsically conspires against blameless blacks. Alternative explanations are brushed aside. Furthermore, since prejudice is so deeply ingrained in our racist culture, only mighty Washington can uproot this evil.

Having heard the revealed truth, blacks demand governmental action. National officials, ever willing to correct historical injustices, begin modestly, with enhanced vocational training or educational loans. Slow progress only fuels the demand for greater bureaucratic intervention. After all, if the problem lies not with the potential employees, it must lie elsewhere. The possibility of misdirected effort is unthinkable. Further professorial analysis discovers fresh remedial statist stratagems. Ever-attentive minority students are told that “market capitalism” or “white definitions of merit” are anti-black and must be replaced. Sympathetic Department of Labor apparatchiki concur. Hiring procedures, from aptitude-test content to obtaining criminal records, now become ensnared in detailed federal regulations. Ambitious academics are soon concocting even more interventionist projects.

The battle widens, and additional scholarly consultants are enlisted. But, as any well-schooled black leader knows, progress still lags—yet more programs need to be contrived. Energetic professors are exhausted from traveling to Washington, drafting hurried reports, and attending conferences. Promotion and discharge policies and nearly everything else now fall under governmental investigation. Scholars torture data to show that “merit” is merely a culturally laden arbitrary construct. Some professors abandon teaching altogether, too busy serving as expert witnesses, crunching employment statistics, and devising remedial schemes.

Ultimately, academics and their bureaucratic allies outrank elected officials or industry executives. The professoriate mutates into a modern priestly class of unaccountable interpreters and advisors mumbling in numbers and lowercase Greek letters. Power multiplies as obstacles become more perplexing and unfathomable statistical techniques define the issues. As kings once commanded private clerics, senior bureaucrats now possess personal scholarly counselors. Will increasing the minimum wage harm blacks? Does educational investment yield comparable returns for blacks and whites? How can society be saved? Such questions require that a professorial priest examine the entrails.

Our argument does more than clarify this marriage of convenience; it helps explain the peculiar blind spot liberal academics have for the debilitating, dumbed-down education received by blacks. The silence is deafening. If white academics were, as claimed, true friends of American blacks, we would hardly expect them to tolerate rock-bottom academic standards, shifting blacks into vocationally worthless fields, or the mindless stampede into Afrocentrism as “authentic” black education. Imagine if the professors’ children were awarded honorific diplomas after passing impossible-to-fail fantasy courses. Indeed, white liberals, despite their sighs of “concern,” are hardly alarmed by tales of incompetent black teachers launching their charges on a sea of misinformation. Eliminating systematic educational incompetence is simply not on the white liberal academic agenda.

Why are those ostensibly committed to learning not outraged by educational atrocities? Surely, professors can painlessly resist idiotic programs solely intended to placate misguided blacks. Surely, professors are not compelled to participate in social passes to boost black graduation rates. But, unfortunately, this debilitating “education” virtually guarantees future dependency, to be remedied through expert bureaucratic intervention. Escaping the plantation is now nearly impossible. Genuinely helpful advice —for example, heightened diligence and stricter grading—offers few opportunities for intervention to the academic class. Rather, the would-be guardians of learning demand a rethinking of testing, altering social definitions of “knowledge,” and similar grand exercises by learned experts. More generally, when schools cultivate laziness or fail to teach basic literacy, it is “the system,” not the blameless victims, that must be reformed, and who better to direct this transformation?

Dumbed-down education fuels the fires of resentment, which, in turn, drive the relentless demands for government programism. The mechanics are elementary. First, under the guise of “providing opportunity,” black students are over-placed academically. When barely literate high schoolers show up at demanding colleges, their inevitable failure creates resentment and anger, not gratitude. If they cannot master calculus, it must be someone else’s fault. Some teachers themselves confirm this fantasy. Angry marginal students will soon denounce the white establishment as racist, deceitful, uncaring, and otherwise “insensitive” to the needs of those requiring continued massive government intervention. Such outrage, needless to say, will be interpreted by the chattering class to mean the need for even more government intervention. Politically useful rage would be far less likely if blacks students were placed in more suitable schools.

I am not insinuating that all white liberal academics consciously promote or applaud black educational failure. Some, at least abstractly, may genuinely deplore the silliness and horrible record. It is a question of toleration, standing idly by and tacitly cooperating, not directly insisting on lower standards or inane curricula. When given the chance to act, few white liberal academics offer “tough love.” At every stage of the process, from grading freshmen essays to certifying dissertations, decisions typically reward minimal performance. Many blacks get easy diplomas; bureaucrats, thanks to professorial tolerance, receive clients for life. For many academics, this is an unacknowledged confluence of interests, not a diabolical plot.

In their endless support of the civil rights movement, liberal academics seemingly have covered themselves in glory. At least initially, the assistance was sincere and did ameliorate many of America’s worst faults. But, alas, the honeymoon is over. As in enduring marriages, relationships evolve. Yesterday’s passionate affection has been replaced by a craven (though vehemently denied) utility: Blacks now are conscripted to expand a powerful state ever attentive to professorial advice. The outcome is often evil. Policies subverting our values, even if totalitarian in character, can be “sold” as commendable for black civil rights. Why else regulate such personal matters as housing and employment? Why else permit immense governmental intrusion into business and education?

Harshly put, academics are guilty of self-serving malpractice on a grand scale. They feed their patients a steady diet of debilitating nonsense that aggrandizes the state and empowers themselves. Endless talk of compassion is self-delusion. The relationship, deep down, is opportunistic. We can only hope blacks will eventually discover the fraud and discard their current overseers.