Debating P.C.

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Some of the finest minds in the American academy are represented in this first-rate collection, among them Catherine R. Stimpson, John Searle, Edward Said, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stanley Fish, Barbara Ehrenreich, Molefi Kete Asante, and Diane Ravitch. After five major statements that function nicely as a “debate,” Paul Berman subdivides the book into sections on “Politics and the Canon,” “Free Speech and Speech Codes,” “Texas Shoot-out” (about events at the University of Texas), and “The Public Schools.” Berman’s introduction brilliantly sets the stage. He argues that an orthodoxy did develop on the cultural left in the early 1980’s, a blend of indigenous American concerns over racial and sexual oppression and schemes of analysis borrowed from French Marxism and literary theory. What conservatives have reacted to is this orthodoxy, which Berman calls “race/class/gender-ism.” Its most controversial claim is that education in the West has been fundamentally imperialistic, irredeemably biased in favor of white, heterosexual European males.

The conservatives Berman draws most heavily on are Dinesh D’Souza and Roger Kimball (authors, respectively, of ILLIBERAL EDUCATION: THE POLITICS OF RACE AND SEX ON CAMPUS and TENURED RADICALS: HOW POLITICS HAS CORRUPTED OUR HIGHER EDUCATION). Of the two, Kimball is the more substantive. He directs his harshest words at the ideal of multiculturalism, which he claims implies “a complete...

(The entire section is 448 words.)