George Walford: Domination (44)

The ideological mode of domination-submission appears in various connections, some of them less easy to recognise than others; the power wielded by the universities, for example, comes mainly from this source although it is easily (and often) mistaken for a consequence of superior rationality. In a letter to the Editor of the TLS Nicolas Walter attacks the academics’ claim to privilege and aserts the supremacy of reason:

Sir: John Campbell, referring to Mary Warnock’s CounterBlast tract on Universities (December 29 1989) accepts her claims that ‘it is ultimately from the universities that intellectual standards are derived’ and of ‘the intrinsic authority of the learned, the academic and the scholarly.’

This is arrogant and arrant nonsense. Our kind of pluralist society should have no special position for universities any more than for other institutions (whether official, like the government, or unofficial, like the media), or for academics any more than for other groups in the community. Intellectual standards are derived not from any particular class or place, but from intellectual achievement – which may or may not be made by academics in universities. And authority is not “intrinsic” anywhere, certainly not in those whose only claim to it is their claim to it – however eloquent.

An increasing amount of our culture – including the Times Literary Supplement – may have fallen into the hands of academics, but this is no reason why the rest of us should give them any more respect than they deserve, and it is a good reason why we should distrust their complaints when they at last get the same treatment from the powers that be as everyone else.

Almost incredibly, there has been no reply apart from a petulant reference to “people like Nicolas Walter” – an attempt to impute indefinite guilt by unspecified association. When all the massed battalions of academia offer no response more impressive than this the onlooker is almost obliged to accept what Walter says.

from Ideological Commentary 44, March 1990.