Attitudes toward hierarchies shed light on fundamental differences between the left and the right. The latter tend to be skeptical of them and for this reason, leftists often rally around the value of equality. On the other hand, the right views hierarchies as desirable because they promote social order. Meritocracy is the underlying premise behind the argument for the necessity of hierarchy. It is often assumed that the elites deserve to be in power because they are more qualified to govern than the ordinary people. Clearly, this principle can be abused and in many cases, an unworthy person joins the ranks of the elites simply by being born into the ruling class.
The elites aspired to remedy the intellectual weaknesses of their youngsters by subjecting them to a rigorous education. That is why it was quite common for nobles to be tutored by the leading scholars of their time. When Diogenes the Cynic was sold into slavery, he was purchased by an affluent estate owner in the capacity of a philosophy tutor for his son.
Alexander the Great was educated by Aristotle himself and Descartes taught Queen Isabella of Sweden. In many cases, the children of the aristocrats simply lack the intellectual ability to be well-educated and the upper-class routinely import talent into their ranks. Edmund Burke is the case in point as he was not born into the aristocracy, but proved worthy of joining them.
Throughout the history of the Western civilization, the relationship between membership in the elite social class and education has seemed clear. The aristocrats made a special effort to educate their young to ensure that they would become worthy successors. As such, they were expected to not only manage their parents’ estates but to also pursue political engagement to serve the class interests of the ruling families. This form of education has been unabashedly elitist and it is because of rather than despite that, the students who received schooling in this era achieved considerable intellectual growth. Those who were quite gifted were expected to work hard at their studies and the less talented were expected to work even harder.
Those who wished to make education available to the general public were often forced to concede that educators can only offer opportunities for intellectual self-enhancement. However, the onus was on the students to take advantage of these opportunities by displaying hard-work and natural talent. Yet the proponents of this position believed that when given such chances to get ahead in life, they would undoubtedly take advantage of them and positive social changes will occur as a result. It was even hoped that as more people born into plebeian surroundings gained access to higher education, society would become more egalitarian. At the core, those who agitated for democracy insisted that a well-educated citizenry was the basis of social progress.
Yet, the advent of the Industrial Revolution soon cast doubt upon the viability of this strategy. As the emergence of capitalism greatly contributed to the prosperity of the United Kingdom and the United States, these two countries began entering the third stage of demographic transition. Therein, their population increased because more children born to non-privileged families received the basic necessities for survival well into adulthood. Perturbed by the hypothesis of a Malthusian catastrophe, Francis Galton embarked upon a systematic study of heritability of intelligence.
Galton’s findings led him to believe that intellectual ability was heritable to a significant degree and that the elites were more likely to be genetically endowed with the potential of this nature than their less privileged counterparts. Building on this premise, Charles Spearman developed the theoretical framework known as the “g-factor” suggesting that one is born with a certain degree of intellectual potential and his natural talent tends to be spread out evenly throughout various cognitive tasks. With these considerations in perspective, he was concerned that the seemingly uneducable crowd not only struggled with academic tasks but also lacked the intellectual potential to contribute to society. In light of the troubling possibility that the less talented greatly outnumbered the most talented and the offspring of both groups could survive, the Malthusian catastrophe appeared to be a realistic possibility. In effect, this posed a troubling question to progressive activists wishing to “democratize knowledge” by making education available to all Americans. Is the system of education truly making the average person more intelligent or is it unduly rewarding the least intelligent and the least industrious members of society?
By the early 20th century, American legislators have become preoccupied with the notion of dysgenics as those with the most mal-adjusted genes seemed to reproduce the most. Following the paradigm developed by Horace Mann, educators cherished very little hope in empowering all children to become intellectuals. Instead, public schools have mostly concerned themselves with creating a citizenry that was obedient, orderly and suitable for work in a highly regimented factory environment where conformity was deemed more important than intelligence or creativity. With these developments, an eminent 20th-century sociologist, David Reisman chronicled a fundamental change in the American national character featuring a shift away from the inner-directed mentality to the other-directed. This shift emerged as the driving force behind the cultural revolution of the 1960s and its numerous implications for modern America.
Up until the middle of the 20th century, few disputed the notion that higher education was to be reserved for the intellectually gifted. The incontrovertibility of this precept came into question in the aftermath of World War II where the GI bill enabled hundreds of war veterans to receive a college education. Accompanying the shift toward the other-directed perspective and the economic hardships of the Great Depression, the egalitarian left made inroads into college campuses. These developments empowered students of limited academic potential to change the collegiate milieu, the meritocratic right struggled to defend their belief that education was to be reserved only for the gifted and the industrious. As the Red Diaper babies reached college age by the 1960s, the era of campus radicalism took root and laid down the foundation for doctrines that characterize the modern left including Marxism, Radical Feminism, and Post-Modernism.
Despite the evident differences between these schools of thought, their underlying assumptions were fundamentally egalitarian rather than meritocratic. Marxism presupposed that there is no such thing as human nature and psychological traits that people attribute to human nature are merely a result of capitalist exploitation. Therefore, the purpose of education is to divest the young minds of bourgeoisie assumptions about genetic differences in ability between people and their connections with positive life outcomes. Building on the Marxist assumption about human nature, feminists maintained that the subjugation of women was also a result of a “capitalist false consciousness” and students should be educated to abandon the belief that there are biological differences between men and women.
Many post-modern theorists did not explicitly borrow the Marxist premise regarding the negation of human nature, yet they embraced the element of relativism inherent in Marxism. Similarly to how their intellectual forebears maintained that capitalism shaped the collective consciousness of society, post-modernists maintained that the prevailing ethos also defines human character and social action. With this rationale, they argued that all human perceptions are shaped by societal phenomena and therefore, all truth is relative. The position of total relativism has been buttressed by the drastic change in the demographic character which made the American society more multi-cultural. As the American milieu became more diverse, it has become impolite for the majority group to insist that newcomers assimilate to the American way of life and renounce all values incompatible with the traditional American worldview.
The proponents of multiculturalism naturally forged an alliance with the academic left and together, they endeavored to achieve a profound transformation of the American collective consciousness. Altogether repudiating the traditional American values of individualism, inner-directedness, and meritocracy, they unabashedly set out to instill the ethic of equality into the American collective consciousness. Almost uniformly, they were hostile to all theories suggesting that groups or individuals differed with respect to talent, ability, achievement or any other measure of merit. To them, the very idea of distinguishing between people based on merit resembled systematic oppression.
By their lights, Blacks scored lower on IQ tests than Whites because the Whites have colonized and oppressed Africa. If a student belonging to a minority group underperformed in school, the problem was never to be attributed to his lack of intelligence or industriousness. Instead, it was to be imputed to his circumstances such as domestic abuse or exposure to neighborhood violence. It goes without saying that these factors were not to be attributed to moral failures of his parents, neighbors or other individuals of minority status. Instead, it was to be ascribed to systematic oppression that condemns all minorities to a miserable existence. On the other hand, if a white student performs well academically, he ought to “check his privileges” instead of feeling proud of himself.
Conspicuously absent from this analysis of life outcomes concerning race is that Asians tend to outperform whites with respect to IQ, academic achievement, professional success and socio-economic status. Even more glaringly missing is the superior performance of high IQ minorities to whites with comparable IQs. What is furthermore problematic with the academic left’s position is that despite the enormous government assistance the impoverished minorities received, a significant portion of them remain penurious and dependent on the state. Moreover, there is little evidence suggesting that merely preventing people from discussing differences in life-outcomes by race bridges the gaps of socioeconomic inequality. In other words, there is no reason to believe that the ethic of equality ameliorates the plights of those whom the left regards as the most disadvantaged.
Bounded rationality typifies all ideological discourses and the left’s position is not an exception to this rule. While they cannot address all of the aforementioned objections to their position, they can try to prevent people from entertaining such ideas. As the ideology of academia became more uniform and intransigent toward the end of the 20th century, the left increasingly concerned itself with controlling the scope of discourse on campuses. The proliferation of the hyper-PC environment across American campuses is the case in point and it bears testament to why universities are becoming places of intellectual coercion and behavioral prohibition.
The academic moral climate is not entirely relativist, relativism is merely one of the two pillars of the modern left’s moral compass. According to Jonathan Haidt’s findings, modern liberals base their morality on two maxims: that of care and fairness. Relativism buttresses the ethic of care as such an orientation urges people to regard all individuals and groups as deserving of compassion, regardless of how perverse and reprehensible they may seem. Fairness as the left defines it, is merely a euphemism for the ethic of equality. The left tends to maintain that because all people have “inherent worth” it is only fair for everyone to live in roughly equal material comfort.
The combination of fairness and care creates a peculiar synthesis of fervent moralism and relativism which characterizes the mindset of the modern PC leftist. With such missionary zeal, the academic establishment maintains that if more people were to accept their point of view, a “better society” would be created under the banner of pluralistic tolerance, multiculturalism, and equality of positive life outcome. Galvanized by these convictions, the Ivory Tower bureaucrats feverishly lobby the Democratic Party for increased government involvement in education. In light of the super-abundance of student loans that any student can access with ease, the proliferation of degree mills with over 90% admission rates and the rapid integration of degree mill curricula into four-year universities, they have clearly succeeded.
Post-modernism heralds the end of the modern tradition in philosophy which was founded on the objectivity of truth. The modern academic PC movement represents the integration of post-modernism not only into the scholarship of humanities but also the general academic milieu. Given that truth is now deemed to be specific to cultural values all of which are deemed equally desirable under the rubric of equality, there is no basis for preservation of rigorous academic standards. Traditional education has always been founded on the concept of intellectual merit and because this ideal can no longer be sustained, academia has entered the post-educational era.