Of recent date, many people will have been seeing complaints expressed about left-wing dominance (and sometimes intolerance) in academic circles. So far as I can tell, what we have not been seeing is anyone asking why that is happening. Maybe I can offer a few suggestions based on my personal experience.

Most often what comes across to me, and has done since I was a student over 40 years ago, is fear of the power associated with wealth – especially corporate – and governments, including a feeling that democracy and civil rights is a fragile asset that might be taken away at any time. My sense is that right-wing talk about the ‘politics of envy’ completely misses the point where many educated people are concerned, and they should think about fear instead – and reflect that fear is more visceral than envy. Certainly, relying on traditional rule of law is no reassurance for these educated fears. Recently, such attitudes have been reinforced by the anger (another visceral emotion) of academics from non-Western backgrounds about the history of colonialism and its aftermath in poorer parts of the world (especially about debt). This factor may gradually fade with growing Chinese influence in Africa and south America. However, apart from these broadly negative influences I would also suggest that ideals of solidarity are also very important for many intellectual people attracted by ‘left-wing’ ideas of one kind or another. Educated people are no less desirous of belonging to something than anyone else, and if they are fearful of power they will not be attracted by ordinary patriotism which seems to link with established authority (except in the case of cultures or nationalities lacking a state of their own). Protest movements are more appealing.

I recall that in the early 1980s Professor Roger Scruton set up the Salisbury Review, aiming to combat the dominance of left ideology in intellectual circles, and for a time he thought some progress had been made. Now the evidence of surveys on both sides of the Atlantic is that dominance is more marked now than before Scruton began his campaign. I suggest that is a warning to all concerned that merely reasserting conservatism (the neoliberal movement is different but the same point applies in that case too) makes no more difference than throwing bodies against cannon in trench warfare. If we are serious about diversity and open debate in the academic sphere, someone needs to address the deep issues behind movements which are, after all, of global significance. That might be at least as uncomfortable for right-wing ideologues as their left-wing counterparts.

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