Academic Social Science and America

William H. Young

In Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (2010),[1] I elucidated those ideals; how they became the basis for our nation’s founding political, civil, legal, social, cultural, and economic order; and were realized over American history.

In that book, and in my latest series of articles, I sought to demonstrate that from academic social science’s inception in the late-nineteenth century, it has systematically turned higher and public education—and America—away from those Western ideals and toward other philosophies and ideologies, often from  Europe, including: social constructionism; economic and cultural Marxism; egalitarian progressivism and social justice; gender feminism; multiculturalism, cultural determinism, and relativism; diversity and group identity; postmodernism, rejecting reason, science, and objective truth; radical environmentalism and sustainability; and political correctness in speech. All of those belief systems are foreign to our founding ideals and order and have degraded America.

Let’s review the specific Western and American founding ideals (presented below in italics) and examine how they have been supplanted by academic social science.

Visions of Human Nature

American order was founded upon the Western idea that man has a common human nature with universal instincts, which includes a mix of innate but unequal potentialities (faculties and abilities, virtues and vices) to be actualized through nurture from childhood by self, family, education, religion, and culture.

Early in the twentieth century, the doctrine of social constructionism—human nature is a blank slate to be shaped by culture and the state—replaced the Western concept of a fixed human nature and became an article of faith in academic social science. The superorganic or group mind, instead of the individual mind, became its basic tenet.

Academic social science seeks a social order in which immutable forces of biology—genes and unequal traits—are assigned no weight in accounting for the behavior of individuals and social groups. Instead, it imposes refashioned theories of mind in which racism and sexism are mere manifestations of culture which, unlike nature, is malleable. Thus, by changing the content of “culture,” we can eliminate racism, sexism, and any other social phenomena unacceptable to self-designated cultural guardians.

Personal responsibility to actualize human potentialities has been displaced in academic social science by social construction of the self, by group culture and the state, to make individuals equal.

The Individual and Character

America was founded by leaders and people who esteemed strong individual character with internalized ideals such as excellence, self-reliance, self-control, integrity, rectitude, prudence, moderation, duty, loyalty, tolerance, and empathy—a cultural type with an independent intellect grounded by a moral sense, living by adult personal responsibility and moral principles and habits.

Academic social science largely measures the character of the individual not as a person, but as a member of an identity group, from which derive the traits and history of ancestry, gender, class, or sexual orientation.

Social science thus substitutes political correctness for an independent intellect; social responsibility for adult personal responsibility; and relativism for an adult moral sense and principles of justice.

It has replaced ideals of excellence with equality and “social justice”; duty and self-reliance with entitlement and self-regard; integrity and rectitude with postmodern opinion and illusion; and self-control, prudence, and moderation with unfettered feeling.

Family and Civil Society

America was founded upon a strong role for the traditional family, church, and community—the institutions of civil society—to compassionately instill values and mores that enable individuals to realize personal and societal ideals.

Academic social science demeans the traditional American family, instead valuing alternative adult lifestyles gleaned from gender feminism and cultural Marxism, which reject the allegedly “patriarchal” marriage—“the cradle of women’s oppression”—and maternal responsibility for child rearing. The academy chose female empowerment, personal sexual liberation and obsession, and self-centered expressive individualism (choice over commitment) as its mores.

College family textbooks—idealizing single-parenthood or cohabitation—sanctioned the massive disintegration of marriage and the nuclear family in civil society since the 1960s. Out-of-wedlock births soared from 5 percent in the 1960s to 40 percent today, with rates above 50 percent among women under thirty and the poor.[2] Primarily within the lower and now middle classes, this has produced ever more fatherless families and poorly parented, disadvantaged children, principally boys, with declining lifetime and family prospects, which “progressive” schooling often exacerbates

Individual Freedom and Rights

America was founded upon societal ideals, realized as constitutional civil liberties: individual freedom from oppression and undue political restraint, to think and act freely but responsibly; natural rights to political and social equality, to private property and pursuit of self-interest, and to exercise of religious belief.

In academic social science, freedom of the individual is created, rather than limited, by the state. Natural rights for individuals are replaced by rights from the state to redress the inequality of private property and the unequal recognition of the identity (dignity) of the oppressed and exploited. Such rights are entitlements assigned to groups rather than derived from those features of human nature that individuals share.

Social justice—imposed by the state—seeks equality of condition for the individual or parity by group, adding economic equality to social and political equality. Sustainability—fully exposed by NAS in Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism (2015)[3]—would enforce its environmental dogmas and equality through a command economy and totalitarian state. Both social justice and sustainability require the abrogation of individual freedom.

Principles of Governance

America was founded upon principles of governance to effect societal ideals: limited government, as a liberal democracy and federal republic, in which representatives, elected by enfranchised citizens, deliberate and rule for a consenting sovereign people; moderate majority rule for the common good; institutional checks and balances to control factions; and a secular state unaffiliated with any official religion.

From its outset, academic social science contemplated a different kind of American governance. Political scientist Woodrow Wilson wrote in Congressional Government (1885):

We are the first Americans to…ask whether the Constitution is still adapted to serve the purposes for which it was intended; the first to entertain any serious doubts about the superiority of our own institutions as compared with the systems of Europe.[4]

A new political science of progressive governance was created to overcome the limits of the founding order and enable a Hegelian state, responsible for “a morally and socially desirable distribution of wealth,”[5] to produce social justice. Turning to the direct democracy rejected by the Founders, progressive elites determine the collective “will” of the whole people and implement it through an administrative state.

In present-day academic social science, minority-group rule through the power of factions in a democracy supplants majority rule through representatives in a republic. Rights for minority groups displace the common good of a moderate majority as the ideal for governance. The resulting identity-group politics, adopted by the extreme left, is inherently divisive—and is also illustrated by the factional conflict in the Republican majority of the U. S. House of Representatives. 

The mission of today’s academy, defined in A Crucible Moment, is “social responsibility” through “democratic engagement,”[6] exercised through public processes invented by academic social science to overcome privileged “hierarchy” and provide rights to self-appointed “stakeholders.” Regrettably, that is the only approach to governance that most of the products of American schooling now know. Since the 1970s, the governing principles of our founding and Constitution have not been taught.

In political dialogue, European postmodernism within academic social science—the social construction of truth or reality—has led to dissembling and sophistry based on ideological narratives, replacing rhetoric based on fact and reason. It has debased the veracity of political speech at the highest levels of American government and perverted the truth and trust required for collaborative governance.

The Rule of Law

America was founded upon the rule of law, presuming the legal equality of all citizens, to attain societal ideals: under the Constitution, state law, and the common law, which evolved from Christian ideals, English common law, and natural (moral) law.

Academic social science advocates progressive governance based on a “collective or popular will” rather than the rule of law through institutions established by the Constitution, aptly characterized by Herbert Croly in Progressive Democracy (1915):

The American nation is no longer to be instructed as to its duty by the Law… It is to receive its instruction as the result of…collective action and…realize…by virtue of the active exercise of popular political authority its ideal of social justice.[7]

Increasingly, in contemporary progressive governance (such as selective enforcement of immigration law) and in the academy’s approach of democratic engagement, political will substitutes for the rule of law. Critical legal studies turn the rule of law toward identity-group rights to social justice.

Bureaucratic application of environmental law and the stakeholder processes of academic social science are often used to thwart infrastructure projects authorized by representative governments in the public interest. Philip Howard has appropriately asked, “how can our country move forward when environmental review takes a decade?”[8]

Culture and Religion

America was founded upon the ideals of individual endowment by a Creator and, mainly, the Christian religion, and of British culture and tradition, which sought to cultivate moral virtue and behavior and venerated knowledge.

While our founding culture was based largely on Christian values and British tradition, we have always been a pluralistic and diverse nation with many ethnic groups and religious sects that, despite the kinds of prejudice endemic to human nature and common in all societies, preserved their differing practices and beliefs while adopting an American culture: of one people with a common civic identity and sense of unity through consensual assimilation.

It is also true that, from the founding, America did not fully live up to its ideals of moral virtue and equality, particularly for blacks and also for women. Not until the mid-twentieth century, did America finally recognize and rectify such deficiencies—through majoritarian republican government. A long overdue revolution in equality and equity led to advances in higher education, economic opportunity, and social mobility. Tolerance and sensitivity to infirmities and inequities were properly heightened.

Academic social science was rightly instrumental in such necessary corrections—but deemed them quite insufficient. It falsely cast America’s history as solely pathologies of the subjugation of oppressed and exploited groups, requiring new ideals and rights from the state. It discarded the overwhelmingly positive features and achievements of America’s culture, order, and history. William Shakespeare, the avatar of British culture, became the lead villain of the West.

Academic social science turned to multiculturalism, which sees America not as a community of individuals sharing a common nationality, culture, and history but a conglomerate of separate and disparate races, ethnicities, and cultures. Its moral virtues are relativism, cultural determinism, and the doctrine of political correctness: one must embrace multiculturalism’s absolutes: diversity, choice, tolerance, and sexual preference. There must be uniformity in thought, speech, and behavior.

Multiculturalism holds that only cultural artifacts and particulars such as ritual, superstition, kin relationships, and sex are important. The Western ideas that informed America’s cultural values have been replaced by the superficial detail of everyday life. The veneration of multicultural trivia and political correctness rather than knowledge has devastated American culture and education.

Diversity and group identity—in which people are, above all else, members of social groups and products of the historical experiences of those groups—deposed unity and national identity as America’s cultural ideal in academic social science. It formulated the identity-group ideology and seeded our culture with diversity through our education system.

Diversity sanctifies differences, exacerbating divisiveness. Social science studies have found that more societal conflict and less societal trust are the harvest of the diversity ideology. Robert Putnam’s conclusion in E Pluribus Unum that the nation needs once more to “create union out of diversity”[9] continues to be ignored by academic social science.

Knowledge and Educated Discourse

America was founded upon high regard for knowledge, reason, and the ideal of learning, and the expectation that education would create more competent and rational citizens and discourse.

From the start of America’s industrial revolution in the 1870s until approximately the early 1970s, public and college education grew to give more and more individuals the competency (knowledge and skills) to keep up with, and take advantage of, advances in technology and the economy. This helped to produce the world’s highest standard of living and ascending individual mobility and prosperity—reducing economic inequality.

But with the 1960’s Cultural Revolution, academic social science re-oriented public education as an agent of social change rather than learning, prioritizing equality for identity groups over excellence in individuals. Teaching for social justice replaced the teaching of knowledge. Intellectual development and book learning were dumbed down by progressive education. By 1983, A Nation at Risk warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity”[10] in education that continues to this day.

In our global and technological age, the educational turn away from providing knowledge-based skills became the fountainhead for rising economic inequality, diminishing abilities—especially of working-class men—to earn a wage sufficient to support a family. The latest high school and college graduates have become less literate and numerate than peers in other industrialized nations and previous American generations—reversing an upward trend since the Puritans landed. Too many such graduates are no longer either competent workers or rational citizens.

Academic social science has also debased societal discourse by infusing it with expressive individualism: the self is the principal source of knowledge, and interpretative feelings of the moment supplant reason and objective truth as the highest human attributes. At the same time, knowledge and feelings are socially constructed in the self—according to the intellectual canons of political correctness.

Capitalism, the Middle Class, and Prosperity

America was founded as a commercial republic, to enable the realization of ordinary individual independence and social mobility and societal ideals of economic opportunity and prosperity, through a market economy utilizing private property and entrepreneurial capitalism, protected and regulated by the rule of law.

Other than in disciplines such as economics, academic social science has never supported the concepts of the American commercial republic and capitalism, choosing instead a belief in economic equality—or liberation from the inequality of private property.

Initially, with Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913), academic social science superseded the economic principles of Adam Smith with the economic determinism of Karl Marx. As Beard said:

The theory of the economic interpretation of history…seems as nearly axiomatic as any proposition in social science can be…[11]

Later, social science added the ideology of cultural Marxism: capitalism is oppressive, and the Protestant ethic’s “patriarchal compulsion to work”[12] serves the interests of the oppressor classes.

The academy’s fallacious belief holds that in capitalism, the rich systematically steal from the poor, producing illegitimate inequality. As foreseen by Joseph Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942), academic social science has filled the heads of our bourgeoisie progeny with “almost universal hostility”[13] to capitalism, indulging in a sense of moral superiority over the materialistic culture that nurtured them, and refusing, on principle, to prepare them to understand and effectively participate in the economy.

Academic social science’s answer is collectivism—social justice—in which the state redistributes material resources from the rich to equalize outcomes from the market economy. As prophesied by Mancur Olson in The Rise and Decline of Nations (1982), today the factions empowered by redistributionist governance, including crony capitalists, aggrandize economic rigidities and costs that “reduce the rate of economic growth” and “can even make societies ungovernable.”[14]

Even worse yet, the academy’s newest ideology—sustainability—is based upon “sustainable development,”[15] which mandates zero economic growth and would make Americans “equal” by making them uniformly poorer. 

Reason, Science, Faith, and Nature

America was founded upon the georgic creation of human order to deal with nature’s forces and upon uses of science and technology, in accord with societal ideals, to improve man’s material condition, with actualities provided by the scientific method, different from verities accessible through religious revelation and secular reason.

The natural (physical and biological) sciences made possible, for the first time in human history, “the metamorphosis in humanity’s estate,”[16] the well-being of the common man and woman, as NAS founder Stephen Balch explicated in Metamorphosis, or Why We Should Study the West.

Notwithstanding, postmodern social science condemns natural science as the wicked source of power for our political and economic order. Science Studies dispenses the delusion that natural science is “caused by social factors or conditions, such as cultural content or self-interest.”[17]

Academic social science has debased scientific literacy (in other than the sciential professions) to comport with its social and cultural ideologies, now including the romantic worship of nature in sustainability. It turned to the social construction of reality based on illusion and moralism. Individuals or groups envisage and employ their own mental models, or “paradigms,” for natural science—theories divorced from the actualities of evidence and the scientific method.

Application of such specious “science” by our academic and societal elites through, for example, their climate change and sustainability paradigms, would engender a “reverse metamorphosis” for humanity.

Liberal Arts

America was founded by elites learned in Western history, classics, and ideals of enlightenment, who applied political leadership experience and bold thinking as well as sober wisdom.

From the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s, higher education embraced an orthodoxy that dismisses a priori as “white male ideology” the very idea of an educated person, of a cultivated human being provided with broad and humanistic knowledge. The liberal arts, Western civilization, and American history have been exorcized from higher education, replaced by academic social sciences such as area, group, and environmental “studies” and sociology and by popular culture.

The NAS report The Vanishing West (2011)[18] demonstrates that education in the Western foundations is no longer provided at most colleges and universities.  Peter Wood observes in Epic Battles:

The basic picture is clear and simple. American higher education has by and large taken itself out of the business of teaching undergraduate students any kind of orderly overview of Western civilization.[19]

Academic social science has substituted social constructionism, multicultural trivia, political correctness, and social justice for the transcendent ideals, abstract ideas, traditional wisdom, and historical insights of Western civilization that were the elements of a liberal education. French sociologist Bruno Latour summarized the consequence of that turn to social science by higher education:

One replaces an object of belief by a social function….The ultimate source of enlightenment relies entirely on the fragile shoulders of social scientists….[20]

The Western liberal arts were, in part, intended to provide the knowledge in societal elites to make prudent decisions on public policy as members of a ruling class. An even more harmful effect of academic social science on our college-educated elites than their ingrained cultural ethos is their deficient and distorted understandings of: (1) how the economy, governance, and science function; and (2) human nature, and what it takes for ordinary men and women to prosper in the competitive real world. Dissatisfaction by everyday Americans with ineffectual leadership by societal elites—practicing their social construction of truth and reality—underlies our growing class divide and political conflict.

The Transmogrification of America

From its very beginnings to the present day, academic social science has renounced or vitiated the ideals of Western civilization that were the basis for our founding order and the success of our nation. Ironically, rather than the positive effects it theorizes in its ivory tower bubble, its transfigurations of America have produced profoundly negative results, which it views as resounding success.

It has restored the role and power of the group and the state over individual human nature, natural rights, freedom, and responsibility, reversing those principal advances of Western history.

It has instigated a widespread betrayal of children—from which many of our most threatening social problems and individual plights originate—by its emasculation of marriage and the nuclear family and its adulteration of knowledge in public education. It has reduced the verbal literacy and numeracy, and corrupted the scientific literacy, of our youngest generations, diminishing their human capital and ability to thrive. It has imbued them with relativism and political correctness rather than moral virtue.

It would supersede our founding concept of majoritarian/republican governance with rule by “enlightened” factions in a democracy, which has failed throughout Western political history and led to our current condition of gridlock. It would displace Western rule of law with collective will effectuated through bureaucratic fiat. It has replaced a common culture of unity, assimilation, and social trust with a culture of diversity, divisiveness, and social conflict, undermining collaborative governance.

It preaches equality and social justice and disdains the inequality of capitalism, the most successful economic system in history. Although that system is imperfect and sometimes unjust (reflecting actions by capitalists in some sectors), it has uniquely increased the standard of living and equality of ordinary people. Academic social science advocates Marxist collectivism, which has failed throughout history and impoverished ordinary people. Its educational ideologies have enervated the competency and equality of ordinary people.

Its ideology of sustainability—imposing the academy’s sham science and ecological fantasies over human economics—would return America to a society like that of the Middle Ages, in which people would be less free and prosperous, in the name of oneness with nature.

It continues to seek the wholesale replacement of the most successful application of Western ideals in history with intellectual doctrines that have failed both historically over centuries and in their contemporary applications in America. Such are the ruinous contributions of academic social science to America and their tragic consequences—disorder rather than order, direction rather than freedom.

______________________________________________________________________________

This is one of a series of occasional articles applying the lessons of Western civilization to contemporary issues relevant to the academy.

The Honorable William H. Young was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and served in that position from November 1989 to January 1993. He is the author of Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (2010) and Centering America: Resurrecting the Local Progressive Ideal (2002).

Image: Wikipedia, Public Domain

 

[1] William H. Young, Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (Indianapolis: Xlibris, 2010).

[2] Robert Rector, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty,” The Heritage Foundation, Domestic Policy Studies Department, Special Report No. 117, 5 September 2012. Mary Rice Hasson, “As Marriage Culture Collapses, Liberals Want to Sterilize Poor and Minority Women,” EPCC Briefly, Ethics & Public Policy Center, 13 November 2014.

[3] National Association of Scholars, Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism, March 2015.

[4] Woodrow Wilson, Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics (New York: Meridian Books, 1956) (First Published 1885), 27.

[5] Herbert D. Croly, The Promise of American Life (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1965) (First Published 1909).

[6] National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, Association of American Colleges & Universities, January 2012.

[7] Herbert D, Croly, Progressive Democracy (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1915).

[8] Philip K. Howard, The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 108, 143.

[9] Robert D. Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture, 15 June 2007. Press Release, “Harvard’s Robert Putnam Spotlights Immigration Discussion Ignores Crucial Need for Social Integration,” Harvard Kennedy School, 18 June 2007.

[10] National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, U. S. Department of Education, 26 April 1983.

[11] Charles Austin Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (New York: MacMillan, 1937) (First Published 1913), 6.

[12] Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), 256–57. Herbert Marcuse, Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), 7, quoted in Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History (New York: The Free Press, 1997), 325.

[13] Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper& Row Publishers, Third Edition, 1950).

[14] Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982).

[15] William H. Young, The Cultural Contradictions of Sustainability, National Association of Scholars, www.nas.org, 11 March 2011.

[16] Stephen Balch, Metamorphosis, or Why We Should Study the West, National Association of Scholars, www.nas.org, 20 June 2011.

[17] “Science Studies,” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org.

[18] Ashley Thorne, Glenn Ricketts, Peter Wood, and Steve Balch, The Vanishing West: 1964-2010, National Association of Scholars, www.nas.org, 18 May 2011.

[19] Peter Wood, Epic Battles, National Association of Scholars, www.nas.org, 2 July 2012.

[20] Bruno Latour, “When things strike back: a possible contribution of ‘science studies’ to the social sciences,” British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 51, Issue No. 1 (January/March 2000), 107–123.

  • Share

Most Commented

September 16, 2019

Slavery Did Not Make America Rich

'King Cotton' isn't King

September 18, 2019

Most Read

September 21, 2010

May 26, 2010