This is my original unedited interview with Professor Bruce S. Thornton of the University of California at Fresno, published in Greek on Davlos Magazine (No. 238. Oct. 2001. pp.15255 15264)
Q. Would you comment please upon the two trends currently influencing American Academia today, that is, “Postmodernism” and “Multiculturalism?”
Postmodernism is an intellectually incoherent and childish fashion whose inconsistencies and errors of logic are easily identified. Briefly, postmodernism denies the possibility of stable truth, meaning, identity, etc. but of course itself is an ideology which claims to be meaningful and true. It’s like the old Greek riddle: ´All Cretans are liars.’ A Cretan said this! Postmodernism is not new, the radical Sophists of the later fifth century B.C. are their forefathers.
Multiculturalism is the heir of the romantic nationalism that emerged in Germany in the 19th century and whose monstrous offspring include fascism. The idea that individuals are to be defined and validated by their accidental birth into an ethnic category possessing mystical, unique qualities is irreconcilable with liberal democracy, which sees individuals as the locus of rights, not groups. Multiculturalism spawns identity politics, the attempt to secure privileges, rights, etc. for whole categories. Finally, these categories in the U.S. are predicated on victimization of the groups have validity because they are presumably the victims of oppression and exclusion. Thus, multiculturalism insidiously institutionalizes inferiority, since the victim is by definition less powerful than the victimizer.
Q. Why in your opinion these tendencies were created and supported by so many influential professors and how the academic society can accept the scientific falsehood (with pseudoscientific arguments and techniques) in the American Universities?
American intellectuals, particularly in the humanities, are woefully underprepared intellectually and thus vulnerable to fad and fashion. Moreover, the conditions of hiring, promotion, tenure, securing grants and fellowships, etc., make publishing necessary, even if there is nothing new to say. Postmodern and poststructuralist theory provides a smoke-screen of jargon and buzzwords that allow the scholar to create the illusion of novelty.
Postmodernism also reveals the failure of nerve that has afflicted Western intellectuals for most of this century, who have lost faith in their own ideals (rationalism, liberal democracy, etc.) even as by century’s end these have triumphed. That these Western intellectuals enjoy those benefits of freedom, material prosperity, etc. adds the charge of hypocrisy to that of intellectual shoddiness.
Multiculturalism I think results from the institutionalization of identity politics through the creation of departments focused on ethnic identity rather than on a discipline. White guilt, of course, facilitates this process. Academics guilty about their privilege can make themselves feel better by endorsing a ´diversity’ they never have to live with in their daily lives.
Q. Why do the contemporary academics try to minimize or question the contribution of the ancient Greek world to the Western civilization?
Multiculturalism, for it is based on the idea that the West is dysfunctional and uniquely evil; since the ancient Greeks basically invent the West, they are guilty of the same crimes. Needless to say, this view is historically false.
Q. Are the Hellenic ideals still alive today and how can they contribute in our modern society?
Hellenic ideals: freedom of the individual, consensual government, rationalism, and critical consciousness: are not just alive, they have triumphed so thoroughly that no real viable alternatives exist. Even religious cultures such as Islam depend on Western science and are struggling to keep the idea of individual freedom away from their people. Thus, it is even more necessary that these ideals and their origins be taught, studies, and celebrated.
Q. Where globalization can lead us? How do you envisage globalization?
An optimist might say that globalization will lead to the transmission of Western values to every person on the planet. That is, material prosperity and personal freedom will belong to everybody. However, a pessimist might add that the cost of this will be too great on the decline of religion, traditional culture, etc. We should remember too that the jury is still out on whether the environment can sustain such growth, or whether such growth is even economically possible in the Third World.
People have to make a hard, brutal choice: to enjoy material comfort, health, nutrition, freedom, etc, at the price of weakening their traditional cultures; or to keep their old ways and live with hunger, political oppression, etc. An argument can be made for both positions, but the vast numbers of immigrants leaving the Third World for the West suggests that most human beings will choose material comfort and freedom over their own cultural heritage. We in America have long experienced this choice: my mother’s parents came from Italy; none of their grandchildren speak Italian; most have married non-Italians. That’s sad, but there was nothing for them in Italy after World War I.
Q. Some of your colleagues have characterized you as a conservative.
American academics use ´conservative’ as a slur to avoid engaging arguments. I am conservative in some things, liberal in others. My ideal is Socrates: question everything, seek the truth, and let the political chips fall where they may.
Q. Why, despite increasing levels of formal education, people are more and more apt to give credence to fallacious ideas and claims?
American education is so bad, few people anymore have the knowledge or critical skills to sort out false knowledge from true. Mass media make this problem worse, as deceptive, emotionally pleasing images bombard our society.
Q. Is the spread of false ideas and “knowledge” at this time in history more dangerous and why?
Mass media: bad ideas now can be instantly transmitted everywhere, in a form that does not encourage critical analysis.
Q. What are the “antidotes” for the mental toxins of our time?
Bring back the Greeks! Study their brilliant literature and civilization, for they invented critical thought, and identified the key human problems we are still grappling with today.
Q. Do you think that there is future for USA as a leading nation in our planet with this broad acceptance of doctrinarianism in the sectors of science, education, culture and mass media?
As long as the sciences resist these trends, the necessary military, economic, and research work will get done, and that will assure the US’s continuing dominance. I’m more worried about the corruption in values and character. If a crisis ever does arise– for example, if the US military is required to fight a war that leads to significant US casualties– I’m not sure what would happen, or if Americans could make the sacrifices that were made in World War II. Americans (and Europeans) are increasingly spoiled by material abundance and high expectations for human happiness. We are forgetting the tragic wisdom of the ancient Greeks, who acknowledged the limitations placed on human aspiration and achievement, and the necessity of suffering
given those limitations.
Q. In front of this epoch-making cross-road should USA prefer the freedom in thought, in logos, in logic instead of the alogical, mysticism, theocracy and doctrinarianism?
Absolutely the political culture should be wary of the irrational–Euripides in the Bacchae taught us the dangers of mysticism; so too Thucydides in his description of the civil war on Corcyra. And especially we should be wary of any mysticism etc that demands limitations on the freedom of thought and knowledge, or sacrifices
these to irrational visions of utopia.