It’s Fascist When You Exclude the Universities?

Michael Kinsley thinks Donald Trump qualifies technically as a fascist:

The game has several names: “Corporate statism” is one. In Europe, they call it “dirigisme.” Those two other words for it — “Nazism” and “fascism” — are now beyond all respectability. It means, roughly, combining the power of the state with the power of corporations. At its mildest, it is intrusive regulations on business about parental leave and such. At its most toxic, it is concentration camps. In the 1930s, a few Americans (including a few liberals) bought into it. Pearl Harbor ended that argument. Even for Trump, “fascism” itself now is a dirty word, not just a policy choice. Even Trump would not use it — least of all about himself.

Did Kinsley worry about combining the power of the state with the power and prestige (we’re the smartest people in the world) of universities? It’s not as if nothing could go wrong (beware the negatives):

Indeed, illiberal progressive elitism has only become more pervasive as the gap between the “educated and the ignorant” has widened.

With the rise of think tanks, research universities, and advocacy foundations and nonprofits—the vast, interlocking, insulated complex we’ve constructed to formulate, advocate, and execute public policy—we have only reinforced the barrier between the everyday voter and governance. In order to understand, much less engage in, today’s abstract, detached, and data-saturated discourse of public policy, participants require ever more specialized academic expertise. If a problem can’t be expressed in a statistical formula—with the obliteration of nuance, detail, and local variability this entails—then the problem simply doesn’t exist.

What we now call the “rise of the meritocracy” may have begun well over a century ago. But as it accelerates today, its costs are becoming more apparent. The meritocrats sort themselves out not only socially, but geographically as well, into coastal and university enclaves. There, in a contemporary bow to positive eugenics, they engage in assortative mating. Their children then follow the sheltered path from university day school to Princeton to a career in social entrepreneurship, convinced that they can “change the world,” as the slogan goes, without ever touching down in that vast swath of cultural desolation unhappily separating Nassau Hall from Palo Alto. The distance between the “educated and ignorant” grows ever larger, both literally and figuratively.

You could also call this “corporate statism” since the biggest and smartest universities in the U.S. are corporations whose assets tax collectors cannot touch.

If You Think Universities are Too Western, You’re Right

Students at Seattle University, a Jesuit institution, have successfully forced a controversial dean to resign. Jodi Kelly, dean of the university’s Matteo Ricci College, drew fire from students when she used the n-word in an email to a student. That the word was also the title of a book by an African-American author didn’t matter to students:

in a discussion with a student who wanted to better understand the experiences of members of minority groups, Kelly suggested Nigger, the autobiography of Dick Gregory, the civil rights activist. Among those who defended Kelly on her recommending the book by name was Gregory himself, who wrote an essay for Inside Higher Ed about the debate at Seattle.

Even as attention on the N-word receded, the debate about Kelly and the college she led only grew. Kelly’s critics and supporters agree that she is a proponent of a rigorous humanities curriculum — such as that offered by the college — built around the Western classics. To the protesting students, that was a big part of the problem.

But universities are supposed to be Western. It’s what they do:

Universities are one of the few institutions that are a direct contribution of medieval Latin Christendom to contemporary Western civilization. Being an export wherever else they are found, they are also unique to Western culture. To be sure, all cultures have had their intellectuals: those men and women whose task it has been to learn, to know, and to teach. But only in Latin Christendom were scholars — the company of masters and students — gathered together into the universitas whose entire purpose was to develop and disseminate knowledge in a continuous and systematic fashion with little regard for the consequences of their activities. When professors and students today study and write about universities, they are therefore engaged in more than group therapy in the midst of troubled times for what is now ambiguously called “higher education.” They are analyzing an essential element in the culture that has come to dominate the entire globe. (James M. Kittelson, “The Durability of the Universities of Old Europe”)

In other words, if you want to speak truth to power, don’t go to university. If you do, you join the system of oppression.

We Are — Penn State; We Are — Penn State Snacks

Who knew that Penn State was not only a university but a line of pretzel products, that according to the website “was the first brand to bring an authentic American-style baked pretzel to the UK. . . . crispy pretzel knots – made to an authentic American recipe and perfectly baked every time!” I had a small bag of Penn State’s sour cream and chives pretzels on the flight back to the U.S. yesterday. They were good, surprisingly so for a country that isn’t as accomplished as the U.S. is at providing salty snacks to beer drinkers. I mean, when do you ever see two men sipping pints in an Irish or British pub while snacking on handfuls of party mix?

But given the shakiness of Penn State’s image after the Jerry Sandusky conviction or how protective most universities are of their brand and image, I can’t believe that the pretzel company is still called Penn State. So far, though, I haven’t found any signs of hostility between the university and a company that has so obviously borrowed from the university’s identity. Since Pennsylvanians love their pretzels, have university officials been bought off with lifetime supplies of Paterno Parmesan twists?