Confessions of a student Marxist

Sep 17, 2020 by

by Tobias Phibbs, UnHerd:

It is hard not to conclude that a whole generation has been terribly misled about how best to pursue a life of meaning and resilience

After a long, eerie summer, the students are returning to campus. The neuroses that so often characterise this period will be intensified: UCU hysterically threatens 50,000 extra deaths from an uncontrolled return to university life; the lack of school exams will increase self-doubt and suspicion; and the promise of a bright future for graduates on the other side looks more distant than ever.

Above all, the life into which they enter will be a bare one. Even where each constituent part of student life remains in place, it will be hard to act with confidence, fluency or grace amid the uncertainty. The “student experience” was always a dismal expression; now it is a sad joke.

But this is not the only threat that incoming students face. Universities are front and centre of the new culture war and the dominant culture in the humanities and arts is soaked in an anxiety-ridden politics of negation. It is a world with which I am all too familiar, from many years’ involvement in the far-left, which — stripped of materialist analysis and class content — increasingly finds its base in the university. I had come to see those years as misspent but essentially inconsequential and a little embarrassing.

What is remarkable is not that I found these politics wanting — most who move through these scenes eventually do — but that, shorn of their economics, they now appear culturally hegemonic and unassailable. Today these politics represent what Wesley Yang described as the “successor ideology”, the default politics of a new elite coming of age, and this language is the currency of the professional managerial class in the English-speaking world. They do not seem so inconsequential anymore.

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