There is an intra-academic war to control the academy, and the reason is simple: control of institutions like media and academia is essential for a social revolution.
“Gender studies challenge existing structures that are perceived as natural and enduring, and in doing so, they directly challenge the ideological commitments of the radical right,” thundered an obscure British teaching fellow named Megan Armstrong in an op-ed for openDemocracy.
Armstrong argues that Hungary’s lurch toward the right is essentially an attack on open inquiry at universities, as shown by the latest hardline move of “banning” gender studies classes from Hungarian universities. This, she argues, is an effort to “curtail academic freedom.”
Why? Because “gender studies, for all its rich interdisciplinarity, is critical. Students who undertake a gender studies course are trained to think critically, and to engage critically with the world around them.” You get the idea.
Gender studies is an interdisciplinary field that combines feminism, Marxism, race, and gender. It became vogue around the late 1980s and posits that sex isn’t biological, and gender, like everything else in life, is completely performative. In the words of social theorist Simone de Beauvoir, “one is not born a woman, but one becomes one.”
The field is heavily influenced by post-structural ideology and suggests that there’s no objective, scientific, or biological truth. Over time, with the rise of interdisciplinary journals that are often ideological echo chambers, this ideology has spread into other fields and subjects, with an overall sinister motive. Gender studies academics essentially act as Soviet commissars, and try to dictate debate in academia and policy, which has resulted in severe intra-academic conflict on transgenderism, workplace gender gaps, how sex differences function in the military, and policies on gender in general.
Is Hungary’s Bold Move Worth Emulating?
Hungary is the first country in the region to stop subsidizing gender studies (note that they’re not banning it). State-run universities will not get any more funding from government to promote “research” due to historically low enrollment and job prospects for graduates.
There’s the clear argument that as a sovereign government–that is and should be accountable to taxpayers–Hungary is well within its rights to stop subsidizing anything it considers irrelevant, unscientific, ideological, and unnecessary. But one could even argue that Hungary is actually well ahead of the curve, and that other nations should emulate this move.
There are broader considerations, too. Why are gender and women’s studies necessary (and necessary to be subsidized) at state-funded universities, and what importance do they have to academic inquiry? None of those disciplines–or any post-modern research field, for that matter–are even mildly scientific or academic. To claim that they encourage critical thinking is piffle. The stifling ideological conformity and echo chambers in any post-modern discipline are some of the staunchest.
One can easily guarantee that not a single academic paper critiquing conventional thought in the field would come from any post-modern discipline, perhaps the single most important test to know whether any field of study is a circular back-patting society. Consider the recent Brown University research on gender, which was withdrawn after pressure from transgender rights activists. Meanwhile, in the U.K., 54 academics, the majority of them women, penned an open letter on how transgender activists have been harassing them daily.
Are These Even Legitimate Fields of Study?
Most gender studies departments are ideological activism machines garbed in the language of social science, a quasi-Marxist battleground of opposing forces where you’re either the oppressor or the victim. Sometimes that leads to comical logical incoherence. None of them has any scientifically rigorous, falsifiable research, hundreds of examples of which are compiled in the tweets of Real Peer Review. Some so-called gender-study academics even question the fundamental concepts of science, rationality, and evidence.
To encourage and actively fund these disciplines, in fact, means state-sponsoring of partisan, ideological garbage. In the battleground of ideas, ideally, disciplines that can prove their rigor, policy relevance, and worthiness should have a stake. After all, can one imagine any sane government subsidizing phrenology, Lysenkoism, or flat earth theory at universities?
This brings us to the second most important aspect of Hungary’s decision–the relevance of such research. Gender studies, as we know, isn’t just relegated to its own cocooned departments. Since the spread of interdisciplinary research in the ‘90s, self-referential journals, circular citations, and joint doctoral training modules meant that ideas of critical theory, feminism, and gender spread “like a virus” to disrupt other fields.
English, anthropology, history, communications, and film studies, for example, are completely gone to this virus. Now, the rot even spreads to corrupt economics, international relations, and areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Queer And Feminist International Relations Disciplines?
Take my own field, for example. International relations (IR) used to primarily study of diplomacy, statecraft, and warfare. There are valid concerns about a discipline steeped in history and philosophy being too empiricist. Numbers and data bereft of context, culture, and clarity don’t convey the whole picture and, if cherry-picked, can project ahistorical, Pinkerian false claims. That said, IR still dealt with hard subjects like military strategy and diplomacy.
With the advent of queer and feminist IR theories–none of which has any real-life significance in the decision making of major world powers–IR journals and conferences are constantly under pressure to accommodate such irrelevant research. What is the purpose of queer IR theory if it has zero analytical or explanatory power while analyzing Russian revanchism in Eastern Europe or a security dilemma in the South China Sea? What is the purpose of an IR theory if it cannot provide any light to policy makers on how aircraft carriers might be obsolete to face area denial weapons, or what grand strategy a state might aspire for, in an era of renewed Great Power rivalry and bloc formation? None.
Yet we have dozens of such departments, with hundreds of such journals, thousands of students in debt, and professors earning an average of UK £75,000 to study and promote what might essentially be a giant scam, producing profound papers like “Towards Transgendering International Relations.” And no, it is not about Vladimir Putin driving a T-90 battle tank in a tutu.
The War In Academia
Finally, and most destructively, most gender studies academics don’t simply stay put at universities and research, but are actively involved in shaping Western academia, acting as commissars and arbiters of “truth.” This is well-documented. Writers like Michael Shermer, Joy Pullmann, Toby Young, and Heather Mac Donald have all written on how all the de-platforming, campus protests, and activism trace their roots to a certain section of academics of post-modernist bend, a majority of them from women’s and gender studies backgrounds.
There is an intra-academic war to control the academy, and the reason is simple: control of institutions like media and academia is essential for a social revolution. Compounding the issue is the fact that unscientific social research by “experts” on gender pay gaps and transgenderism, for example, is circulated by bloggers and journalists who are themselves products of such courses or take such research at face value without probing deeper. With enough pressure and propaganda, these social forces eventually influence government policy. Needless to say, whenever ideology dictates debate and policy, the results are extreme.
Unsurprisingly, there is a backlash, as people are starting to see through this strategy. Hungary is hardly an exemplary beacon of liberal democracy, although no one can doubt that it is, in effect, democratic. It is also an overwhelmingly socially conservative country and, due to its past history, is inherently skeptical of any ideology posing as academia, as well as foreign influence over what it considers its national character.
As the campus activism continues and these departments and disciplines continue their inquisition, Hungary simply reminds us that every social revolution has a disproportionate and often necessary reaction. Western media and policy makers should take note.
Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a senior contributor to The Federalist. His research is in great power-politics and neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitr