As Alan Wolfe noted in a broadside published in The New Republic in 2003, the study of American literature, especially in American Studies programs at our major universities, has, since the 1970’s, become little more than a vituperative exercise in anti-American polemics.
Largely a confabulation of Latino, Native American, African-American, feminist, “queer,” and “whiteness” theorists (as they like to think of themselves), our literary academics share at least one abiding conviction: The American “nation” was never more than an illusion of consensual harmony predicated on the exclusion of minority voices—or, more insidiously, the co-optation of those voices—in the name of an assimilationist ideology that was prepared to tolerate dissent only insofar as it seemed to grant fresh legitimacy to a vampiric but always smiling liberal order.
This attack on liberal consensus is not, of course, without some truth. But as the always entertaining Slavoj Žižek maintains, academic radicalism is really little more than a “pseudo-psychoanalytic drama” preoccupied with nothing so much as the “right to narrate its own victimizing experience.”
Still, however ineffectual may be the parlor radicalism of the academic left, there is no doubt that their incomprehensible diatribes dominate the pages of our leading...