The Ideological Basis to Affirmative Action and Diversity
By George Seaver
Previous articles in this newsletter have explored the consequences of Affirmative Action and Diversity from several vantage points: the changed meaning of these terms since the 60's, their consequences to society, and their consequences to their beneficiaries, to name three. This article will look at a more fundamental flaw of Affirmative Action: the source of the religious fervor with which it is pursued, its pervasiveness and the immunity to evidence that it enjoys.
The explanation for the fervor associated with Affirmative Action comes from its ideological origins. It was originally a philosophy from the 1960's called Deconstruction that subsequently became an ideology and found its way into most aspects of our culture. It is now popularly characterized as the "postmodern" or "political correctness"1. How could something as arcane as a 1960's academic philosophy permeate so far and wide in our culture? The development of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century was an equally arcane philosophy and provides a template for this process. W.H. Auden described psychoanalysis' trajectory as "..a whole climate of opinion, under whom we conduct our lives" and which "quietly surrounds all our habits of growth"2. This is what happened with Deconstruction, the most prominent of the Post-structural ideologies of the latter half of the 20th century3.
Formally, it began in the United States in 1967 with the introduction at Yale University of Deconstruction, a credible philosophy, by the French intellectual, Jacques Derrida. The movement quickly developed adherents at Cornell and Johns Hopkins Universities. By 1985 Deconstruction had spread to campuses across America and became a routine part of the curriculum at the college level3.
There were many other related forms of academic theories that arose during this time and that, collectively, became Post-structuralism; however, as David Lehman observed in his book, Sign of the Times, Deconstruction informed and dominated all the others. It was defined as a growing movement that began its academic career in the English department, then as cultural theory and, finally, as an ideology of social justice. It professed that all interpretive works, and literature is not distinguished from popular culture here, are simply composed of the ideological prejudices of the author, called "hierarchical oppositions"3, most prominent among them is the oppression of women by men and minorities by whites. By an informed reading of a text or of any "discursive practice", Deconstruction revealed the "constructions" of the author, and in so doing, reflected the cultural privileges that the age accorded the hierarchy. Soon, Deconstruction became an ideology and came to focus on cultural and historic hierarchies, oppression and privileging1 and, then, its reversal.
What could explain the meteoric rise of deconstruction throughout academia and then the culture at large? American universities in the 1960's were fertile grounds for cultural upheavals and radical experiments, as the number of college students, the size of universities and the funds available to them increased rapidly in the 1960's and 70's. Also, the number of graduate programs and professors, particularly women, blacks and feminists, also increased dramatically, allowing the politics of race and gender to enter unhindered into academic discourse. Thus, by the end of the 1980's in the United States Deconstruction went from an insurgency to an entrenched institutional power, from a philosophy to an ideology where the deconstructive concept of "the Other" beget institutional racism and "hierarchical opposition" lead to preferences and quotas, in a word, to the postmodern. By 1992 astute observers reported that, even though Deconstruction the philosophy had stalled at the academic level, its ideology had gone beyond a few elite academic institutions and became commonplace on the cultural scene. It was a word readily used by novelists, politicians, the media, popular journalists, television anchors and newspaper columnists, and now required no specialized academic understanding4. By 2002 it had reached out further still to such institutions as education, law, affirmative action and diversity.
Deconstruction's influence can be demonstrated in such diverse fields as architecture, anthropology, psychoanalysis and Marxism, but perhaps its greatest consequence came in the institutions of education3, law5, the media6 and minority rights7. Four recent examples will be used to make this connection clear.
In 2007 Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson published their book, Until Proven Innocent, which described the infamous indictment and the media and academic campaign against three innocent white Lacrosse players at Duke University. They demonstrated that this miscarriage was against all the evidence, was driven by the fact that the "defendants" were white, male and privileged, and that their accuser was black and female. A Duke professor termed them ”perfect defendants"8; they were part of the cultural hierarchy, the accuser was seen as historically oppressed and the media/academy/civil rights advocates sought the a priori reversal of this condition. It was textbook deconstructive ideology and answered the author's question, "..how was he [the District Attorney] able to find so many willing accomplices".
In 2007 the National Association of Scholars (NAS) did an analysis of education at the schools of social work in the United States entitled The Scandal of Social Work Education, and found that it had a clear ideological foundation based upon "social justice"9. This author further determined that this ideology involved teaching about the "impacts of oppression, power, privilege and historically oppressed and marginalized populations"10. This is textbook Post-structuralism and, specifically, Deconstruction.
In 2007 the NAS participated in exposing the University of Delaware's "citizenship program" which sought to define for its students what "good citizenship" was. The NAS found that the prescribed beliefs were that: "(1) all whites are inherently racist; (2) America is an oppressive society; and (3) helping to dismantle these structures of oppression is a personal duty"11. Again we see the unmistakable hand of Deconstruction at work as ideology.
Finally, and of greater importance, we come to preferences and quotas. Affirmative Action and diversity are slogans whose meaning is not reflected in practice. Rather, what we have in reality is the practice of preferences and quotas. In both the Fourteenth Amendment and in customary practice, "equal rights under the Constitution" is a hallowed concept; the difference between this and the "Affirmative Action" version of equal rights comes in Affirmative Action's assumption of cultural hierarchies, historic oppression, privilege and reversal, that is, its deconstructive starting point.
Explicit manifestation of these assumptions is seen in many contemporary race/gender/sex policies. The Supreme Court's "disparate impact" ruling in the 1970's is founded upon the above reasoning; that is, that disparate racial numbers implies discrimination because of historical factors. It is also shown by (then) Harvard's Cornel West in his Keeping the Faith, where he uses "the formulations of the post-structuralists.. on the role of 'otherness' and marginality" to understand "black people..as Other and alien"7. It is seen in the media's "Diversity Summits" of 1992 and 19996, where the New York Times asserted "We can no longer offer our readers a white, straight, male version of events and say that we, as journalists, are doing our job"12. It is seen in the Smithsonian Museum's policies from 1984 to 1994 to "erase the museum's racists belief system" by "honoring multiple ways of interpreting the world"13. It is manifested in the movements in many law schools, notable Harvard's and Yale's, where "Critical Legal Studies" (CLS), Critical Race Theory and "Transcendental Deconstruction" (TrM) became prominent. CLS held that the U.S. Constitution was a tool of the ideology of those in power5, and Yale's TrM proclaimed that "..structures of social meaning are always unstable..and historically situated.." and that "hierarchical reversing" in practice pursues a "progressive political agenda"14.
This bipartisan indoctrination helps explains why most institutions, including both political parties, support preferences. Affirmative Action and the diversity movement are defended with a religious fervor, are pervasive in our culture and are immune to evidence because they are part of an imbedded ideology.
November 20, 2007
1. Eagleton, Terry, 2003: After Theory. Basic Books, New York. pp.29, 87.
2. Auden, W.H., 1940: In Memory of Sigmund Freud. Another Time, Random House, 1940.
3. Lehman, David, 1991: Sign of the Times. Poseidon Press.
4. Norris, Christopher, 1992: Deconstruction: Theory and Practice. Routledge, New York. p.136.
5. Thomas, Andrew, 2005: The People v Harvard Law. Encounter Books, San Francisco, CA. pp. 23, 35, 72, 124, 174, 95, 142, 77, 42, 101, 87, 98, 144.
6. McGowan, William, 2001: Coloring the News. Encounter Books, San Francisco, p.14.
7. West, Cornel, 1993: Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America. Routledge, New York. p.22.
8. Taylor, S. and K.C. Johnson, 2007: Until Proven Innocent. St. Martins Press, NY. Pp. 420.
9. Balch, S. and P. Wood, 2007: The Scandal of Social Work. Sept. 14, 2007. www.nas.org.
10. Council on Social Work Education, 2001: Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards. Last corrected, Nov. 2002, pg. 6. www.socialworkers.org.
11. National Association of Scholars, 2007: Startling Revelations. November 3, 2007. www.nas.org.
12. Sulzberger, Arthur, 1993: New York Times: Sept. 10, 1993.
13. Mac Donald, Heather, 2000: The Burden of Bad Ideas. Ivan Dee, Chicago, Ill., pp117-143.
14. Balkin, Jack, 1998: Deconstruction's Legal Career, Part I. www.yale.edu, p.1, 3.
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