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Will the Real “PC” Please Stand Up? How the Battle Over Multiculturalism Hides the True Scandal of Public Education BY JAMES SLEDD DICTATORSHIP OF VIRTUE. How the Battle Over Multiculturalism Is Reshaping Our Schools, Our Country, Our Lives. By Richard Bernstein. Vintage Books, 1995. 379 pages. $13.00. UFFED BY LAMAR Alexander and Judge Robert Bork, this well-financed presents the results of a New York Timesman’s two-year search for sins of “political Bernstein found what he looked for. Also predictably, he overstates the dangers from what he calls “the New Consciousness” while diverting attention from real problems in U.S. education and in the encompassing society. He has inadvertently enacted a painful condemnation of the culture that he set out to defend. Dictatorship of Virtue \(1994 subtitle, Multiculturalism and the Battle for is divided into a “Prologue,” three parts, and an “Epilogue.” The “Prologue” states Bernstein’s main ideas, notably that multiculturalism as he understands it, while it “sounds like…a fuller realization of American pluralism,” “the logical extension of the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” has instead degenerated. Gradually it has become a tyrannical bureaucracy of messianic leftists, “a foggy chasm” of dogmatic “moral and cultural relativism.” “Ideological multiculturalists” claim to defend the victimized. In fact, they hamper access to “the great engine of upward social mobility” in the culture that has “produced the highest degree of prosperity in the conditions of the greatest freedom ever known on planet Earth.” It doesn’t occur to Bernstein that upward mobility is yesterday’s dream in the global economy of downsizing by the corporate haves and of layoffs for the impoverished haven’ ts. The heart of Bernstein’s book explains how the multiculturalism of his envisionJames Sledd is Professor Emeritus of En glish at the University of Texas at Austin. dominant just now. As he tells it, in the ’60s, with the Vietnam War, the national self-esteem was damaged, especially among the young. In “the elite institutions,” ideological multiculturalism then slowly grew during the ’70s and ’80s, until finally, “helped by a restriction against…Reaganism,” it “spread through the entire American polity, affecting [sic] a great inversion in American intellectual life.” Yet the multiculturalists’ victory is not among the citizenry at large, and even in those “elite institutions” they can never acknowledge their dominance since, according to Bernstein, they thrive on the pre tense of resisting oppression. Most of Bernstein’s pages go to assorted instances of alleged multicultural abuse, involving persons and institutions as various as the University of Pennsylvania and The Philadelphia Inquirer, Christopher Columbus, Beethoven, and Robert Mapplethorpe. As if the foundations of the Republic could be shaken by small changes in school and college curricula, Bernstein pays particular attention to the 1989-90 catfight over the abolition of an advanced placement course in European history at the high school in Brookline, Massachusetts, and to the uproar over a new syllabus for freshman English at the University of Texas in March of 1990 and following months. That petty controversy was in fact a rather squalid affair from which neither party emerged with enhanced honor, but Bernstein demonizes the multiculturalists involved and sanctifies their noisiest opponent, grandiloquently calling U.T. “a kind of national laboratory, a crucible for the battle over the American identity?’ With “the battle of Texas,” Bernstein’s passion seems almost spent. He ends his “Epilogue” with the declaration that “the multicultural fortress is empty” \(why, then, come for liberals to recapture the high ground from the demagogues of diversity.” His appropriation of the title liberal sets a traditionalist to muttering, “Handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?” In his hunt for PC targets around the empty fortress, Bernstein did find plenty of sitting pigeons to shootand everybody knows what a mess pigeon-droppings can make. Other fowl are still unfrightened by gunfire from the right. In a volume from the fading Modern Language Association, for example, Professor Patricia Harkin of the University of Toledo responds to one of the many apologias of Professor Linda Brodkey, whose proposed syllabus set the fur and feath ers flying at U.T. Harkin ac knowledges “that Brodkey herself uses the rhetorical strategies for which she exco riates her opponents”; but “postmodern theorists” know that “modern consistency” is impossible. “The kinds of arguments that uphold such consistency tend to be associated with particularly aggressive phallocentrism.” Hence Brodkey sometimes “chooses to violate patriarchal conventions” but “reserves the right to invoke and use those conventions when they serve her purpose.” Harkin concludes, dramatically, that “this strategic inconsistency is…as close as we are likely to come to the heroic” \(Clifford and Schilb, Writing TheThat kind of pompous nonsense eventually destroys itself \(and apparently Harkin is not being ironic, though it’s hard to be Nuthouse political correctness is on its way out, as anyone can see when the president of the New York Academy of Sciences introduces a recent conference entitled “The Flight from Science and Reason.” There were no heroes in the Texas battle, no newsworthy villains; and Bernstein could have better spent his two years and his sponsors’ money in investigating the genuine problems besetting college composition in particular and lower-division courses in general. Brodkey offered him an invaluable clue. The graduate students who taught most sections of freshman English at U.T., Brodkey Bernstein’s appropriation of the title liberal sets a traditionalist to muttering, “Handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?” 12 DECEMBER 22, 1995