Bawer, an English PhD who is openly gay and argued for cooperative coexistence in his book A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society, has a unique and patient perspective on the issues he raises. He does not, for example, reject the legitimacy of identity-based studies in general, recognizing a place in History, Anthropology, Literature, and other, established disciplines for studies of various group, subcultures, and populations. What he denounces in The Victims’ Revolution is the grotesque state of affairs in which identity studies truly exist in various Arts departments and as their own disciplines—as dogmatic cults of Marxist and progressivist extremism, jargon-parroting and victim-breeding, for whom even the faculty of reason is often dismissed as a tool of heterosexual white patriarchy.
In some cases, as with Women’s Studies and Black Studies, pre-existing academic inroads were commandeered by radical activists; in the case of Queer Studies, they were completely appropriated (“Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant”). Whatever the name of the program, however, each seems eerily compatible with the other, defined mutually by the intersectionality that allows constituents to pluralize and at times prioritize different aspects of their victimhood. It is something we have all heard parodied, but which remains central and earnest to identity-studies castes—the gay white man has nothing on the fat disabled black transgendered woman. In many of the academic conferences Bawer describes, participants who do not fully fit the victimological mold apologize or express guilt for their more conventional traits—being white or straight, for example. One does not begin to understand how perverse it all is, however, until, at a Disability Studies conference, a speaker suggests that abortion is genocide, but only because abortion can be used to kill unborn disabled people.
The author’s patience is the stuff of legend; no matter how egregious the evidence he uncovers, he stolidly continues to attend the conferences, cite the canonical texts, and report the activities of those under his surveillance. He does not, in other words, descend into the indignant screed for which conservative social critics are often caricatured, no matter how justifiable it might become. Instead, he continues to serve as a messenger of the damned, from reporting that Queer Studies pioneer Judith Butler declined a reward in 2010 from a German gay organization which she accused of ‘Islamophobia,’ to relaying the victimological inventories proclaimed by participants at a Fat Studies conference the same year (including one who described herself as a “‘self-identified queer, fat, vegan, feminist professor’ and whose topic is ‘inclusionism’—meaning the rejection of allisms from looksism to ableism”).
The formality and professionalism of The Victims’ Revolution makes it one of the most powerful indictments yet published on its subject. Bawer is no TV talking head or right-wing radio firebrand. He is a poet, an essayist, a literary critic, and a translator who cherishes the arts and humanities, and who understands what is happening—indeed, what has already happened—to their institutional study. His message is nevertheless hopeful and as respectful as possible given his position; for the most part, he pities the people he observes, particularly the students, who come to university seeking an education, and who emerge worse than if they had never attended at all. Bawer can be debated, but not refuted. While it can be argued that ‘Theory’ (as Bawer and many others have narrowly defined it) has also provided arts scholarship with some extremely stimulating avenues—particularly as regards subjectivity—there is simply no defending the particular personalities, ‘scholarship,’ and other excesses Bawer identifies. In this sense, the book works like a dog whistle—those who can’t hear its message are part of the problem.
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