02 October 2020

academia: is Politics a pseudo subject?

Four years ago, scanning Oxford University Press's Politics blog prior to the US presidential election, I was astounded by the level of partisanship of the posts (written by various humanities professors). The intellectual niveau may have been higher than that found in the left-wing broadsheets, but the sneering and contempt for Donald Trump was comparable. Did the academic establishment not realise how this might come across, to anyone other than those sharing their prejudices? I didn't look at many of the posts after the 2016 election but let us hope, for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy, that the blog did not go on to complain about the evils of attempting to interfere in other countries' elections via the pumping out of digital propaganda.
   This time around, the blog seems more restrained. The tone is pious pontification rather than aggressive derision. However, the bias is still in evidence. In each of the recent posts that mention Donald Trump, the attitude to the incumbent president is clearly hostile. One post contrasts Trump's America unfavourably with the virtuous leftism currently prevailing in Portugal; a second endorses a description of Trump's immigration policies as "cruel"; while the third argues that Trump's resistance to face masks can be compared to sex scandals because both phenomena "reveal who is able to violate the social norms in a society with little consequence".
   The obvious failure to keep normative values out of what is supposed to be objective analysis illustrates either the impossibility in principle of Politics as an academic subject, or the fact that academic neutrality is bound to fail when the political tastes of the academic elite are as homogeneous as they currently are (and diverge significantly from those of electorates). Either way, the OUP blog reinforces the impression that the status of Politics is that of pseudo subject. In other words, a bit of a joke — and not a harmless one.