Why This Radical Leftist is Disillusioned by Leftist Culture
Bailey Lamon

This is a good start to an important conversation for activists. You note that leftists in general aren’t super popular in the American main stream. While this has been generally true, one exception in the last 30–40 years is university campuses, especially humanities departments, which have been spaces conducive to and productive of all manner of activism and progressivism.

However, the origins, structures, and discursive modes of the university — especially humanities departments and ESPECIALLY literature departments — are inherently, fundamentally, and ineluctably conservative. That they became a haven for progressives in the 60s and forward was kind of an accident of intellectual history and the “cultural turn.” But you could argue that the institutional context of academic progressivism does, if you’ll forgive me, institute a conservative trace on the rhetoric and substance of academic/progressive thought. That is, academic progressivism has conservative tendencies because it is formulated in a conservative environment using conservative modes of discourse.All of which is a way of saying that if you want the left to become more responsive, humane, and inclusive, as opposed to prescriptive, exclusive, and monolithic, one important step is to structure campus organizing activities to pull students away from campus to do their politics, and to at some level separate academic and political conversations. This is not to say, for instance, feminism has no place in the literature classroom. Of course it does: feminism has proven to be an invaluable descriptive and analytic tool in literary studies. But it does mean that literary feminism should be mistaken for anything other than a descriptive mode. Nor should academic feminist theory be mistaken for feminist policy positions. Different modes of discourse have different priorities and outcomes.

And once you’ve done that, another important distinction is to separate politics from service. If the IRS can tell the difference between advocacy and direct service and tax accordingly (501 c3 vs c4) then people actually working in those fields can figure out how to act and speak accordingly too.