The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, the Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies

Scribner. Sept. 2019. 192p. ISBN 9781982127183. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781982127206. ED
This collection of essays by Boyers (English, Skidmore Coll.; editor, Salmagundi) strikes many familiar chords in the liberal case against the politics of identity: fears about institutionally mandated conformity, fears about the limits of identity-based community and collective action, and fears that censorship and self-censorship will circumscribe free speech and thought. Drawn from his private liberal arts college world, Boyers’s examples make clear his unwillingness or inability to decenter his lived experience to grapple with the realities of violence and exclusion that lead people to fight for social change. He repeatedly describes those with whom he disagrees as “offended” by certain ideas, words, or practices, as if they are unpleasant odors rather than part of coherent, historically documented systems of oppression. Boyers assumes—most strikingly in the preface—that readers will share his perspective (one might say identity), such as his shock when a racist mistake disqualifies a white male job candidate, his disappointment when female students critique assigned readings through the lens of misogyny, or his skepticism when his son and son-in-law attempt to explain what it’s like to be gay in a heteronormative world.
VERDICT This work will resonate with liberals dismayed by the notion of structural or systemic oppression but falls short of making a persuasive case that the struggle for equity, diversity, and inclusion within academe is in danger of tyrannical overreach.
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