Nietzsche argued that with the death of God (i.e., the power of religion in society), notions of sin and guilt and expiation would fade away. In the industrialized West, that just hasn’t happened: the ideas of guilt (“liberal guilt,” if one likes) and expiation have driven the movements for human rights, environmentalism, animal welfare, international war crimes tribunals, and (more obviously and controversially) for reparations for colonialism and slavery. Wilfred McClay looks at these movements – and what he sees as their extensions, the exaltation of victim status and the speech wars on college campuses – and find their roots deep in the beliefs and assumptions of Western Christianity and, before it, Judaism.
“When a profession is protected by academic freedom and tenure, it tends to turn inward. To a large extent that’s good. The great philosophers of the past who wrote so beautifully—Rousseau, John Stuart Mill—had to write beautifully because they had to sell their work to journals. They had to sell books to the general public because they could not hold positions in universities. Mill was an atheist, and, therefore, could not hold a position in a university. It’s a good thing that we’re protected by tenure and academic freedom, but we should realize that it creates a risk of getting cut off. Scholars should write, at least sometimes, for the general public. But if I tell my graduate students to write for the general public, where are they going to publish?”