fbpx

Is the Scholarly Life Still Worth Pursuing? An Open Letter to the Authors of Public Discourse

Is the scholarly life still worth pursuing? I am at that stage in my academic career where the question keeps me up at night. I want to pursue a PhD in my field of interest. I want to teach and write scholarship. But will there be a spot for people like me in the academy?

Dear Public Discourse Contributors,

Ever since I stumbled upon this lovely site (community?), I have been an avid reader. Since I began reading and following PD back in high school, I have met and interacted with many of the amazing contributors who write for Public Discourse. In so many ways, this site has made me a better thinker and scholar, from giving me some of the best academic advice I’ve received to recommending me some of my favorite books. Therefore, before I go any further, I must offer a simple thank-you for contributing to this site. And to the editors, that thanks is only magnified.

But, as the title of this letter indicates, I am here to ask a question and seek guidance. Although this letter is written by one man, I know that I articulate the worry of many of my peers.

There is no smokescreen covering the deplorable state of the humanities and the university in the twenty-first century. Those humanities departments that haven’t closed their doors find themselves ideologically uniform in nature, with no room for dissenting thought. The new orthodoxy is imposed with an iron fist and will spare no room for heretics. Aggressive ideological conformity has infected not only the usual suspects (history, literature, etc.) but even my own area of interest, international relations. IR scholars are deeply conformist, with few professors leaning center right and few willing to digress from teaching IR theory or military history without looking through the glasses of race, gender, and class. Traditional methods of inquiry (which some have dubbed “conservative” in the nonpolitical sense) seem to be going the way of the dinosaurs.

It is against this unpleasant backdrop that my dilemma arises: is the scholarly life still worth pursuing? I am at that stage in my academic career when the question keeps me up at night. I want to pursue a PhD in my field of interest (strategic studies). I want to teach and write scholarship. But will there be a spot for people like me in the academy?

Can I, a man of faith—I’m an Orthodox Jew—who rejects the new liberal ethos that has infected the academy, who wants to research and teach traditionally, even make it in academia nowadays? Have the days passed when a young, self-educated lad from Lincolnshire can rise to become Sir Roger Scruton? Is it possible for me to become the next Bernard Brodie? Or do my politics and beliefs about things like marriage and sexuality (which Lord knows have nothing to do with my thinking about the strategic history of intelligence operations) bar me from even trying? And if I do try, how? Do I hide in the shadows until the letter of tenure slips through my mailbox? Or do I take the approach of Ho Chi Minh, who somehow took on the greatest empire in the world and won?

Before I decide to spend anywhere from the next three to nine years of my life slaving away at a dissertation, I figured I would write to this wonderful group of thinkers and teachers and ask for your thoughts and guidance. I recognize that although some here might want to write a response for publication, some might prefer to reach out to me directly; my email is in my bio.

It is with bated breath that I await your response.

With admiration,

Phillip Dolitsky

Editors’ note: Authors wishing to submit a response to Mr. Dolitsky are invited to do so here. Both full-length essays and briefer notes (200800 words) will be considered for publication.

Keep up with the conversation! Subscribe to Public Discourse today.

Subscribe to Public Discourse!