Polarization and heated debate within legal academia are nothing new. Some might argue that vigorous contentiousness, even if not always civil, is essential to a healthy intellectual culture. Others would note that lawyers, legal academics especially, are a highly contentious bunch with a reputation for aggressive behavior.
Fundamentally, this Article asks whether strife and disagreement are a necessary part of academic discourse. The Article describes the academic Kulturkampfs aimed at Critical Race Theory that have taken place in the last ten years both outside of and within the Critical Race Theory (CRT) movement. The Article particularly examines what it is that academics are actually fighting about, whether the debate is actually overly personal, and whether these “fits of spite” are a part of the necessary conflict of major intellectual movements that are required to advance the collective knowledge. Describing the past and ongoing academic Kulturkampfs is a necessary first step to understanding whether the divide can be bridged and whether the conflict that we experience might lead to the better production of knowledge.
The Article further analyzes what is causing the division in the ongoing academic Kulturkampfs. Scholarship shrouds the differences in seemingly neutral terms, but much of the struggle is fueled by personal concerns. With respect to outsider critiques of CRT, the sources of strife can be reduced to three central questions. First, do whites, in particular men and heterosexuals, oppress minorities and women? Second, are racism, sexism, and homophobia so endemic that they have become permanent fixtures in American society? Finally, how do you make objective judgments of others in a world where neutrality and objectivity are suspect? Kulturkampfs also play out with insider critiques. Recently, we have seen struggles about who defines the discipline of CRT, and seen reactions to the assimilationist-separationist dilemma. Some of the questions cannot be answered, or the differences bridged, but we can ameliorate anxieties by being more exact and careful in how we differ. While resolution may not be possible, it is important to identify the fundamental gaps as well as areas of common ground.
With the democratization of legal academia to include law professors of different genders, races, and sexual orientations has come a loss of community, cohesion, and coherence. But what has been gained has been a more democratic and inclusive community. To believe that academics can again speak with a unified voice is no longer possible. Instead of despairing, legal academics must come to accept a new order in which disagreement is a constant. In this new order, the way in which legal academics choose to disagree will be just as important as the merit of their ideas.
35 Seton Hall L. J. 1309 (2005).
Lazos, Sylvia R., "“Kulturkampf[s]” or “Fit[s] of Spite”?: Taking the Academic Culture Wars Seriously" (2005). Scholarly Works. Paper 487.