Book Review

Higher Superstition
The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science

P.R. Gross and N. Levitt
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, 328 pages


This book is a thoughtful, literate critique of the postmodernist school of thought currently in vogue in culture studies departments in universities in Europe and America. It traces the roots of this movement in Marxism and 1960's radicalism, and describes the many varieties of its anti-rationalist, anti-Western, anti-male, and anti-science philosophy.

As mind-boggling as it may seem, postmodernists have somehow convinced themselves that the truth of scientific statements such as "The earth is round" and mathematical statements such as "1+1=2" varies from one culture to another, and are now teaching this to their students. Far from being a harmless bunch of academic cranks, the postmodernists have also in recent years attracted large groups of anti-globalization and anti-American activists, particularly in Europe, where the activists attempted to disrupt the recent G8 economic summits with violent protests. The ill-defined and poorly reasoned viewpoints of these protesters are directly descended from the self-contradictory and scientifically uninformed philosophies of their ecoradicalist, multiculturalist, and cultural constructivist professors. The authors of Higher Superstition, writing in 1994, gave this chillingly prophetic view of ecology radicals:

It is far from clear to us that a true mass movement of fervent ecoradicals, hearts brimming with the precepts of Jeremy Rifkin or Dave Foreman, would not, in the end, turn out to be as pestilential as that of the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Indeed, the authors view the academic left in general as similar, in many respects, to a new fundamentalist religion, with its own unassailable dogmas, moralizing tone, and social agendas. This book explains the postmodernist, feminist, ecoradical, and multicultural viewpoints and criticizes them from the points of view of two eminent and articulate scientists.