Right about the same time that the genocide of Native American people and culture was complete, say, the turn of the 19th century, Americans began to embrace the Boy Scouts’ simulacra of Native American and Western lore. (By the time I was a Boy Scout, more than 60 years later, this had evolved into all sorts of secret “Indian” societies and rituals. I still have my “Red Arrow” sash.) That’s a good example of imperial nostalgia. Right at the moment when utter defeat is imminent, the defeated become objects of admiration.
The term is most often used to describe a certain tendency in British culture. I think, though, that we are starting to see a touch of imperial nostalgia in academia, now that the old tenure system is just about completely destroyed. I liked Peter D.G. Brown’s ‘s recent Inside Higher Ed piece (“Confessions of a Tenured Professor), and I joined the New Faculty Majority, but I have to say that the admiration the writer feels for those of us who don’t have tenure or a full time job makes me a little uncomfortable.
Brown has his facts right, and the case for the urgency and the severity of the problem is persuasive. It’s also old news. I summarize the same basic set of facts in my book; many others have too. What bothers me is that as one tenured professor trying to speak to other tenured professors Brown seems to feel the need to plead and, again, perhaps over-sentimentalize the lives of adjuncts. (At least in spirit; again, he gets his facts straight). At some point, of course, the shrinking minority of tenured will simply become irrelevant. Is it time to acknowledge that fact?