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Debunking the post-modern musings of Professor Matthew McManus (Part 1): Exposing the pseudo-intellectualism of a radical progressive
By J.R. Werbics
So who is Canadian Professor Matthew McManus?
Well, if you are not a progressive, there is a good chance you have never heard of him. For this oversight you will be forgiven. He is certainly not a household name in certain academic or political circles. But he has become a rising star in radical progressive thinking online.
Now, I have to be honest with you. This article began as a simple review of his book, The Rise of Post-Modern Conservativism. It was this work that brought Professor McManus to my attention. But as I slowly made my way through this book, then subsequently researched his background, his online presence, his other books and peer-reviewed articles, I found out something even more interesting than his idea called post-modern conservativism…
I became fascinated by an intellectual enigma.
From one review of The Rise of Post-Modern Conservativism, it is stated that McManus himself is a rare figure, being closely linked with a number of self-declared socialists and communists who make up the online left, yet demonstrating an unwavering patience for more moderate factions on the Left.
He has a Twitter account and a website called left2right.webflow.io. Here he describes himself as a progressive who takes a hard look at the conservative movement from the perspective of the “great” (his words), Peter Lawler.
But before I discuss who Professor McManus is any further, I believe it is vitally important to discuss the context, in particular the political, social, and economic backgrounds, in which he has risen.
In 2016, those who identify as progressive in the Western world were blindsided by a revolution they did not see coming, one that built slowly and quietly in the postmodern “digital estate” over a period of years, beginning with the Great Economic Collapse of 2008 as a backlash to the failures of globalization, austerity, and an overall sense of being powerless. This online populist uprising eventually found real form and substance in the United Kingdom’s referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union. And the answer was leave. Thus were Brexit and a populist revolution born.
Now, if that were not enough for the progressive mind to come to terms with, in the fall of 2016, the American people voted Donald J. Trump into the White House and handed both houses of Congress to the Republicans. To those who identified as Left-leaning, this revolution not only brought to a screeching halt their long march through the institutions of the western world, but reversed many of the inroads and policy victories that had been secured over the years in Europe and America.
With their world crumbling all around them, the Left began to mobilize on a level never before seen. In the United Kingdom, “Remain,” the side that lost the fair, legal, and democratic referendum, also became a rallying cry that brought together progressives from every walk of life. Other, similar academics sympathetic to Remain, quickly joined their allies in the legacy media, along with Liberal, Labour, and European Union politicians, and began to engineer a grassroots movement that had as its ultimate goal stopping the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union.
At the same time in America, the “Resistance” was born. Perhaps the book that best captures and details the organization of this historic social movement birthed by the election of Trump is The Resistance by Professors David S. Meyers and Sidney Tarrow. In Canada, progressives too joined with their American friends in solidarity, and formed an intellectual, political, and social front of Resistance against the populist revolution.
However, by 2018, all progressive and Left-leaning voices realized that the gains achieved by the populists were proving impossible to reverse. It was collectively decided that progressive groups from around the world would begin to coordinate their activities in all manner of ways. It was an all-hands-on deck mentality, with the attitude that “anything goes” and that “whatever it takes to regain the upper hand in this fight” was acceptable. It was in this powder keg of political and social agitation that Professor McManus started to make a name for himself.
Professor McManus began by writing interesting and timely articles about a number of progressive topics, taking aim at their ideological enemies. The professor has published many articles in a number of online magazines such as Aero, Merion West, Philosophical Salon, Post Millennial, New Politics, Jacobin, The Hill Times, Ottawa Citizen, and the Spectator. He has also published a number of peer-reviewed articles in reputable online periodicals as Quillette, McGill International Review, Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, Political Critique, Inside Policy, and Critical Legal Thinking.
In each article a little more light is shed upon his foundational thinking and his understanding of postmodernism. And here is where a little scrutiny and research brings forth some very interesting and disturbing facts.
No sooner had I started reading the introduction of The Rise of Post-Modern Conservativism, than I found certain facts claimed by Professor McManus did not hold up. First, he calls the United Kingdom a founding member of the Eurozone, which is flat-out wrong. The United Kingdom always remained firmly outside of the Eurozone due to its retention of its own currency.
If Professor McManus meant the European Union, here too, his facts are false. That designation goes to France, West Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands and their 1957 Treaty of Rome. The United Kingdom did not enter into agreement with The European Communities until 1973.
Now, beyond this factual error within the first five pages of the introduction, there is a more serious problem regarding a published work from the University of Wales Press. When searched for, it seems not to exist. It was due to these factual errors and misleading claims that I began to look at all the work of Professor McManus more closely.
For instance, many of the articles published by Professor McManus have been on a website called Marion West. What is Marion West? Well, that question reveals some interesting oddities of its own. If researched a little, one finds that this website is relatively new, and many of Professor McManus’s friends publish on it.
When it comes to his major works, there are now two books published in his name (The Rise of Post-Modern Conservativism) and A Critical Legal Examination of Liberalism and Liberal Rights), both published by Palgrave Macmillan. And there is yet a third book to be published this year entitled, Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law: A Critical Legal Argument. It is available for pre-order on amazon.ca and is due out in the early part of 2021, though the book apparently has yet to find a publisher.
His most professional articles are published on Quillette. They are well edited and very readable. But when it comes his book The Rise of Post-Modern Conservatism, the opposite is true. As with any book of its kind, it is filled with documented facts and interpretations taken from other people’s work. One can even say that it over indulges in a lot of name-dropping. But there are very few or no specific footnotes within or examples given to back up what Professor McManus states.
Now, if this were a body of work by a professor who had been tenured for a number of years, it would not elicit such research. But this is a body of work produced by a man who had only had his PhD for three years!
Another interesting fact about Professor McManus is that the person who wrote the introduction to his latest book, A Critical Legal Examination of Liberalism and Liberal Rights, is a graduate student at the University of Toronto. Now, as he is a visiting professor who holds a position at Whitman College, one would think he would be able to find an expert in the field of liberal rights.
These factual errors and publishing irregularities (and there are far too many more to list here), have shown that Professor McManus has a habit of incorporating false facts or narratives within some of his work. To my mind, much of Professor McManus’s work crosses the line into pseudo-intellectualism.
In 2018, a three-person academic team consisting of Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, and Peter Boghossian set out to expose this pseudo-intellectualism that had found its way into a number of fields within the humanities of our post-secondary institutions. Their project and what it revealed has become known as the Sokal Squared scandal.
All three believed, and set out to prove, that many peer-reviewed articles were not to be taken seriously. As they point out, “This is the primary point of the project: What we just described is not knowledge production; it’s sophistry. That is, it’s a forgery of knowledge that should not be mistaken for the real thing. The biggest difference between us and the scholarship we are studying by emulation is that we know we made things up.”
It was also around this time that the Resistance began to expose themselves and their true beliefs as they tried to counter the gains of the populists. In late 2018 or early 2019, the New York Times editorial board published an editorial that argued for another referendum about the United Kingdom’s role in the European Union. It argued in favour of the position of the Remain campaign, that a “peoples’ vote be held.”
In hindsight, this editorial is incredible. That the New York Times would actively argue for the undermining of democracy flies in the face of the values and principles that progressives have always said that they stand for. In that sense, then, it is beyond ironic that those same undemocratic chickens that the New York Times hatched and unleashed in Trafalgar Square should return home to roost at their Capitol Building in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021!
It is into this academic peer-review scandal that Professor McManus published The Rise of Post-Modern Conservativism. When properly understood, what Professor McManus did was to incorporate his work for the Resistance with his ability to create work that effectively delegitimizes his ideological opponents.
Professor McManus had, in the words of the Sokal Squad, created “politically biased research that rests on [a] highly questionable premises [that] gets legitimized as though it is verifiable knowledge. It then goes on to permeate our culture because professors, activists, and others cite and teach this ever-growing body of ideologically skewed and fallacious scholarship.”
But The Rise of Post-Modern Conservativism is no simple article.
Professor McManus takes the process of delegitimizing and deplatforming one’s political or ideological opponents to the next logical level. He gives direction to his fellow progressive Social Justice Warriors as to the location of the next battlefront. In The Rise of Post-Modern Conservativism, the very core of one’s intellectual or ideological enemies are now the target, the end result being that there is no need for these abhorrent ideas, concepts, and opinions need be taught in any academic circle.
Now, this may seem like mere nitpicking, but when all these irregularities, discrepancies and new ways of creating censorship are looked at holistically, it gives rise to a number of other questions that in many respects dwarfs what the Sokal Squad exposed. These questions range from the micro level to the macro, and reverberate through a number of academic, political and social environments.
For starters, it calls into question the core of post-secondary education here in Canada. Specifically, the issue of credibility leads to questions of accreditation and qualification. Which itself leads to the issue of performance and qualification in our post-secondary educational system for those who teach. And for Canadian academics who call themselves conservative, it creates an adversarial environment where their ideas are the target, which in turn feeds into new narratives that revolve around the issue of institutional bias and discrimination.
In closing, the next two parts of this article will try to offer up some answers to these many questions and concerns that emanate from Professor McManus’s work. With this foundation now firmly established, I can now discuss the false narrative or interpretation Professor McManus has created through his own personal definition of what he calls “post-modern conservativism.”
Coming next: Debunking the Postmodern Musings of Professor Matthew McManus (Part 2): Unraveling a Mystery: What is Postmodern Conservativism?
J.R. Werbics is a filmmaker, author and member of the Canadian Philosophical Association.