Dr. Gelernter, I’m a long-time fan of your writing. I normally find it crisp, incisive, and refreshingly free of either the left- or right-wing varities of political correctness. You’ve been on my short-list of computer scientists I most admire, and have hoped to meet personally someday, for many years.
Against that background, I have to say you have disappointed me dreadfully here. Your critique of capitalism sounds uncannily like special pleading on behalf of academics, a group of which you just happen to be a member.
No real-world market is perfect. But market failure is only grounds to deprecate markets when we have reason to believe non-market allocation mechanisms can do better. Otherwise, the only aim and effect of the deprecation can be to replace an imperfect market with something worse. (Usually the “something worse” is a committee of bureaucrats.)
Can you propose a non-market allocation mechanism that would rescue academia from its present disgraceful state? Good luck with that. F. A. Hayek and David D. Friedman, among others, have shown that even a bureaucrat-god with perfect information and infinite computational capacity cannot outperform market allocation through price signals (the most accessible proof I know of this is in Friedman’s Price Theory, which I recommend).
More generally, the political culture of the West is only now beginning to recover from the memetic damage done to it from 1920 on by Soviet propaganda and Soviet agents of influence (see, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives : Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals). This memetic attack followed the prescriptions of Antonio Gramsci and other Marxist theoreticians, and was determinedly (even brilliantly) executed for over fifty years. Part of the resulting damage is manifest in what you aptly describe as the pervasive “wacko leftism” of the academic/educational world.
Where you see in humanities and social-science academia resentful victims of a system that fails to reward them properly, I see an academic establishment that swallowed not just Stalin’s bait but the hook and the line and the sinker as well (multiculturalism, postmodernism, and “world system” theory), and in doing so rendered itself largely incapable of teaching anything of value. Their economic troubles are not the cause of their political fecklessness, but its completely inevitable consequence.
I’ve said this before in public, and I will again. I think my own fumbling efforts at descriptive sociology and anthropology have earned a better press than they probably deserve, because the standards of scholarship in those fields are now so desperately bad that an outsider/amateur like me who applies even minimal rigor looks brlliant by comparison. My modest success is the flip side of the Sokal hoax, and both are less testimony to the cleverness of their authors than to the degree that the academic background of our work has become an intellectually impoverished wasteland.
You complain that nobody wants to pay decent salaries to humanities academics as if this is market failure. I think it is the market mercilessly assessing the actual value of what they teach. If anything, they’re paid far too much, and insulated from the hard choices independent scholars like me have to make.
Against this background, I’d say yes—public intellectuals (especially academics) do need to declare their loyalty to capitalism every time they open their mouths. This will continue to be necessary until the academy fully recovers from the effects of Gramscian subversion. And, by consequence, earns a decent average salary again.
Want some bright-line tests that are less starkly economic? When literary theorists are able to stop obsessing about “power relationships” and “alienation”; when sociology and anthropology abandon the stifling Durkheimian dogma of tabula rasa; when Middle-Eastern studies departments get out from under the dead hand of Edward Said and “post-colonialism”—then, maybe, declaring our loyalty to capitalism will stop being necessary therapy for a sick academia.
I’m at a complete loss to understand why a self-described “conservative Republican” (particularly one of your intelligence) should make excuses for the academic apparat.