Virtual Morality
By Christopher Hill
Pushcart Press, 220 Pages, $24.50

A review by Mary Grabar

Why hadn’t I heard of Christopher Hill’s Pushcart Prize-winning novel Virtual Morality? It was published in 2000, while I was laboring on my dissertation, and trying to get it to please the very types of characters Hill describes: the nihilistic English professor and the quisling dean.  My suffering in that moral cesspool called academia would have been alleviated by the voice of this kindred spirit, who through a page-turning plot reveals the nihilistic underbelly of postmodernism and political correctness.

Anyone who has been on a college campus will recognize his characters: the angry feminist professor who spews her venom at white male students (see Duke lacrosse team persecution circa 2006); the luxury seduced university president; the diabolical deconstructionist who has in one fell swoop catapults the English department’s reputation while turning literary studies on itself in a self-devouring act; the cowardly dean who compromises with the evil around him in exchange for power and security; the white male student who gets in trouble in a mandated women’s studies class;  the cocaine-using morally empty young attorney who represents the student; and the working class student who is the most vulnerable.

For anyone who has not been around a campus in a while and who still believes that our campuses are places of higher learning, Hill, in a compelling plot exposes the new “System” of speech codes and intimidation on our campuses.  As in that other comedy, the neutral do not win.  As in the great Russian novels, a speech is offered that is grand and cutting in its indictment of what underlies what most of the public has shrugged off as high-jinks of a jaded group of intellectual eccentrics.

I came upon Hill’s novel serendipitously, while visiting the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization in Clinton, New York, this summer.   The Institute’s bookstore is a treasure trove.

But life imitates fiction.  Professor Hill now serves as resident fellow at the Institute, an institution forced off the campus of Hamilton College by the very types described in his novel.  Hill was denied a shot at turning his four-year temporary appointment in the history department into a permanent one–despite student protests.  This is a common story.   You can read about it here.

I envy his post at the delightful nineteenth-century manse on the square in Clinton, a good mile away from the suspicious ears and prying eyes of the political censors.  Students, faculty members, visiting scholars, and intellectually curious citizens will now have the benefit of his learning.

So is this a foretelling?  As at most colleges, Hamilton students are required to take classes in non-Western cultures, but not in Western Civilization.  Will Western Civilization survive only through such institutes?

I think so, and I see a novel coming.