Heresy Hunting is the search for ideological non-conformity in academia, the effort to select targets for political attack. The effort is not only to identify and punish individual academics as scapegoats but also to chill the academic liberty of all intellectuals.
Before the American Red Scares of the 1920s and 1930s, many saw the problem as primarily one of interfering in academic hiring decisions. Thus John A. Hobson could write the following in his classic 1902 Imperialism: A Study:
- "The interference with intellectual liberty is seldom direct, seldom personal, though of late both in the United States and Canada some instances of the crudest heresy-hunting have occurred. The real danger consists in the appointment rather than in the dismissal of teachers, in the determination of what subjects shall be taught, what relative attention shall be given to each subject, and what text-books and other apparatus of instruction shall be used. The subservience to rank and money, even in our older English universities, has been of late evinced so nakedly, and the demands for monetary aid in developing new faculties necessarily looms so large in academic eyes, that the danger here indicated is an ever-growing one. It is not so much the weight of the “dead hand” that is to be feared as that of the living: a college so unfortunate as to harbour teachers who, in handling vital issues of politics or economics, teach truths deeply and obviously antagonistic to the interests of the classes from whom financial aid was sought, would be committing suicide. Higher education has never been economically self-supporting; it has hardly ever been fully organised from public funds; everywhere it has remained parasitic on the private munificence of wealthy persons. The peril is too obvious to need further enforcement: it is the hand of the prospective, the potential donor that fetters intellectual freedom in our colleges, and will do so more and more so long as the duty of organising public higher education for a nation out of public funds fails of recognition." text