Heather Mac Donald:
Were you planning to instruct your child about the value of hard work and civility? Not so fast! According to a current uproar at the University of Pennsylvania, advocacy of such bourgeois virtues is “hate speech.” The controversy, sparked by an op-ed written by two law professors, illustrates the rapidly shrinking boundaries of acceptable thought on college campuses and the use of racial victimology to police those boundaries.
The Fuse Is Lit
On August 9, University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and University of San Diego law professor Larry Alexander published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling for a revival of the bourgeois values that characterized mid-century American life, including child-rearing within marriage, hard work, self-discipline on and off the job, and respect for authority. The late 1960s took aim at the bourgeois ethic, they say, encouraging an “antiauthoritarian, adolescent, wish-fulfillment ideal [of] sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll that was unworthy of, and unworkable for, a mature, prosperous adult society.”
Today, the consequences of that cultural revolution are all around us: lagging education levels, the lowest male work-force participation rate since the Great Depression, opioid abuse, and high illegitimacy rates. Wax and Alexander catalogue the self-defeating behaviors that leave too many Americans idle, addicted, or in prison: “the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants.”
Throwing caution to the winds, they challenge the core tenet of multiculturalism: “All cultures are not equal,” they write. “Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy.” Unless America’s elites again promote personal responsibility and other bourgeois virtues, the country’s economic and social problems will only worsen, they conclude.
The University of Pennsylvania’s student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, spotted a scandal in the making. The day after the op-ed was published, it came out with a story headlined “‘Not All Cultures Are Equal’ Says Penn Law Professor in Op-Ed.” Naturally, the paper placed Wax and Alexander’s op-ed in the context of Wax’s other affronts to left-wing dogma. It quoted a Middlebury College sociology professor who claimed that Middlebury’s “students of color were being attacked and felt attacked” by a lecture Wax gave at Middlebury College in 2013 on black-family breakdown. It noted that Penn’s Black Law Students Association had criticized her for a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2005 on black self-help.
But the centerpiece of the Daily Pennsylvanian story was its interview with Wax. Wax (whom I consider a friend) is the most courageous truth-teller on American colleges today. Initially trained as a neurologist at Harvard Medical School, she possesses fearsome intelligence and debating skills. True to form, she stuck by her thesis. “I don’t shrink from the word, ‘superior’” with regard to Anglo-Protestant cultural norms, she told the paper. “Everyone wants to come to the countries that exemplify” these values. “Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans.” Western governments have undoubtedly committed crimes, she said, but it would be a mistake to reject what is good in those countries because of their historical flaws.
The fuse was lit. The rules of the game were the following: Ignore what Wax and Alexander had actually said; avoid providing any counterevidence; and play the race card to the hilt as a substitute for engaging with their arguments.
Enter the ‘Isms’
First out of the gate was the Penn graduate students’ union, GET-UP. On August 11, a day after the Daily Pennsylvanian article, GET-UP issued a “Statement about Wax Op-Ed,” condemning the “presence of toxic racist, sexist, homophobic attitudes on campus.” The “superiority of one race over others is not an academic debate we have in the 21st century,” GET-UP wrote. “It is racism masquerading as science.”
But the Wax-Alexander op-ed and the Wax interview said nothing about racial superiority (much less about sex or homosexuality). It argued for a set of behavioral norms that are available to all peoples but that had found their strongest expression over the course of a particular culture. As the Daily Pennsylvanian itself acknowledged, Wax had emphasized to them that she was not implying the superiority of whites. “Bourgeois values aren’t just for white people,” she had said. “The irony is: Bourgeois values can help minorities get ahead.”
No matter. Time to roll out the racial victimology. “The kind of hate Wax espouses is an everyday part of many students’ lives at Penn, and we can and must fight against it,” GET-UP thundered in its peroration. “For every incident like this that gains press and publicity, we must recognize that there are countless [others that] go unmarked and unchecked.”
The idea that privileged graduate students at Penn, one of the most tolerant, racially sensitive environments in human history, experience everyday “hate” is delusional. The adults on campus so fervently seek the presence of underrepresented minority undergraduates and graduate students that they use racial preferences to admit many of them.
GET-UP bravely announced that it “stands with the students attacked by Professor Wax, and against racism, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia in all their forms.” Fact check: Wax had attacked no students. Her argument was against the 1960s countercultural revolution that had undermined the legitimacy of bourgeois values.
Unanswered question: Were Wax and Alexander wrong that the virtues of self-restraint, deferred gratification, and future orientation are key for economic and personal progress, and that an anti-achievement, anti-authority culture of drug use and a detachment from the work force is inimical to advancement? GET-UP had nothing to say about those key matters.
The Daily Pennsylvanian followed up with another article on August 13, titled “Campus Is Abuzz over Penn Law Professor Amy Wax’s Controversial Op-Ed, Which Called for a Return of ‘Bourgeois’ Cultural Values.” The August 13 article quoted liberally from the GET-UP statement and added some sarcastic tweets by an assistant professor of educational linguistics at the education school. The professor, Nelson Flores, also implied that Wax was nostalgic for Jim Crow. The student paper noted that a Philadelphia councilwoman had tweeted that Wax’s comments were “miserable.” University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann would not comment on the matter because she was traveling, a university spokesman told the paper. Nothing prevented the university, however, from issuing a strong statement supporting its professors’ good-faith participation in public debate.
Feisty as ever, Wax e-mailed the paper: “If this is the best Penn professors and grad students can do, our culture really is in trouble.”
More Booty, More Bureaucracy
Missing so far from the reaction was a call for speech restrictions and more diversity infrastructure. The IDEAL Council, “representing marginalized graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania through the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly,” corrected the omission with its August 17 “Open Letter to the University of Pennsylvania Regarding Hate Speech in Our Community.”
Wax and Alexander’s Inquirer op-ed “pivoted on the denigration of a number of racial and socioeconomic groups,” which “will not be surprising to many students of color, especially those in the law school who have had to take a course with Wax,” IDEAL claimed. “Her racist and homophobic statements are well-documented both on and off campus.”
The Inquirer op-ed, however, is about behavior, not about racial groups per se. (IDEAL and GET-UP both ignore the fact that Wax and Alexander criticize white underclass behavior, a silence necessary to clear the deck for full-throated racial victimology.) Far from mistreating “students of color,” Wax has received a law-school teaching award from Penn’s law students and a second university-wide teaching award, conferred by faculty committee. If she oppressed “students of color,” the faculty presumably would have heard about it.
A glad cry must have gone out among IDEAL manifesto writers when they discovered that Wax had taught at the University of Virginia law school until 2001. Voilà! Irrefutable proof of bigotry! “Prior to teaching at Penn, Wax was a professor at the University of Virginia Law School,” the manifesto gloats. “On August 12th, White supremacists marched through the University of Virginia carrying torches, chanting ‘You will not replace us,’ and yelling racial and anti-Semitic slurs.” The causality speaks for itself, but in case the reader needs help, IDEAL explains that the white supremacy “can find its intellectual home in the kind of falsely ‘objective’ rhetoric in Amy Wax’s statement, which positions (white) bourgeois culture as not only objectively superior, but also under incursion from lesser cultures and races.”
“Falsely ‘objective’” presumably means: “based on facts that one is unable to rebut.” Nothing in the Wax-Alexander op-ed claimed that white culture was under incursion from lesser races. The 1960s attack on bourgeois culture came most forcefully from American “academics, writers, artists, actors, and journalists,” they write, “who relished liberation from conventional constraints.” That is not a racial critique, it is an ideological one. For good measure, IDEAL also links Wax to “eugenicist ideas and practices.”
Having established Wax’s connection to the “metastasizing KKK chapters of Pennsylvania,” IDEAL gets down to brass tacks: demands for a “formal policy for censuring hate speech and a schedule of community-based consequences for discriminatory acts against marginalized groups.” Typical of the associational chain used by campus leftists, the IDEAL Open Letter equates rational argumentation with “hate speech,” and “hate speech” with “discriminatory acts.” Without consequences for these “discriminatory acts,” U. Penn.’s “vulnerable students” will continue to be “harmed,” “dehumanized,” and “compromised” in their ability to get an education. If a student’s ability to pursue his education can be “compromised” by a single op-ed, perhaps he is not ready for advanced studies.
How many parents of young children are saving every dime they can to send the kid to 4 years of brainwashing camp.
The radical left doesn’t much like the failure of their culture pointed out, do they? An excellent example of leftists throwing all their “isms” at an argument they cannot reason with.
Worst of all, these leftist idiots are far more “mainstream” than they used to be.