by Victor Davis Hanson | November 26, 2015 12:05 am
The recent wave of student protests is aimed at liberal professors and administrators.
Current student anger eerily fits the pattern of most left-wing unrest, from the cycles of the French Revolution to the campus riots of the 1960s.
First, protests gradually grow more extreme. Venom is directed at fellow leftists who are deemed insufficiently radical.
In revolutionary France, wild-eyed Jacobins soon guillotined reformist Girondins, who were considered passé. During the Russian Revolution, extremist Bolsheviks marginalized liberal Mensheviks. In the 1960s, many members of the SDS and Black Panthers hated liberals who disapproved of their violence.
A group called the Black Justice League wants the name of liberal but bigoted President Woodrow Wilson removed from Princeton University. Liberals are aghast that the century-old memory of their progressive hero might vanish from the Princeton campus.
Radical students bully liberal deans, crowd into the offices of college presidents, disrupt students in libraries and shout down public speakers.
Second, demands only spiral if the protesters are appeased. The understandable request to take down Confederate flags in public places now has led to a re-examination of all past American icons to satisfy 21st-century notions of race, class and gender correctness.
Will the University of California at Berkeley soon airbrush away the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy? More than 70 years ago, the liberal Warren, as California’s attorney general after the attack on Pearl Harbor, helped to put thousand of Japanese-Americans citizens into detention camps. That decision was approved by arch-liberal Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Should we change the names of thousands of Roosevelt high schools?
If campus radicals have their way, there might not be a single name or image of a liberal or Democratic hero from the past remaining on any campus building or program.
Of course, such censorship is more about exercising power than following principle.
Student protestors do not want to ban the commemoration of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara or the spiritual founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. Yet both wrote racist diatribes.
Praising Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X is OK, despite their anti-Semitism. No one crashes a campus speech by Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton because of their past slurs against Jews.
Third, the self-appointed leaders and activists calling for equality of result are often quite well-off themselves. Maximilien Robespierre, the spear point of the French Revolution, was an upper-middle-class lawyer. Russian revolutionaries Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin were the sons of prosperous Russian families. Former 1960s terrorist bomber Bill Ayers was the scion of a wealthy corporate executive.
Often, such firebrands manage to avoid the consequences of their ideology and live lives very differently from the masses they claim to represent. Remember African-American student Jonathan Butler, who sparked the unrest at the University of Missouri with a hunger strike to protest oppression? He is the son of a multimillionaire railroad executive.
Furious protestors recently railed about oppression at Silliman College at Yale. Yet the oppressed students there live in buildings equipped with two grand pianos, pool tables, gym, movie theater, indoor basketball court, computer lab, dance studio, four music rooms, and even a film-editing lab and art gallery.
Fourth, the agendas of leftist revolutionaries are usually incoherent. They seem more about gaining power and privilege than offering a workable blueprint of reform.
Some black student groups have demanded black-only safe spaces or cultural centers. A group at UCLA demanded black-only student housing. That would be a throwback to the Old South.
Petitions for hiring on the basis of race to ensure particular racial percentages for faculty and staff would be considered racist if turned around and applied to college football or basketball teams, which are often racially disproportionate.
Cries to hire still more diversity administrators reflect precisely what is wrong on campuses: the explosion in non-teaching personnel at the expense of faculty.
A truly revolutionary student agenda would instead demand to curb administrators and hire more physics, biology, history and philosophy faculty who prepare students for future careers.
Calls to stop “cultural appropriation” by prohibiting some groups from enjoying the dress, fashion, music and art of a different ethnicity are nihilistic. Would minority students wish to be denied from appreciating or participating in opera, symphony, impressionist art, Platonic dialectic, Shakespearean drama, physics or constitutional government just because these genres were originally created by Europeans?
The final irony?
For a half-century, professors have privileged diversity over unity. Faculties focused more on American sins than American virtues. They fixated on the color of our skins rather than the content of our characters. Administrators watered down the curriculum, lowered standards and appeased pampered students.
Now they are reaping the liberal whirlwind that they alone have sown.
(Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of “The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern” You can reach him by e-mailing [email protected].)
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