Billionaire and open borders advocate Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal in his support for large-scale US immigration. Now his sister, Donna, has made her voice heard in a different, but equally repugnant way. She is fed up with the Alt-Right for reading the Classics. Yes, Homer’s Odyssey and the poetry of Virgil are off limits to those who dare read literature that reflects the history of their ancestors. Such an act is grounded in “toxic masculinity” and “racism,” according to Ms. Zuckerberg. Her bloviating and pompous rant entitled “How to Be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor” accurately highlights the desire on the part of many academicians to control and censor free speech at the cultural level.
Unceremoniously attacking scholar Victor Davis Hanson in her online publication Eidolon for no other reason than to describe him as an unwitting cheerleader of the Alt-Right was news to a man who had never heard her name before. Professor Hanson, currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is arguably one of the most notable classicists worldwide. I recently contacted the professor after reading her piece online and asked him about his thoughts on the Silicon Valley-based academic’s diatribe against the Alt-Right, the disfiguring of education in the West, and the growing trend of censorship on college campuses. This is what he had to say.
1. In your own writing, you refer to a “monastics of the mind.” Can you expand on how this faux religiosity is now a prominent component to the college experience? It seems as though people desperately want to infuse religion into their lives, but because Christianity has been labeled as superstitious nonsense by the Left, things like science, nature, and oddly enough, Islam, are seen as viable dogmatic replacements for this staid orthodoxy.
The atheist Nietzsche’s madman who yelled “God is dead” was, I think, lamenting that late nineteenth-century European morality had collapsed and what would take its place might be far worse. The Left’s substitute efforts at transcendence have no moral code (can the PETA activist blow up a stockyard for the greater good? Does the Islamic immigrant who conducts an honor killing receive a multicultural exemption? Is the rejected Asian student wrong for complaining that other minorities won a slot at Berkeley without comparable application records?)
The Left’s race/class/gender religion is basically anti-white, male, Christian, heterosexual, middle-class male. But it is a dogma against something, not for anything, and full of contradictions in a pluralistic multiracial and integrated society fueled by dynamic consumer capitalism (Is Michelle Obama deprived? Is Jorge Ramos a victim? Did Elizabeth Warren and Ward Churchill suffer for their purported Native American heritages?) So far, no Leftist religion supersedes all its -isms and –ologies, and these schisms and detours result in chaos.
Atheistic experiments in the past—Nazism, fascism, Stalinism, Maoism—naturally lead to the Apocalypse. When zealots lose their Christian god, they retain the ardor, but not the message of tolerance and forgiveness, and instead redirect to social justice—or else!. There is a reason why New England, to take one example, seems to produce so many firebrands, from Salem to Middlebury, eager now to root out perceived injustice as it once did devilry.
2. There are some professors in academia who feel as though the university system is becoming bifurcated between a traditional curriculum that studies things like data, empirical observations, and historical facts, to transform itself into one that largely focuses on the political aspects of education as they relate to social justice. Do you agree with this?
We have a host-parasite relationship in the university. A Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech, or Harvard is not globally respected for its English or Sociology Departments. Most humanities programs are now melodramatic efforts to find in history and literature villains, convict them by modern standards of morality, virtue signal the results and in psychological terms square the circle of one’s own privilege in academia, while doing as little traditional research or undergraduate teaching as possible (establishing an improved text of Aeschylus’s Oresteia is difficult; writing on transgendered Olympians is not; teaching 5 in a graduate seminar on your latest journal article is easy; correcting papers for 100 in Introduction to Humanities is exhausting). In contrast, medicine, engineering, mathematics, business, physics, etc. are not postmodern (yet), and still run on meritocratic principles. These disciplines that so enrich society through their research and teaching earn university rankings, gifts, and status—not so the Women’s Studies or Environmental Studies (or any –studies program for that matter) programs that are deductive, not Socratic.
So, there are two universities: most students go to school to acquire a technê in the real university, and are obligated by GE standards to be “well-rounded’ by taking required humanities courses. But the latter have largely devolved into ‘find the oppressors and victims” exercises in lieu of understanding Shakespeare’s sonnets or the Melian Dialogue. The result is something like the late Soviet Union, where everyone gives lip service to the party line (of race/class/gender), knows not to cross it, accepts that careerists, like the apparat of the past, are justice police, and then navigates accordingly and cynically.
3. There is a movement on campuses referred to as Teach, Organize, Resist. This organization is nationwide and often uses class time to protest the Trump Administration. Is it conscionable for schools to strong-arm students into attending rallies in opposition to a freely elected political party? Recently, Charles Murray and a professor on the campus of Middlebury College were “shouted down” to the point where Mr. Murray could not give his lecture and the professor escorting him in the auditorium was physically attacked. How are students so blind to their own fascistic tendencies and why are colleges encouraging uncivil behavior, such as they did at Berkeley last February when journalist Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak, resulting in $100,000 in damages?
The answers were provided 50 years ago during the 1960s and need be only updated to our era. The Left that runs the campus believes that for a brief 4 years it has captive America’s youth before they are let loose to be again brainwashed by the family, church, government, corporation, etc. In such a brief time, the campus must vaccinate them, by providing “balance” to other supposedly regressive institutions by providing no balance while on campus. The purpose of liberal education now is to lead the student to a preconceived result, not to teach inductive thinking or to provide intellectual referents in the humanities to enrich and strengthen such inquiries.
Such dogma is empowered by fossilized institutions. Tenure no longer ensures intellectual diversity but orthodoxy (one says or writes what is necessary to enter the lifelong guild). Full professors enjoy lifelong job security in a way unknown outside the campus. Academia is like On the Waterfront; heretics are ostracized. Administrators grasp two realities: they are now compensated like CEOs, but without the scrutiny or performance requirements. Their only worry is a race/class/gender protest in their office, and so they preempt that nightmare 24/7 by daily memos professing their commitment to diversity. Admissions try to accept those without traditional qualifying grades and test scores, which in turn creates further tensions on campus that “racism” and “white privilege” result in inequality in the classroom and at graduation, which further require diversity counselors and czars to create parity, as the university chases its tail. Everyone knows this; no one dares object. The result is that the BA is simply a cattle brand and the $65,000 per year an investment in buying the most esteemed stamp possible, but no longer a sign of education or knowledge. The greatest fear on campus is a sort of required reverse SAT-like test that all students would have to take upon graduation as an exit audit to ensure minimum standards, perhaps in the spirit of medical or law licensing. If that were to happen a Hillsdale graduate would probably outperform her Stanford counterpart.
4. I wrote an article for blackpigeonspeaks.com on the topic of reverse racism and it can be referenced here if you would like. The article outlines a growing trend on college campuses for open racism against white professors and students. How can such a thing be labeled progressive by students who in engage in the very thing they claim to abhor, namely, discrimination and privilege?
There are many explanations. Postmodernism posits no objective truth, but simply competing narratives adjudicated by perceptions of relative power. One makes truth claims based on one’s ability to find the greater victimization, thus the strange phenomenon of a Rachel Dolezal, or the ¼ Argentinian with Hispanicized accents all over his tripartite name, or common hyphenated feminist nomenclature (e.g., “Professor Anita Wilson-Lopez” or “Juanita Gonzalez-Smith”).
This entire charade is predicated on the U.S. economy and military that is able to produce a surfeit of capital, goods, and services and to protect all that from age-old enemies. The result is that society is awash in affluence, in which millions can disconnect safely from age-old reality in a way impossible in the past. Our tribalism is boutique; in Somalia or Libya it is deadly.
Second, most students see around them a particular unrepresentative white person in terms of class and influence, as we saw in the last election results. Undergraduate whites, especially at tony liberal arts private institutions, are far more affluent and privileged than their working-class counterparts in southern Ohio or Oakhurst, California. They understand that their innate support network of family connections, income, and influence allow them to collude for 4 years in the idea that they are oppressors of women and minorities, on the unspoken premise that in 10 years we will read about all of them in the alumni news in upscale careers in Hollywood, media, politics, and corporate life. (Unspoken is the theory that privileged whites also confess to their own racism as a way of empowering their own apartheid existences; in other words, the more leftwing, affluent and white students and professors seem to sound, the less likely they seem to wish to live or school their kids among the Other—begging the question of whether their creed is a psychological mechanism for squaring their circle of exclusion).
So, most whites convicted of enjoying privilege do not push back, and the result is that in la la land on campus screaming at guilt-ridden white people is an easy thing to do in a way it is not if one went to a NASCAR race or a coal community in West Virginia or even a football game in Green Bay and alleged that a Scots-Irish unemployed teenager was privileged in a way Van Jones was not. Accusing Pajama Boy that he is privileged earns a nod; doing the same to Joe Smith at a muffler shop in Akron might not earn the same response.
Leftwing white professors and administrators are always terrified that they will be subject to the consequences of their own racialist and quota bromides, and so do their most to become immune from the logical ramifications to their ideology by hiring as many minorities around them as possible and by joining the chorus damning white privilege. It is quite amazing really to see such skilled white administrators in action, who for careerist survival will sacrifice almost anything from due process to free speech. “Minority” is a construct in a society of integration, intermarriage, and assimilation: what category is the ¼ Japanese American who never knew his grandfather, or the ½ Punjabi or the ¾ Basque or Portuguese?
We are reaching the point where DNA badges will be required, or perhaps in combination with a printout, ranking past victimization, from the past use of Chinese immigrant laborers on the railroad to the zoot-suit riots, and then calibrating all that with a skin color/religious/gender chart. If not, La Raza (a word that gained currency in Franco’s Spain) will go the way of the Italian-American idea of Raza, and we will have no Chicano Studies classes in the way we have no Italian-American classes. An entire industry is terrified of the “content of our character” notion of Martin Luther King.
5. Is focusing on social justice as a form of education a means of reducing the difficulty of the overall curriculum? Given that social justice is predicated on opinion and not facts or scientific research, does this dilute the value of education in the marketplace? Is this not the pattern we see in scholars like Donna Zuckerberg who interject feminism into the classics, a place that has little relevance for such material considering the authors of ancient Greece and Roman were not targeting feminists? This seems like recreating the author’s work to fit the field of study rather than authentic scholarship.
I don’t wish to be cynical, but in some 45 years in academia I have come to three empirical conclusions that explain the careers of a Ms. Zuckerberg and a legion of others:
Race/class/gender studies is far easier than philology, history, or any real academic discipline, given it tries to offer abstraction—guided by no principles of research or hard data—to the popular culture that everyone experiences daily. Certainly, it is not physics, computer engineering, or neurosurgery, and thus attracts those who see degrees, status, and sinecures as the goals of academic life rather than banal incidentals to accomplishment in scholarship and teaching.
What you describe is again a reflection of privilege. Ms. Zuckerberg did not grow up in Parlier or South Central, California and does not know first-hand the underbelly of the U.S., or the premises on which it operates—and has no desire to learn about it, at least apart from a peep once in a while from a sanitized cocoon. For the campus social justice warrior, there are no consequences to their writing, no worries where their next meal comes from; these are facts well known to them, but explained away or squared by abstract empathies and obtuse arguments for reparations at someone else’s expense. If I write about the need to close the borders and insist on meritocratic legal immigration, I accept that my Hispanic neighbors in Selma, California might not only not like that opinion, but in the grocery store parking lot they might wish to counter such arguments in a way not found through discourse or op-eds.
Finally, the present academic fascism that abhors free speech, free assembly, free expression, and free inquiry is necessary for this guild. Were Ms. Zuckerberg to adopt a view, for example, of feminist Camille Paglia and welcome diverse opinions, well, then, life would not be easy. Who wishes to rise each morning and be told you are a fascist, racist, bigot, homophobe, etc.?
So, by preaching to an obsequious choir, life is tranquil. I remember after John Heath and I published Who Killed Homer? a former professor and a proverbially nice guy, said to me, “Now, why did you have to go and do all that and ruin everything?” We may think the stakes are tiny in academia compared to the military or the corporate world, and they are for tenured grandees who joust with ingenious put down memos, but still for thousands of part-time lecturers, unemployed graduate students, and untenured faculty, heterodoxy results in unemployment—and a basic write off of one twenties and thirties, at least career-wise. We forget that liberal academia is far more exploitive of its part-timers and temporary lecturers than a supposedly exploitive Wal-Mart is of its door greeters.
I hope that answers your questions.
Victor Davis Hanson