Intellectuals have long had a fascination with totalitarian systems, which appeal to them as means whereby the nation’s best and brightest (themselves) can redesign everything so we can enjoy the ideal society. They’re smart, they’re passionate, they know how to make things right. Why suffer lesser people to get in the way?
That was true in the 1930s, as Professor Andrew Bachevich reminds us in his recent essay “American Stalinism Then and Now.” For example, he writes, in 1932 dozens of American intellectuals signed a manifesto that “described the Soviet Union as a place where unemployment had been ‘wiped out’ and a ‘cultural revolution of many dimensions has been won on many fronts.’ In the USSR, ‘for the first time in recorded history, a civilization has emerged unified by a living faith in man’s ability to create a classless society.’”
Those who signed the manifesto had accepted the propaganda about utopia under communism and would tolerate no dissent. When Stalin’s great purge began in 1937, with thousands paraded before show trials prior to execution or a one-way trip to the forced labor camps, the intellectuals declared that the defendants were guilty by “sheer weight of the evidence. Anyone arguing otherwise must be an ally of Hitler and Mussolini. “To publicly express a different opinion,” Bachevich writes, “was to invite expulsion from the ranks of the intelligentsia.”
Over the last 80 years, little has changed with our intelligentsia. “Not unlike the Stalinists of the 1930s,” Bacevich continues, “many of today’s most prominent writers and thinkers … have forfeited any actual independence of mind in favor of fashionable ideological fetish.” Today, however, they are far more dominant in university faculties than in literary circles.
Consider, for example, the treatment given to University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax by her colleagues.
Last Agust, she, along with law professor Larry Alexander, published an opinion piece entitled “Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.” In the piece, Wax and Alexander dared to say that some cultural values lead to better results than others. Hard work, saving, marriage – those values lead to prosperity and progress, while welfare, dependency and immediate gratification lead to personal and societal erosion. They concluded by saying, “If the bourgeois cultural script – which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach – cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all.”
For saying such things, Wax was viciously denounced by students and faculty members at Penn. They did not argue against the points Wax made, but cried that she was guilty of racism and white supremacy. To contemporary campus “liberals,” Wax had committed as terrible a sin as a scholar in the 1930s who might have observed that people were starving in Stalin’s supposed workers’ paradise. She deserved not a debate, but punishment. (For a defense of the Wax/Alexander op-ed, read this essay by Jon Haidt.)
Another ugly incident occurred a few weeks ago at Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon. Professor Christina Hoff Sommers was invited to speak at the school. Her crime is to disagree with the tenets of militant feminism, such as that our campuses are dominated by a “rape culture” and that the difference in average earnings between men and women can only be explained by discrimination.
The problem was that leftist zealots did not think Sommers ought to be allowed to speak. For having questioned their beliefs, she was deemed a “fascist.” As reported by Inside Higher Ed here, the student opponents declared that there should be “no platform for fascists.” Whether Sommers actually is a fascist was not to be discussed. The protesters repeatedly shouted her down. What could have been a learning experience for all was short-circuited by the rabid ideological posturing of a few of our future lawyers.
Almost every day, we see more depressing evidence that a neo-Stalinism with its demands for doctrinal purity is spreading across our higher education system.