We’re having an Amy Wax moment. In fact, it’s been kind of an Amy Wax year. And that’s fine and good and in its own way overdue.
The hoopla over Prof. Wax’s takedown last summer of liberal intolerance at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches law, goes on and on. It started with an op-ed she and a fellow law prof from San Diego law, Larry Alexander, wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The two dared suggest that the end of “bourgeois values” from the 1950s—e.g., marriage, hard work, patriotism—had disabled and disadvantaged present-day cultures, and that all cultures weren’t—are you ready?—equal.
Aarghhh! Law school colleagues went on a Wax hunt, suggesting in a joint letter that Prof. Wax shouldn’t be saying such vile things. The outcry spread; she stood firm; defenders arose; invitations to speak poured in; the Wall Street Journal, in February, excerpted and adapted remarks she had made at Hillsdale College. The dean of her own law school suggested she take leave of absence due to the controversy. On it goes. And of course we all know why.
The reason is, no one can talk sense to an intellectual establishment fearful that the foundation of its worldview has large unrepaired cracks. Better to say, “Shut up, you,” than to acknowledge some major repairs are warranted.
What does this tell the rest of us? Well, sure, establishment folk don’t believe in free speech and all that good stuff. There’s more, though – namely, the insecurity they manifest when presented with views that contradict their position. A plausible take on this behavior is that they’re at least as frightened as they are indignant.
“Let truth and falsehood contend,” wrote John Milton in opposition to the licensing of speech. See, that’s the problem. In a fair contest, the other side might show you up. Can’t have that! What of the commitment, in such a case, to the “progressive” cause of absolute, tee-total Cutural Equality? You have to rethink the commitment, that’s what, painful as the experience will prove.
Amy Wax, transmuted, is the girl in the fairy tale who notes, because she can’t help noting, that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. But if we need to believe he’s wearing clothes…! Liberal authoritarianism comes into play just here: The clothes are there in a higher sense, a spiritual sense, almost.
No, they’re not, says Amy Wax. Small wonder she infuriates. Her arguments deny to the left its right to believe what it wants to believe. Hooray for her — with an admonition to other watchers of the naked emperor: Go and do likewise. Go, if need be, and require of his imperial majesty that he display his ermine-trimmed robe.