Tuesday, May 21, 2013
If you thought the campus barbarism of the 1960s was long dead, Thomas Sowell
has an update for you:
An all too familiar scene was enacted on the campus of Swarthmore College during a meeting on May 4th to discuss demands by student activists for the college to divest itself of its investments in companies that dealt in fossil fuels.Correctly calling the current status quo, in which we have "whole departments of ethnic, gender and other 'studies'", a "peace of surrender", Sowell nevertheless finds a hopeful counterexample in history:
As a speaker was beginning a presentation to show how many millions of dollars such a disinvestment would cost the college, student activists invaded the meeting, seized the microphone and shouted down a student who rose in the audience to object.
Although there were professors and administrators in the room -- including the college president -- apparently nobody had the guts to put a stop to these storm trooper tactics. ...
Back in the 1960s, the University of Chicago was a rare exception.When the entire culture, seemingly, is on the side of goons, many who would oppose the tide lose their resolve. It is they, the decent people who might otherwise stand against barbarism, who need reminding of such historical lessons and of the reasons the sky will not fall down.
As Professor George J. Stigler, a Nobel Prize winning economist, put it in his memoirs, "our faculty united behind the expulsion of a large number of young barbarians."
The sky did not fall. There was no bloodbath. The University of Chicago was in fact spared some of the worst nonsense that more compliant institutions were permanently saddled with in the years that followed, as a result of their failure of nerve in the 1960s.
That said, Ayn Rand's analysis of the so-called student "rebellion" of the 1960s supplies an element missing from Sowell's analysis: Those who oppose such nonsense often would find it helpful to know that others understand that they are right to do so. Of course, the mere fact that someone isn't acting like a storm trooper doesn't mean he is necessarily opposed to them.
In her essays, Ayn Rand identified the essential evils of the New Left and their cause. Where most viewed the New Left and its violent college protests, its worship of untouched nature, and its orgiastic mob celebrations as some sort of inexplicable, youthful rebellion against the “establishment,” Ayn Rand identified that these “rebels” were in fact dutiful, consistent practitioners of the ideas taught to them by their teachers.Sadly, knowing this, we have to wonder whether the lack of spine on display at Swarthmore was really due to a faculty too "wimpy" to oppose the barbarians -- or to join them.