A former dean of the Yale Law School sounds a warning.
Anyone who has followed the news from college campuses over the past few years knows they are experiencing forms of unrest unseen since the late 1960s.
Now, as then, campuses have become an arena for political combat. Now, as then, race is a central issue. Now, as then, students rail against an unpopular president and an ostensibly rigged system. Now, as then, liberal professors are being bullied, denounced, demoted, threatened, sued and sometimes even assaulted by radical students.
But there are some important differences, too. None of today’s students risk being drafted into an unpopular, distant war. Unlike the campus rebels of the ’60s, today’s student activists don’t want more freedom to act, speak, and think as they please. Usually they want less.
Most strange: Today’s students are not chafing under some bow-tied patriarchal WASP dispensation. Instead, they are the beneficiaries of a system put in place by professors and administrators whose political views are almost uniformly left-wing and whose campus policies indulge nearly every progressive orthodoxy.
So why all the rage?
The answer lies in the title of Anthony Kronman’s necessary, humane and brave new book: “The Assault on American Excellence.” Kronman’s academic credentials are impeccable — he has taught at Yale for 40 years and spent a decade as dean of its law school — and his politics, so far as I can tell, are to the left of mine.
But Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including a Maoist-style struggle session against a distinguished professor, fights about “cultural appropriation,” the renaming of Calhoun (as in, John C.) College, and the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”
It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” may remind some students of slavery. What it really means is a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.
What’s happening on campuses today isn’t a reaction to Trump or some alleged systemic injustice, at least not really. Fundamentally, Kronman argues, it’s a reaction against this aristocratic spirit — of being, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “beyond responsibility to the general masses of men, and hence superior to both their degraded longings and their no less degraded aversions.” It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.
“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.
This is a bracing, even brutal, assessment. But it’s true. And it explains why every successive capitulation by universities to the shibboleths of diversity and inclusion has not had the desired effect of mollifying campus radicals. On the contrary, it has tended to generate new grievances while debasing the quality of intellectual engagement.
Hence the new campus mores. Before an idea can be evaluated on its intrinsic merits, it must first be considered in light of its political ramifications. Before a speaker can be invited to campus for the potential interest of what he might have to say, he must first pass the test of inoffensiveness. Before a student can think and talk for himself, he must first announce and represent his purported identity. Before a historical figure can be judged by the standards of his time, he must first be judged by the standards of our time.
All this is meant to make students “safe.” In fact, it leaves them fatally exposed. It emboldens offense-takers, promotes doublethink, coddles ignorance. It gets in the way of the muscular exchange of honest views in the service of seeking truth. Above all, it deprives the young of the training for independent mindedness that schools like Yale are supposed to provide.
I said earlier that Kronman’s book is brave, but in that respect I may be giving him too much credit. Much of his illustrious career is now safely behind him; he can write as he pleases. Would an untenured professor have the guts to say what he does? The answer to the question underscores the urgency of his warning.
Men are being held accountable — and it has them mad as hell
This is why, I suspect, these men become so shocked and enraged when they’re asked to answer for their actions: When they say “nothing happened,” it’s not just a denial — it’s that they truly believe the incident was not a big deal.
Yesterday, Kavanaugh was the face of that backlash — an avatar for entitled, white male rage in the U.S. Angry, sputtering, petulant — the judge could barely contain his fury over being expected to answer for himself. As Slate’s Lili Loofbourow put it: “This person does not seem to have a lot of experience coping with not getting what he wants.”
Instead of responding to questions directly, Kavanaugh repeated his professional and academic bonafides as if his elite background was proof of good character. When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked the judge about references in his high school yearbook about drinking to the point of vomiting, Kavanaugh responded, “I was at the top of my class academically.”
“Captain of the varsity basketball team,” he continued. “Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School.”
Don’t you know who I am?
.. When Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who prefaced her questions with anecdote about her own father’s alcoholism — asked Kavanaugh if he had ever blacked out, the judge snapped, “Have you?” Even after she repeated the question, once again Kavanaugh sneered: “I’m curious if you have.”
.. Alexandra Schwartz at the New Yorker called this behavior “a model of American conservative masculinity…directly tied to the loutish, aggressive frat-boy persona that Kavanaugh is purportedly seeking to dissociate himself from.”
.. And, as is often the case with frat boys, Kavanaugh’s brothers had his back. One after another, the male Senators gave emotional apologies to the judge for even having to be there, bemoaning the loss of his life and reputation. Like Kavanaugh, they were appalled that the judge was expected to explain himself.
As if the possibility of him not ascending to the Supreme Court — and just continuing to serve on the second most important court in the country — would be a travesty. As if Kavanaugh was owed a smooth, unquestioned, path to whatever he wanted.
.. he hearing stopped being about Blasey Ford’s experience or even Kavanaugh’s fitness for the job, and instead became a stage for broader and bitter male resentment — furious over the seemingly new expectation of accountability, and raging over not immediately being given what was promised to them.
.. Even as women calmly and expertly explain the ways in which men have hurt us, our pain is immediately drowned out and glossed over by men’s belief that they should not have to answer to us, of all people.
.. My optimistic side would like to think that yesterday was the last loud gasp of a dying patriarchy, an astounded sexist minority trying its best to rebel against an emerging feminist majority. The less hopeful part of me, though — the part that still thinks quite a lot about America’s history of choosing poorly between a measured, informed woman and a belligerent, snapping man
We were college classmates and drinking buddies with Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. In the past week, all three of us decided separately to respond to questions from the media regarding Brett’s honesty, or lack thereof. In each of our cases, it was his public statements during a Fox News TV interview and his sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that prompted us to speak out.
We each asserted that Brett lied to the Senate by stating, under oath, that he never drank to the point of forgetting what he was doing. We said, unequivocally, that each of us, on numerous occasions, had seen Brett stumbling drunk to the point that it would be impossible for him to state with any degree of certainty that he remembered everything that he did when drunk.
.. none of us condemned Brett for his frequent drunkenness. We drank too much in college as well. It is true that Brett acknowledged he sometimes drank “too many beers.” But he also stated that he never drank to the point of blacking out.
.. we felt it our civic duty to speak the truth and say that Brett lied under oath while seeking to become a Supreme Court justice. That is our one and only message, but it is a significant one.
.. No one should be able to lie their way onto the Supreme Court. Honesty is the glue that holds together a society of laws. Lies are the solvent that dissolves those bonds.
.. All of us went to Yale, whose motto is “Lux et Veritas” (Light and Truth). Brett also belonged to a Yale senior secret society called Truth and Courage. We believe that Brett neither tells the former nor embodies the latter. For this reason, we believe that Brett Kavanaugh should not sit on the nation’s highest court.
Deborah Ramirez, one of the women who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual abuse, said in an interview that she had been hopeful that her story would be investigated when two agents drove from Denver to Boulder, Colorado, last weekend to interview her at her lawyer’s office. But Ramirez said that she was troubled by what she perceived as a lack of willingness on the part of the Bureau to take steps to substantiate her claims. “I am very alarmed: first, that I was denied an F.B.I. investigation for five days, and then, when one was granted, that it was given on a short timeline and that the people who were key to corroborating my story have not been contacted,” Ramirez said. “I feel like I’m being silenced.”
.. Several former Yale students who claim to have information regarding the alleged incident with Ramirez or about Kavanaugh’s behavior at Yale said that they had not been contacted by the F.B.I. Kenneth G. Appold was a suitemate of Kavanaugh’s at the time of the alleged incident.
.. Appold, who is the James Hastings Nichols Professor of Reformation History at Princeton Theological Seminary, said that he first heard about the alleged incident involving Kavanaugh and Ramirez either the night it occurred or a day or two later. Appold said that he was “one-hundred-per-cent certain” that he was told that Kavanaugh was the male student who exposed himself to Ramirez. He said that he never discussed the allegation with Ramirez, whom he said he barely knew in college. But he recalled details—which, he said, an eyewitness described to him at the time—that match Ramirez’s memory of what happened. “I can corroborate Debbie’s account,” he said in an interview. “I believe her because it matches the same story I heard thirty-five years ago, although the two of us have never talked.”