I have always admired the tag corruptio optima pessima: the corruption of the best is the worst. Take the Ivy League. These super-rich, super-prestigious institutions are so wealthy and so beguiling because, once upon a time, they represented and — more to the point — successfully transmitted to their students the prime civilizational values of our culture.
We’re told, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, that the light we see from distant stars is very old and, in some cases, is light from stars that were long ago extinguished. It is same with the Ivy League and their near competitors.
Today, they are utterly bankrupt — not financially, of course. No, in a good old greedy capitalist sense, they are filthy, stinking rich. It is only in an intellectual and moral sense that they are bankrupt. They are, all of them, totally in thrall to what we have come to call “woke” ideology, which has poisoned the well of their intellectual pretensions by subordinating the life of the mind to identity politics.
All the old liberal virtues — disinterested inquiry, due process, colorblind justice, advance according to merit, not some extraneous racial, ethnic, or sexual quota — all that has been rebranded as the invidious patent of reactionary and therefore impermissible vice. In sum, the educational establishment in its highest reaches is today a cesspool, contaminating the society it had been, at great expense, created to nurture.
Still, parents are willing to climb naked over broken bottles and impoverish themselves to send their children to this cauldron of iniquity. The light from those extinguished stars still, for a short while yet, beams down upon us, and people still utter the words “Harvard,” “Yale,” “Princeton” with something approaching awe.
That will soon change. Soon, if not quite soon enough, the light will fail and these rotten corpses will lay exposed for what they are. A frenetic restlessness in that bedlam suggests that the end will be coming soon. What cannot go on forever won’t, and the very public nervous breakdown of these tony institutions is now too far advanced to be swept under the carpet.
The show trial and defenestration of the distinguished classicist Joshua Katz at Princeton a few months ago is only one item in the increasingly plump dossier of rancid squalidness that will someday form the epitaph of these disgusting institutions. Another is the attack on Amy Wax, an outspoken professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Katz was removed from his tenured position at Princeton because he wrote an article in Quillette that some of the wokerati at Princeton didn’t like. That’s not what Princeton says, of course. They dragged up a consensual relationship Katz had with a student some fifteen years ago as a pretext. But you may take it as given that had Katz not written that essay, he would still have tenure in the golden midden that is Princeton University.
Penn has no such personal tort to allege against Wax. The pathetic dean of the law school, Theodore W. Ruger, only has things that Wax has said, or is said to have said, to go on. His bill of indictment, which has now been handed over to the Faculty Senate, would be hilarious if it were not in earnest. Amy Wax has said things that the minority students at Penn do not like. Ruger, spineless invertebrate that he is, assumed the fetal position and handed her to the dogs. She must be harassed, publicly humiliated and possibly stripped of her tenure.
But like Katz, Wax’s real tort lay elsewhere. A few years ago, Wax co-wrote a much-cited article in praise of bourgeois values — values like thrift, hard work, punctuality, fair dealing and honesty. Such things, she argued, were the best guarantee of personal and social success — and the fact that some groups embodied such values while others did not went a long way towards explaining the differences in their achievements. That piece and what she said about it in some interviews on Glenn Loury’s show were her real torts.
Dean Ruger’s list of Wax’s violations is funny because it consists largely of truisms, laced here and there with evidence of guilt by association. For example, Wax has said nice things about John Derbyshire, a distinguished author but one who also has fallen foul of the cringing woke commissars in our culture. It would take a very long column to address all of Dean Ruger’s accusations, so let me focus on the one that seemed to cause the greatest offense: the idea that not all cultures are equal. “All cultures are not equal,” she wrote.
Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a first-world, twenty-first-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. 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.
Is there any syllable of that paragraph that is not true? And yet it is for stating such obvious truths that Wax is being dragged into the Star Chamber at Penn.
Re-reading that paragraph, I thought of a passage from William A. Henry’s 1995 book In Defense of Elitism. Henry, who died just before the book was published, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a “card-carrying member of the ACLU,” as he put it. But, liberal though he was, he understood, as we all know, that not all cultures are equal, nor are all people. “The simple fact is,” he wrote,
that some people are better than others — smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace. Some ideas are better than others, some values more enduring, some works of art more universal. Some cultures, though we dare not say it, are more accomplished than others and therefore more worthy of study. Every corner of the human race may have something to contribute. That does not mean that all contributions are equal… It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose.
Fortunately for Mr. Henry, he is not a tenured professor at one of our premier reform schools. It’s not the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose, but just try writing that today from an academic perch.
It is early days yet in the vendetta against Amy Wax. When it comes to legal proceedings, the saying goes, the process is the punishment. The law school at UPenn has been trying for the last couple of years to intimidate her into quitting. They are picking on the wrong woman. Amy Wax is unintimidatable. But she is at the beginning of a long, wearying, and expensive legal fight and needs help. She has started a GoFundMe campaign. I donated. You can do so here. I hope you will.