Persecution & Propaganda At Princeton
The auto-destruction of America’s great institutions continues. In July 2020, I wrote about how a woke mob of academics and students at Princeton University were assaulting Joshua Katz, a tenured professor of Classics, over his public dissent from their racial hysterics. I wrote at the time:
Joshua T. Katz, a distinguished Classics professor at Princeton, published a brave essay on Quillette the other day, criticizing a lengthy list of demands by woke Princeton professors. He said there are some things he agrees with. On the other hand:
But then there are dozens of proposals that, if implemented, would lead to civil war on campus and erode even further public confidence in how elite institutions of higher education operate. Some examples: “Reward the invisible work done by faculty of color with course relief and summer salary” and “Faculty of color hired at the junior level should be guaranteed one additional semester of sabbatical” and “Provide additional human resources for the support of junior faculty of color.” Let’s leave aside who qualifies as “of color,” though this is not a trivial point. It boggles my mind that anyone would advocate giving people—extraordinarily privileged people already, let me point out: Princeton professors—extra perks for no reason other than their pigmentation.
Prof. Katz responded to the list’s demand that Princeton apologize to members of the “Black Justice League.” Writes Katz:
The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands. Recently I watched an “Instagram Live” of one of its alumni leaders, who—emboldened by recent events and egged on by over 200 supporters who were baying for blood—presided over what was effectively a Struggle Session against one of his former classmates. It was one of the most evil things I have ever witnessed, and I do not say this lightly.
Well, they’ve been dragging out Prof. Katz’s immiseration for over a year now. Incredibly, the university uses him as an example of racism on an official Princeton website dedicated to educating incoming students about the history of racism at Princeton. I repeat: this is an official university website. Here are the Katz parts:
This is jaw-dropping stuff. Princeton University is in effect accusing a sitting professor of being an anti-black racist. The university directs incoming freshmen to read that website, in which Prof. Katz is introduced to them as one of the most evil people on campus, while the revolting race-baiter Eddie Glaude is held up as an aggrieved victim of Katz. I hope Katz has contacted a lawyer about this.
Moreover, as part of the same freshman orientation program, Princeton has produced this video, in which woke professors talk about — what else? — racism. At the 38:38 mark, Prof. Dan-el Padilla Peralta, who, as a Classics student, was mentored by Joshua Katz, but who has now turned on him, says that he’s in favor of free speech, but only to advance “social justice” and “antiracist social justice.” He says faculty help students with this, not to help them “assimilate,” and think well of Princeton, but “to provide them with the tools to tear down this place and make it a better one.”
I wrote about Padilla Peralta earlier this year, following a profile on his radical scholarly activism in The New York Times. From the Times piece:
To see classics the way Padilla sees it means breaking the mirror; it means condemning the classical legacy as one of the most harmful stories we’ve told ourselves. Padilla is wary of colleagues who cite the radical uses of classics as a way to forestall change; he believes that such examples have been outmatched by the field’s long alliance with the forces of dominance and oppression. Classics and whiteness are the bones and sinew of the same body; they grew strong together, and they may have to die together. Classics deserves to survive only if it can become “a site of contestation” for the communities who have been denigrated by it in the past. This past semester, he co-taught a course, with the Activist Graduate School, called “Rupturing Tradition,” which pairs ancient texts with critical race theory and strategies for organizing. “I think that the politics of the living are what constitute classics as a site for productive inquiry,” he told me. “When folks think of classics, I would want them to think about folks of color.” But if classics fails his test, Padilla and others are ready to give it up. “I would get rid of classics altogether,” Walter Scheidel, another of Padilla’s former advisers at Stanford, told me. “I don’t think it should exist as an academic field.”
My comment on this from that post:
If this doesn’t terrify you, you’re not seeing it for what it is. These scholars believe that the Classics field should exist only for the sake of its own destruction! It is completely perverse. My kids attend a school where everybody studies Latin, and there’s a lot of reading in the Greeks and the Romans. If any of my children fell in love with the Classics and wanted to study them, I would have to discourage them from going into the field, which is committing suicide.
The woke barbarians are already inside the gates. The only people who are going to save Classics are those who can find ways to keep the tradition alive like monastics in Dark Age monasteries.
This guy, Padilla Peralta, and his colleagues are the tormentors of Joshua Katz, and the radical ideologues valorized by Princeton University’s leadership. The university wants incoming freshmen to adopt these radicals’ views on the university, and on education. It is unconscionable, and it is profoundly decadent.
Imagine being Joshua Katz, returning to semester this fall to a campus whose freshman class has been instructed by the university to regard you as a racist. What an evil place Princeton is becoming.
Katz makes an appearance in Anne Applebaum’s new essay in The Atlantic, which is about what happens to people when they are cancelled. It’s a very good piece, full of horrible details taken from real life cases. It is impossible for any fair-minded, reasonable person to read it and think that wokeness and cancel culture are minor phenomena. Applebaum doesn’t mention “soft totalitarianism” in her essay, but this is exactly the kind of thing at the center of my book Live Not By Lies.
I’m not going to quote the parts of her essay that I agree with; I fully endorse most of it, and am glad Applebaum is speaking out. But I do take issue with a couple of things. For example:
America remains a safe distance from Mao’s China or Stalin’s Russia. Neither our secretive university committees nor the social-media mobs are backed by authoritarian regimes threatening violence. Despite the right-wing rhetoric that says otherwise, these procedures are not being driven by a “unified left” (there is no “unified left”), or by a unified movement of any kind, let alone by the government. It’s true that some of the university sexual-harassment cases have been shaped by Department of Education Title IX regulations that are shockingly vague, and that can be interpreted in draconian ways. But the administrators who carry out these investigations and disciplinary procedures, whether they work at universities or in the HR departments of magazines, are not doing so because they fear the Gulag. Many pursue them because they believe they are making their institutions better—they are creating a more harmonious workplace, advancing the causes of racial or sexual equality, keeping students safe. Some want to protect their institution’s reputation. Invariably, some want to protect their own reputation. At least two of the people I interviewed believe that they were punished because a white, male boss felt he had to publicly sacrifice another white man in order to protect his own position.
Well, yeah, this is not “hard totalitarianism,” but rather soft totalitarianism. It is still totalitarianism! And of course the persecutors are doing it because they believe they are improving their institutions by removing wicked people from their midst. Doesn’t Applebaum grasp that the Soviet persecutors — the true believers, not the cynics — believed they were doing the same thing? And yes, one distinct aspect of this soft totalitarianism is that it does not depend on the state to work its evil. It depends on radicalism in power within non-governmental institutions. If you are a victim of these monsters, you might be grateful that you have merely been professionally destroyed and shorn of all your friends, and not also sent to the gulag, but it’s not going to mean much to you that your tormentors weren’t agents of the state, but rather private citizens.
Moreover, I reject Applebaum’s claim that these procedures are not driven by a “unified left.” I don’t know where she gets that phrase — I mean, I don’t know where the “right-wing rhetoric” comes from — but it is, in fact, driven by a left unified not via a formal organization or system, but by the widespread agreement that pursuing “antiracism” and “social justice” are so vital that extremism in the pursuit of these goals is no vice.
Applebaum goes on:
Although some have tried to link this social transformation to President Joe Biden or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, anyone who tries to shoehorn these stories into a right-left political framework has to explain why so few of the victims of this shift can be described as “right wing” or conservative.
Oh, come on! It is certainly true that many prominent victims — academics and those in media fields — have been liberals, that could easily be explained by the fact that those are the most woke professions, and tend to be overwhelmingly liberal in the first place. Second, these are the worlds that intellectuals inhabit. Is Atlantic writer Anne Applebaum going to hear about the conservative company middle manager fired because of an accusation related to his political or social conservatism? Heck, I’m a conservative myself, and unless somebody tells me about it, I’m not likely to hear about it. I could have easily been fired back in 2008 (or thereabouts) when I was falsely accused by a minority colleague of creating a “hostile work environment” because I called a terrorist mob “savages.” I withdrew the published comment to avoid the destruction of my career — I had young children to raise — but I was prepared to fight the absurd allegation. What changed my mind was the certainty that the HR department at my employer would have cashiered a conservative white male employee without a second thought, given the identity of the accuser. You would have heard about it had that happened, because I had, and do have, access to the public square. But how many people don’t? How many people do get dismissed in these cases, and choose not to go public because they’ve been traumatized enough, and don’t want to make it even harder to get employment?
My point is that I get the feeling that Applebaum is trying too hard to exonerate the left — including readers of The Atlantic, and editors there too (remember what Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg did to Kevin D. Williamson?) from responsibility for the totalitarian dystopia they created and sustain. But if she wants to blame cowardly liberal Republican types who run woke capitalist corporations, I’m with her. And yes, there are instances of conservative cancel culture. These are awful, and I condemn them. But they are absolutely dwarfed by the behemoth that the left has created. When I hear about these deplorable examples, I’m reminded of the black-humor quip, “True, Hitler hated the Jews, but you have to remember, the Jews hated Hitler too.”
In any case, I do suggest you read the Applebaum essay, which is important. This was the part that infuriated me the most:
Here is the first thing that happens once you have been accused of breaking a social code, when you find yourself at the center of a social-media storm because of something you said or purportedly said. The phone stops ringing. People stop talking to you. You become toxic. “I have in my department dozens of colleagues—I think I have spoken to zero of them in the past year,” one academic told me. “One of my colleagues I had lunch with at least once a week for more than a decade—he just refused to speak to me anymore, without asking questions.” Another reckoned that, of the 20-odd members in his department, “there are two, one of whom has no power and another of whom is about to retire, who will now speak to me.”
A journalist told me that after he was summarily fired, his acquaintances sorted themselves into three groups. First, the “heroes,” very small in number, who “insist on due process before damaging another person’s life and who stick by their friends.” Second, the “villains,” who think you should “immediately lose your livelihood as soon as the allegation is made.” Some old friends, or people he thought were old friends, even joined the public attack. But the majority were in a third category: “good but useless. They don’t necessarily think the worst of you, and they would like you to get due process, but, you know, they haven’t looked into it. They have reasons to think charitably of you, maybe, but they’re too busy to help. Or they have too much to lose.” One friend told him that she would happily write a defense of him, but she had a book proposal in the works. “I said, ‘Thank you for your candor.’ ”
I can easily imagine what Dante would have done to these people who abandon old friends, falsely accused, to save their own backsides. Revolting creatures. I bet the past year has taught Prof. Joshua Katz a lot about who his friends really are, and what human nature truly is.