Increasingly, campus “social justice” activism is resembling the tactics of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, particularly the public shaming of those deemed ideologically incorrect, including professors.

In The new Cultural Revolution on Campuses in late April 2017, I reviewed recent examples, including Yale, Cornell, Middlebury and Claremont McKenna:

We are witnessing nothing less than a cultural purge of dissenting views on a wide range of topics in the name of social justice. No disagreement is tolerated, not even the slightest deviation. That purge has been going on for many years, but seems to have intensified and is turning on speakers, professors and fellow students.

The sub-headline to my prior post was:

1966 China or 2017 America? “Teachers were made to stand onstage, bow their heads and confess their crimes”

We have another example of 2017 cultural revolutionaries, this time at the University of Pennsylvania.

On August 9, 2017, Law Professors Amy Wax (U. Penn.) and Larry Alexander (U. San Diego) wrote an Op-Ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture. The thesis of the Op-Ed was that while 1950s bourgeois American culture had many faults, the basic structure built around the family and work prepared people for the modern technological economy:

… That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime….

Was everything perfect during the period of bourgeois cultural hegemony? Of course not. There was racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism. However, steady improvements for women and minorities were underway even when bourgeois norms reigned. Banishing discrimination and expanding opportunity does not require the demise of bourgeois culture. Quite the opposite: The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups….

They then took on multi-cultural dogma:

All cultures are not equal. 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, 21st-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….

But restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it.

The reaction was predictable. In emails to the Free Beacon, the professors noted that there was blowback at U. Penn, but not at U. San Diego:

Neither Wax nor Alexander have wavered on their views despite the blowback.

“What the objections boil down to is that the bourgeois virtues are somehow racist, or somehow cause racism—contentions that I and my co-author expressly contest, of course,” Wax wrote in an email. “But if, indeed, bourgeois values are so racist, the progressive critics should be out there in the street demonstrating against them, stripping them from their own lives, and forbidding their children to practice them. They should be chanting, ‘No more work, more crime, more out of wedlock babies, forget thrift, let’s get high!’ … Of course, there’s little chance we’re going to see anything like that, which shows the hollowness, indeed the silliness, of the critiques.”

Alexander said he “would change nothing” about the piece.

“The charges of racism, white supremacy, etc. are, sadly, the predictable responses of those who can’t refute the claims we made,” Alexander said. “And those charges are laughable, given that I was a civil rights marcher and have a multi-racial family. But, of course, when you don’t have the facts on your side, you resort to calling names. Pathetic!”

Alexander said he has not received any backlash from his own campus community.

At U. Penn, there was a letter signed by 5 other law professors criticizing the Op-Ed:

Nostalgia for the 1950s breezes over the truth of inequality and exclusion. The “racial discrimination” and “limited sex roles” that the authors identify as imperfections in midcentury American life were in fact core features of it.

But more ominously, 54 Penn graduate students and alums (almost all in Anthropology), denounced the Op-Ed as racist:

… claiming that not “all cultures are created equal” and extolling the virtues of white cultural practices of the ‘50s that, if understood within their sociocultural context, stem from the very same malignant logic of hetero-patriarchal, class-based, white supremacy that plagues our country today. These cultural values and logics are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice and the denouncement of all groups perceived as not acting white enough i.e. black Americans, Latino communities and immigrants in particular.

The Gang of 54 took a page right out of the cultural revolution, demanding that Prof. Wax be publicly denounced and investigated by her colleagues and others at U. Penn. Giving themselves the self-reverential title of “scholars,” the Gang of 54 wrote (emphasis added):

We, the undersigned scholars, are each committed to combating white supremacy in our pedagogy and we call for all other scholars at Penn, especially those in the social sciences and humanities, to make the question of white supremacy a constitutive part of their syllabi and discussions, centering it in the first few weeks of their classes. Faculty should be supported in this, for instance, through a syllabus workshop for people who are unsure how to do this work but would like to learn more. There is a need more than ever to educate ourselves and our students in order to expunge the anti-intellectual values that continue to uphold white supremacy.

We call for the denunciation, not of racism as some abstract concept “out there” — in Charlottesville, in America, by the poor uneducated white or by an individual racist ideologue — but for a denunciation of racism at the University of Pennsylvania. In particular we must denounce faculty members that are complicit in and uphold white supremacy, normalizing it as if it were just another viable opinion in our educational tenures at the University.

We call for the University of Pennsylvania administration — Penn President Gutmann and the deans of each school — as well as faculty to directly confront Wax and Alexander’s op-ed as racist and white supremacist discourse and to push for an investigation into Wax’s advocacy for white supremacy. We believe that such statements should point directly to the historical and sociopolitical antecedents of Wax’s hate speech, and to disallow hate speech whether shrouded in respectability or not.

This tactic of public denunciation and investigation was common on Chinese campuses during the Cultural Revolution.

And if the U. Penn Gang of 54 had its way, it would be the case at that Ivy League school as well.


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