Saturday, September 16, 2017
A Statement in Support of Professors Larry Alexander and Amy Wax
Law school Professors Larry Alexander of San Diego and Amy Wax of Penn published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 9, 2017. It is entitled “Paying the price for the breakdown of the country’s ‘bourgeois’ culture.” They were responding to the breakdown in American values today: the drug culture, single motherhood, the decline of adult males in the workplace, and college students lacking the basic skills needed in college. The blame it on the breakdown of America’s bourgeois culture. They wrote that the bourgeois culture of the late 1940’s into the mid-1960’s, in essence the post war America up to Vietnam, “laid out the script we are all 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 ….” These are, of course, traditional American values, which are falling by the wayside in much of society today. I wouldn’t call it “bourgeois culture”, but a unique American culture. Whenever I head “bourgeois” I think of a phrase from 5-6 decades ago: “decadent bourgeois capitalism.” They wrote “Not all cultures are equal.” They are not equal to responding to the needs of being “productive in an advanced economy.” That is irrefutable. Cultures with slavery, female genital utilization, honor killings, forced marriages, rampant sexism, or cannibalism are not equal. Neither are totalitarian governments. American society of two centuries ago is not a good or equal paradigm for today, but America grew and evolved. The Ottoman Culture was not equal to Ataturk’s culture. They further wrote: “This cultural script began to break down in the late 1960’s. A combination of factors – prosperity, the Pill, the expansion of higher education, and the doubts surrounding the Vietnam War – encouraged an anti-authoritarian, adolescent, wish-fulfillment ideal – sex, drugs and rock-and-roll – that was unworthy of, and unworkable for, a mature, prosperous adult society. This era saw the beginnings of identity politics that inverted the color-blind aspirations of civil rights leaders like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. into an obsession with race, ethnicity, gender and now sexual preference.” The “bourgeois” values were more successful in creating economic growth and the great American middle class than the current breakdown in values. I do not necessarily agree with all their points. The post-World War II period was a time of great economic growth and optimism. The United States was the only major Word War II combatant with an intact industrial base. The sky seemed the limit. Even the nascent Civil Rights Movement, beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was achieving success. A core value existed. Shared values, American values were honored and respected throughout the country. The prevailing attitude was “can do;” anything was possible and achievable. The nuclear family was the model with dad working and mom staying at home. The public schools were excellent. Civics and American History were taught in the schools to highlight the American Spirit. Taxes were low and the middle class was growing. It added up to American Exceptionalism. America knew who it was. Americans knew who they were. Americans had a common, core understanding. The culture that arose in the 13 colonies, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution was a combination of the Judeo-Christian heritage, British values, and American self-dependence. The young republic created an unique culture in world history. It set out a welcoming mat, sometimes selectively, out to the world. The Statue of Liberty became the symbol to the world. One of the greatest contributions of the Founding Fathers was creating a government based on the Rule of Law rather than the Rule of Man. President Obama led the way in ignoring the Constitution and the Rule of Law, appointing judges who do not believe in the Rule of Law or the Constitution. The American culture was not limited to whites; it was open to all. Much of the genius of America is assimilation. Each wave of immigrants added to the American Republic. The key for all was the work ethic. They assimilated into the American culture, the white bourgeois culture if you want, for that was the path to success. Generation after generation of immigrants followed that path to success in America. I see it most recently with the Hispanic, Persian and Vietnamese students in my classes. Professor Wax was interviewed in the Daily Pennsylvanian. She was quoted a saying “Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans … because Anglo-Protestant cultural norms are superior.” She never said that, but the quote is a red flag for attacking her for “white privilege.” It’s not in the August 9 op-ed. However, it would have been a valid, but incendiary, point to the campus leftists if she had said it. Not many would have predicted during the Dark Ages that western civilization would rise. Most of the population was illiterate. Islamic scholars were the geniuses of the time. Nation states had yet to arise. Then came the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, the Age of Exploration, and the Industrial Revolution from western Europe. History tells us that it was white western Europeans that rose out of darkness. It wasn’t the Aztecs, Incas, or Mayans. Nor was it the Ottomans, Persians, Egyptians, Romanoffs, Chinese or Japanese. Much of the world remained bands or tribes while western Europe was developing into nation states. Ferdinand and Isabel United Spain and dispatched Columbus to find a route to India, but the Spanish Inquisition is not a virtue of western Europe's history and culture. By no means is White Civilization necessarily superior. Think of Hitler and Nazi Germany or Stalin and the Soviet Union. Think of the western European civilization of the Dark Ages. Professors Alexander and Wax had to foresee in a blowback in today’s charged academic environment, but they had the courage to publish it. They also have tenure, as do I. 33 of Professor Wax’s law school colleagues penned an open letter to the Penn Community. It begins “We write to condemn recent comments our colleague … has made in popular media pieces,” followed by a short paragraph of her remarks. It continues “Wax has every right to express her views publicly free from fear of legal sanctions thanks to the First Amendment, and she may do so without fear for her job due to her position as a tenured faculty member at Penn.” That is a gross misstatement from very bright law professors. She has no First Amendment Protections because the First Amendment applies only to the government – not private entities such as the University of Pennsylvania. The 33 professors wrote: “We do not question those rights, or the important role that principles of academic freedom play at our university. But Wax’s right to express her opinions does not make her statements right, nor insulate her from criticism.” They then write, without any reasons “We categorically reject Wax’s claims.” So much for civility and collegiality with this exercise of Orwellian groupthink. The double standard in the academy is clear. Seemingly the most extreme views on the left are protected. Say anything negative you want about President Trump or Republicans, and it will not only be accepted by the Academy but even rewarded on occasion. No collective group of faculty criticize these extremists. Conversely, conservative views are denounced, ridiculed, demonized, and attacked. The speakers are pilloried and sometimes physically attacked. Both Professors Alexander and Wax have been the subject of student petitions seeking their removal from required first year courses. The Penn Law Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild issued a statement: “While we do not challenge Professor Wax’s right to express her views, we question whether it is appropriate for her to continue to teach a required first-year course. The Penn Law administration has long been aware that her bigoted views inevitably seep into her words and actions in the classroom and in private conversations with students. We call on the administration to consider more deeply the toll that this takes on students, particularly students of color and members of the LGBTQIA community, and to consider whether it is in the best interests of the school and its students for Professor Wax to continue to teach a required first year course. Exposure to a diversity of viewpoints is an essential and valuable part of any educational experience, but no student should have to exposed to bigotry or abuse in the classroom.” They called the op-ed an “explicit and implicit endorsement of white supremacy.” They view Professor Wax’s comments as a “textbook example of white supremacy and cultural elitism.” I view it as a textbook example of free speech. The students fail to see the implications of their proposal, because, of course, their’s the only side. The corollary to liberals disqualifying conservative professors is for conservatives to disqualify liberal professors from required courses. Members of the Federalist Society would have a field day disqualifying liberal professors, including the vast majority of Constitutional Law professors. Abortion, Affirmative Action, Gay Rights, Gun Control, and Immigration raise strong passions on both sides, but may only have one perspective presented by the faculty. The result would be sheer chaos in law schools. Of course, any conservative so acting faces the risk of a vicious and perhaps violent attack from the left. The NLG’s co-chair in a separate email accused Professor Wax of endorsing white supremacy and segregation (which she has not done) as well as lacking academic rigor, being intellectually dishonest, and failing to support her opinions with evidence. Once again the left resorts to ad hominem attacks rather than reason! The Black Law Student Association at San Diego made a similar request to disqualify Professor Alexander. BALSA’s letter wrote “Those who romanticize an era of segregation and unequal rights are being disingenuous at best and racist at worse.” One of the problems in America today is that both sides on the left and right can become so imbued in their dogma that they don’t actually look at the opposing arguments and statements. Professors Alexander and Wax acknowledged that “there was racial discrimination, sexism, and pockets of anti-Semitism” during the period of the 1950’s and 1960’s. They added “steady improvements for women and minorities were underway even when bourgeois norms reigned.” A provocative op-ed in the past would have prompted serious discussion and thought. Today though, especially on our campuses, it becomes the spark for shrill, unreasoned attacks. Yes, the values of 5-6 decades ago are fading fast in today’s America.