Thursday night’s Junta was a great one. We continue to set the bar high for intellectual engagement and for attracting top-notch minds. And the Algonquin is becoming a favorite venue, at least in my opinion. The whiskeys are a bit tough on the wallet, but the atmosphere is par excellence.
Professor Andrzej Rapaczynski set out by stating the skewed numbers in political contributions of those working at universities. The liberal slant of academia is well set into the popular psyche but the lopsidedness is quite stark when viewed in pure dollar terms. We’re talking 80-90% of academics contributing to the Democratic Party. Rapaczynski said we, as a society, are “trained to be sensitive” to discrimination, to minorities; that after so many decades (centuries?) of innate racism and sexism, we have lately (relatively speaking) realized our error and so become very attuned to the fact that certain segmants of society have been trampled upon. We are constantly asking how many blacks are on the teaching staff, whether there are enough women, and so forth. But when it comes to Republicans, well, “this is not something we are interested in addressing.”
Now, these laws – Title VII, Title VIII, and others – are oriented towards eliminating discrimination using a fact-based method. If we look at the ratio of Asians teaching at Harvard, we can come up with a number, a percentage. We can easily determine the percentage of women faculty at Princeton. And we can say that if such numbers are found to be statistically out of whack – if women make up a mere 3% of the staff at Stanford – then we have evidence that something is not right: namely, that there is discrimination in hiring. These levels can be used as the basis for lawsuits, because such disparity, so the argument goes, cannot be an accident. Yet, not only can we not sue a university for having a faculty that is 94% Democratic, but this is not even a matter of serious discussion.
Andrzej said that often, among New York City society, at dinner functions and such, he feels “like a left-wing intellectual Jew at an Alabama fundamentalist dinner”. That when he puts forth his ideas, he can see his wife cringe. And that it is precisely that feeling which should not be occurring among the students of an institution of higher learning; that no student should be made to feel that his ideas are balderdash, that he is among the wrong.
Rise of the Right
Over the last 20-30 years, the American political right has been in the ascendence. The “Reagan Revolution” of promoting free markets, deregulation, privatization, etc, has been the strongest force in Washington. One may need to forget about the backlash of the last two years, or even (if one is an ardent Bush-hater) the last eight years, but as Professor Rapaczynski argued, since about the time of Reagan, the Republican party has been “the party of ideas.”
Now, one may claim that Bill Clinton brought the Democrats to power and reversed this trend. Yet Clinton’s primary achievements were welfare reform and balancing the budget, which are fairly conservative ideas. Clinton was a centrist, a member of the pro-business Democratic Leadership Council, and helped in his first election by Ross Perot splitting the Republican vote. So I would agree with Andrzej that the Clinton administration fit into the general trend of the rise of the right.
Yet this shift has not been reflected in the universities. And that void in the teaching staffs of our greatest institutions works to turn a good portion of the youth against the universities. Academia becomes a favorite flogging horse of the right, and this is not good for the health of the nation. It is not good for the state of education.
At this point in the discussion, Alex pointed out that if what Professor Rapaczynski said were true, that Republican academics were being denied jobs based on political leanings, then wouldn’t there be more class action suits against them? Wouldn’t those shut out be suing, in the great litigious tradition of this country? Andrzej’s answer was that Republicans (or Democrats, or Greens) are not covered under civil rights statutes. The laws cover “immutable” characteristics, which political beliefs are not.
So what can be done? As the Students for a Democratic Society used to say, “consciousness-raising.” When finding himself in a discussion over an open post at Columbia, and hearing arguments about how more blacks or women are needed, Professor Rapaczynski will say, “Yes, I agree, but the demographic we are most underrepresenting are Republicans.” This inevitably draws a laugh, but as he says, “I hope, on some level, that it sinks in.”
We segued into part two of our discussion. Professor Rapaczynski led with his thesis that the anti-Zionist movement represents “a turn against Jews, disguised as a turn against Israel.” This provoked some rebuke, which was lessened when he defined anti-Zionism as the belief that Israel was “born in sin” and that the only solution was its elimination. While admitting that one can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic, he claimed that if one scratched the surface of some of these views, claims that those holding them have nothing against Jews “seem inauthentic.”
He identified five pillars that “formed the basis of 19th-century anti-Semitism.” They are a rejection of:
If one today added to this list “Israel,” Andrzej claims, he would have the 20th/21st-century definition of “anti-Zionism.”
Essentially, he says, anti-Zionists believe that Jews don’t have a right to a state in Palestine. In Professor Rapaczynski’s experience, this view is widely accepted in Europe, but not in America. He therefore limited his discussion to Europe, where he feels that this view is posing a danger to the world. So, for example, “when the French minister says that ‘I don’t think we should be dying for this shitty country,’ the only controversy is that a newspaper reported what a minister said in private.” (I looked unsuccessfully for a citation of this.) Or the boycott of Israeli scientists by some in European academia. (For more examples, see some of the professor’s citations in his introduction of the topic.)
One response to the professor was that many critics of Israeli foreign policy, for example, often find themselves unjustly labeled as anti-Semitic. Isn’t this an attempt to silence dissent by falsely accusing dissenters of discrimination? Andrzej conceded the point, but also posed a question. Which is the greater danger: oversensitive Jews who accuse others falsely of anti-Semitism, or the problem of real anti-Semites? Clearly he believed the latter was worse.
The conversation wandered a bit. There was mention of the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and Daniel mentioned the irony of being able to see the occupied territories while exiting the memorial. We spoke of the similarities between Israel’s war against Hamas, and America’s war against al-Qaeda; that both, while trying to stamp out “terror,” inevitably exacerbate the conditions in which terrorists multiply. But things were falling apart, the whiskey was taking its toll. We decided to wrap it. One last memorable idea rose above the others, and it was Daniel who laid it out:
“Anti-discrimination laws are meant to protect the weak, not Republicans and Israelis.” I think that merited further discussion, but a meeting of the Junta can last only so long. I’d be interested in hearing elaboration on all these topics in the comments, if any are so inclined.