Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Progressive Academics Shocked That Their Creatures Turn on Them

When the cult of sensitivity begins to eat its children.

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Recently several progressive professors have publicly complained that their students are hounding them for failing to consider their tender sensibilities by straying beyond the p.c. orthodoxy on sexual assault, sex identity, linguistic correctness, and a whole host of other progressive shibboleths. Northwestern “feminist” professor Laura Kipnis found herself in a Title IX star chamber for an article she wrote decrying the immaturity of her legally adult students. Over at Vox, another progressive confessed (anonymously, reminding us that academics are an invertebrate species) he was so “scared” and “terrified” of his “liberal” students that he self-censors his comments in class and has changed his reading list.

These incidents follow the complaints of other progressives like Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Chait that the intolerant ideology at the heart of progressivism is now getting out of hand––something that many of us have been writing about for nearly 3 decades. That these progressives should now be shocked at such intolerance and persecution after decades of speech codes, disruptions of conservative speakers, campus inquisitions which ignore Constitutional rights, cancellations of commencement speakers, and ideological litmus tests imposed on new hires and curricula, bespeaks not principle, but rather indignation that now they are on the receiving end of the bullying and harassment long inflicted on conservatives and people of faith.

Indeed, the campus intolerance progressives are now whining about is the child of the progressive ideology many of the complainers still embrace. Modern progressivism is at heart grievance politics, the core of which is not universal principle, but identity predicated on being a victim of historical crimes like sexism and racism, and on suffering from wounding slights defined as such by the subjective criteria of the now privileged victim who is beyond judgment or criticism. Once acknowledged by the state, victim status can then be leveraged into greater political, institutional, and social power. The mechanism of this leverage is the state and federal laws that empower students whose feelings have been hurt by their teachers’ challenging or provocative questions and ideas.

Sexual harassment law, for example, with its “intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment” language, guarantees that subjective, irrational, or even lunatic standards of what constitutes an “offense” will be used to justify limits on academic freedom and expression, and to punish transgressors. The overbroad and elastic language of Title IX, the law used to haul Kipnis before a campus tribunal, likewise has invited subjective and fuzzy charges from anybody who feels that “on the basis of sex” she has been “excluded from participation in” or “denied the benefits of” or “subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Finally, the Department of Education’s 2011 “dear colleague” letter, which instructed schools investigating sexual assault complaints to use the “more likely than not” or “preponderance of the evidence” standard of evidence rather than the “clear and convincing” one, ensures that any complaint no matter how preposterous or irrational will have to be investigated, and the guilty punished.

Yet the obsession with the victim and his suffering, and the need for everybody else to cater to his sensitivity, reflects wider cultural trends. Robert Frost recognized this development in 1942 when he spoke of “the tenderer-than-thou/Collectivist regimenting love/with which the modern world is being swept.” In this therapeutic vision, the cultural ideal now is Sensitive Man, who revels in his superiority to others based on his sensitivity to suffering, and his public displays of what Alan Bloom called “conspicuous compassion” for state-anointed victims. Consequently, as Charles Sykes writes in A Nation of Victims––which in 1992 detailed the cultural shifts that have led to today’s hyper-sensitive and litigious students––“One must be attuned to the feelings of others and adapt oneself to the kaleidoscopic shades of grievance, injury, and ego that make up the subjective sensibilities of the ‘victim.’ Everyone must now accommodate themselves to the sensitivity of the self, whose power is based not on force or even shared ideology but on changeable and perhaps arbitrary and exaggerated ‘feelings.’”

In my 1999 book Plagues of the Mind, I drew out the implications for higher education of this cult of sensitivity, which has made “infants of people, particularly college students, who are led to believe that the world should be a place where they will never feel bad or suffer disappointment, where they will be coddled and indulged and mothered, and where their already overinflated estimation of themselves will be continually reinforced . . . No one seems concerned about what will happen to these adults when they have to enter the real world and discover that it can be a cold, uncaring place where their anxieties and psychic fears are not the prime order of business.” Sixteen years later Kipnis made a similar point in her article when she observed, “The myths and fantasies about power perpetuated in these new codes [of sexual behavior] are leaving our students disabled when it comes to the ordinary interpersonal tangles and erotic confusions that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point in life.”

As Kipnis’s troubles show, today this obsession with the feelings of students and their demands that they be protected from anything unpleasant or “hurtful” has manifested itself in the hysteria over an alleged epidemic of sexual assault of female college students. (Professor Kipnis got into trouble for calling this phenomenon “sexual paranoia.”) Yet this is nothing new either. In the late 90s commentators were warning of the “New Puritanism” and the “new Victorianism,” the title of Rene Denfeld’s 1995 analysis of this corruption of feminism. This phenomenon is a mélange of intolerance for inherently predatory males, the proliferation of “codes” governing courtship and sexual encounters in order to protect fragile women, the ever expanding list of prohibited words that might traumatize the “oppressed,” the establishment of tribunals judging the accused without the benefit of Constitutional protections, and the noisy protests, shaming, and invective like those aimed at Professor Kipnis, all in order to enforce orthodoxy through fear and self-censorship a la Professor “Schlosser,” the pseudonym of the poltroonish professor mentioned earlier.

Worst of all, the spread of this intolerance throughout universities makes impossible the very purpose of higher education: to broaden students’ minds by allowing what Matthew Arnold called “the free play of the mind on all subjects” and by familiarizing them with the “best which has been thought and said in the world.” That ideal has now become scarce on our campuses. As Sykes wrote over 20 years ago, “Once feelings are established as the barometer of acceptable behavior, speech (and, by extension, thought) becomes only as free as the most sensitive group will permit.” This is precisely the state of affairs in American universities today, where the old notions that truth is a liberating force and that suffering teaches, and the great classics that embodied these and other verities of the human condition, have been sacrificed on the altar of victim politics and its aggrandizement of institutional power. So our universities now produce “snowflakes,” as some have called them, students with fragile psyches and empty minds.

The big noise being made over the Kipnis affair is a dog-bites-man-story for anyone familiar with the American university. The only difference now is that the progressives’ children are devouring their creators, the inevitable outcome of revolutionary passions and utopian goals that lack coherent principle and intellectual rigor. That’s why progressives suffering the wages of their ideology deserve no sympathy.

 


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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

20 Thoughts on “Progressive Academics Shocked That Their Creatures Turn on Them

  1. Perhaps we need a Constitutional amendment defunding ALL tax dollars for “Progressive-Retardation Worldview” Education brainwashing, since to do so is to destroy the US Constitution and its people. Rather, fund “Tragic-Liberty Worldview” Education, since it develops souls who can fix problems quickly and humanely, something Progserfdomite Worldview always strangely blocks.

    Is this not the solution? Imagine a world where K-12 and university students are logical and can fix problems!

    The recent Disney movie Tomorrowland, points in this direction, as well. A young teenager hero rebels against Progserfdomite teachers who wail about overpopulation and ecology problems, while never offering solution! (This is Profserfdomite Mandarin strategy, always.) Of course, “Tragic Liberty Worldview” honors people, since people are a resource, and always promotes hope of life, liberty and happiness. (Faster, PLEASE!)

  2. Frank S on June 12, 2015 at 8:51 am said:

    “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
    Galatians 6:7

  3. Ray Tabbita on June 12, 2015 at 10:30 am said:

    Hello Dr Hanson:I enjoyed the Article “Progress Academics” Here is my succinct comment. (Schadenfreude!)

  4. David N on June 12, 2015 at 10:35 am said:

    Good article. Unfortunately these things will only stay on college campus for a time until they spread to our country as a whole. This has already happened in Sweden, the UK, etc….
    Senator Gillibrand is lobbying to spread ‘yes means yes’ beyond campus. Feminists are recruiting high schools to teach their bizarre puritanical sexual viewpoints….
    Edward Gibbons wrote the history of America from 1990 on some hundreds of years ago it seems.

  5. lancewilson on June 12, 2015 at 10:54 am said:

    While reading your column I was reminded of Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”. The liberals who promoted intolerance and political correctness in our colleges and universities may have also planted the seeds of their own destruction.

  6. John on June 12, 2015 at 1:10 pm said:

    It is the legacy of Socialist activism. Social engineering at every level of society.

  7. Carl Sesar on June 12, 2015 at 3:07 pm said:

    Get them when they’re kids and you can turn out hardcore mass murderers. It’s what Pol Pot did in great numbers to kids back then in Cambodia, and what the PLO, ISIS, and Hamas are doing to kids now.

  8. David Park on June 12, 2015 at 5:22 pm said:

    Touchy, feely, whiny educational products who will soon be facing competition close to home from hard taught, hard thinking, super industrious students from countries where ‘woe is me’ meets ‘get the hell out of this class and make room for someone more appreciative and disciplined’.

  9. dupere on June 12, 2015 at 5:43 pm said:

    “” remarks next phase U.S. rebalance ”’. From defence.gov. Ash Carter speech detailing U.S. proactive moves with our allies in Asia-Pacific, must read. Quote– 500 million middle class consumers to 3 billion by 2030 in Asia. And Ash Carter has some swamp land to sell you. Resource shortages and worse by 2030.

  10. buybuydandavis on June 12, 2015 at 7:12 pm said:

    “becomes only as free as the most sensitive group will permit.”

    Only as free as the most power hungry will permit.

    Don’t buy into the “I’m wounded” bs. This is about satisfying one’s lust for *power*.

  11. I think people in a tough spot always deserve sympathy. Not necessarily being saved or shielded from the being hoist by their own petard, you understand. Suffering does teach lessons that can’t be leared any other way.

    Who here hasn’t had their own actions come back to bite them?

  12. dupere on June 12, 2015 at 11:58 pm said:

    Japan’s leadership has removed the wool from the eyes—- The Stars and Stripes is working on Vietnam and India, ( choose the Light that the United States is ). The possible life and death issue of Germany not doing enough for security in the region. They were getting 70% of their oil from Russia and heavily intertwined commerce. Is Germany’s thinking along the lines of stay weak and cowering, so as not to provoke the alpha-dog Russia? USA to a timely rescue, so the mad-hatter behind the new Iron Curtain would not dare? Putin still has an eye for the ladies, send a scantily clad Hillary back-in to play find the reset button?

  13. dupere on June 13, 2015 at 12:52 pm said:

    “”” Campaign kickoff speech hillary clinton””. One of the most dangerous power-seeker’s of modern time. Timing in history can mean everything. Imagine if there was no Franklin Roosevelt, ” leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic depression and total war “”.

  14. Philip Smeeton on June 14, 2015 at 4:03 am said:

    A self imposed 1984 totalitarian regime of thought crime.

  15. This is mainly white people …”stuff”. Notice how feminists almost never attack any “man of color”, even though hip hop and Latino macho culture is some of the most misogynist on the planet. The goal is power, and as long as any white male is perceived to have any, they (the feminists) want it. They will kill the liberal society that bore them, and the future will be something poorer for women, such as Sharia.

  16. zygote314 on June 14, 2015 at 1:42 pm said:

    Poor Miss Kipnis. It would seem that she is being chased off campus by the same mindless attack dogs that ran off Snowball in Orwell’s Animal Farm. But those are the risks you take when you embrace the smiley-face fascist orthodoxy of Political Correctness. She must realize that resistance at her show trial is futile and guilt a foregone conclusion. Only question now seems to be what punishment should she receive: complete banishmemt from Acadamia and personal ruin, or perhaps a temporary exile to an intellectual gulag?

    The Holy Trinity of the Church of Progressivism is made up of race, class and gender. The gender wing, run by the Feminists, is not only corrupting our university campuses with weak standards of proof of sexual assault and oppressive speech codes, but has infected our government and judicial system as well. While the worst injustice a falsely accused male in the university microcosm can receive is expulsion and loss of reputation and career, the criminal justice system, on the other hand, can go much further. It can take away your liberty.

    Looking at the UK’s panicked reaction to the Jimmy Savile case could offer a prescient glimpse of where we are headed if the Gloria Allreds and Kirstin Gillibrands succeed in obliterating the due process safeguards of the presumption of innocent and statute of limitations for criminal defendants accused of rape or sexual assault. Britian is unique among industrialized democracies in that it has no statute of limitations on sexual crimes. There have been recent prosecutions for sexual crimes dating as far back as 1940s, where the only evidence is the word of the victim. In 2003, the Labour government amended the 1956 Sex Crimes act elevating low level misdemeanor offenses such as bum pinching and indecent groping to much harsher penalized felonies. According to Barbara Hewson, QC in her excellent series of essays in Spiked-Online.com, accusers have been legal anonymity, while the accused continues to have his name plastered all over the press. She further states that the Police have trawled the country looking for victims of historical abuse to come forward with the promise that “you will be believed.” And even more disturbingly, she explains that because of “years of feminist lobbying” the House of Lords in 1995 (then Britain’s equivalent to the SCOTUS) abolished the “striking similarity” rule in which defendants could only have charges bundled together in one trial if a “striking similarity” existed. For example, “a rapist who always wore a Batman costume.” All of these changes have stacked the deck against any defendant accused of a historical sex crime in which the only evidence is the word of the “victim,” thus shifting the benefit of the doubt away from the accused and towards the accuser.

    The recent high profile convictions of minor British celebrities have largely succeeded because of these changes in UK criminal law. These outcomes were lauded as victories for victims of sexual assault, but that dubious assertion is even more suspect when you realize the damage to due process rights that were necessary in order to obtain them. Cases of historical bum pinching and kissing and groping made by anonymous complainants would surely have failed had they been tried separately and the victims had not been able to hide behind a screen. As Sir William Blackstone said, “It is better that ten guilty escape than one innocent suffer.”

    Since the high profile allegations of Bill Cosby serially drugging women and raping them, a concerted political campaign from some of his alleged victims and their attorneys and Democratic politicians such as Kirstin Gillibrand has gathered steam to mimic Britain’s abolition of the statute of limitations for sexual crimes. The SCOTUS, in a contentious 5-4 decision, ruled in 2003 (Stogner v. California) that statute of limitations could not be applied retroactively to old cases. This ruling may have greatly disappointed true victims of molestation and rape who were hoping to receive justice, but it has protected the innocent from being railroaded in flimsy, hysterically driven cases of historical abuse where a defendant couldn’t possibly expect to receive a fair trial.

  17. Is there no gratitude in the world? Dr. Frankenstein was treated better by his creature.

  18. I was a college student back in the early 80’s. I’m reminded by this article of an incident that happened on the campus of my Alma Mater. There had been an assault on a female student near the fringes of the campus. Naturally there was a lot of concern for student safety. This was a small college in a quiet town. It turned out that the perpetrator was a local man, not a student, and beyond that I cannot recall how things ended for him or his victim.
    But prior to that, however, just after the assault was made public, a campus feminist group went into action. They went out and took photos of random men around campus and later drew up posters that included a number of these photos with a caption beneath each that said “Potential Rapist.”
    This created an uproar all by itself and the posters were soon taken down. But it underscores the dangers of the “more likely than not” approach. Guilty until proven otherwise is not how our legal system works.

  19. dupere on June 15, 2015 at 12:30 pm said:

    “” Hillary Clinton’s blood clot could have been life threatening””. from abc news dec 2012. Clot was in a space situated between the brain and the skull. Demand ” cognitive tests and assessment”? Explains her terrible delivery of speech’s. Even if she clear’s she’s still suspect. .

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