Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is a literary masterpiece that examines the complexity of submission to totalitarianism, and depicts the authoritarian automaton, a character named, Gletkin, whose brain is so starched that it crinkles when he thinks.
I hadn’t thought of Koestler for decades, and then I came across an article about the UCLA student judiciary committee investigating two former members of student government for taking a sponsored trip to Israel.
The group that spurred this inquisition is the so called, Students for Justice in Palestine, a gaggle of Muslims and their leftist sycophants.
Modeling their tactics after the Hitler Youth, the SJP was suspended from the Berkeley campus for seizing a classroom building, disrupting a mid-term examination, and assaulting a police officer. CAL dared to serve Israeli-made hummus in its cafeterias. Sabra is made in Israel. If the SJP thugs aren’t going to eat Israeli hummus, then no one else should.
At Northeastern University, the group was suspended for intimidating those who did not share their philosophy. Intimidation and disruption are their stock in trade.
Still smarting over having lost a campus vote for boycotting Israel, the SJP has turned to lawfare, a tactic other Muslim groups use to silence those who disagree with them. Lawfare is the filing of frivolous law suits or raising legal red herrings to intimidate people against using their constitutionally blessed rights. You might say it is McCarthyism with a Keffiyeh.
The SJP, having lost the boycott vote at UCLA, still needs the campus to obey them, but more importantly, to agree with them. The totalitarian does not seek mere obedience. He seeks confession as public validation, as Koestler so engagingly noted. So too, the UCLA judiciary is engaged in a symbolic public confession of agreement with the SJP.
In reality the larger issue here has nothing to do with Israel. It is about the assault on liberty.
As Koestler’s protagonist, Rubashov, the old Bolshevik, must die to preserve the corrupt political order he helped create, so too the pubescent inquisitors at UCLA must violate the most fundamental notions of liberty to preserve the corrupt political socialization they have acquired at UCLA.
So far, no one on the student judiciary has said the obvious: I am a free person in a free society, and I will not challenge anyone’s right to travel anywhere because that is what freedom is about. I don’t care if they go to Pakistan to witness a woman stoned to death for owning a cell phone in violation of Sharia.
UCLA is not a school in some Islamic country where exercising freedom results in a prison sentence, where going into the street with a sign means being shot by government snipers, and where women who protest authority can expect to be raped into submission. We are not Palestine, where lynch mob violence is part of the judicial structure.
This year we have witnessed how the politically correct college education undermines our political future. Those of the next generation, who are supposed to be the recipients of the best our civic culture has to offer, have failed to learn its important lessons.
Instead, they have learned how to submit to political correctness, and still be arrogant about it. They have learned that they can control the public agenda by opposing graduation speakers with whom they disagree. They have learned that merely the profession of outrage will cause a weak college president, like Frederick Lawrence at Brandeis, to withdraw an invitation. They have learned that a vocal minority can control what we hear and what we are permitted to think.
If we are to preserve our freedoms, we must tear down the edifice of the shadow university, with its inculcations in leftist intolerance, submission to sensitivity over freedom, and concerns about privilege over aspiring to individual accomplishment.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, one of Washington’s best think tanks decided to terminate its higher education policy group. That was a tragic mistake. Since then, six academic generations of students have passed through diversity and sensitivity sessions learning what to think instead of how to think. In the process, colleges and universities have produced generations of Gletkins, people with starched minds, unbending slaves to mantras of political correctness. We have produced little authoritarian inquisitors more concerned about offending people like the SJP then standing up to tyranny.
We need to take back the universities and restore them to being sanctuaries of free thought instead of boot camps of oppression. It is time to tear down the shadow university, whether it is promulgating the absolutism of the left, or the absolutism of Sharia. Neither has any place in a free society.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati. He has served on the faculty of the University of California, Davis and the University of Illinois, Urbana.