Half Past the Month: The Middlebury Way
Not for publication, quotation or distribution. For the use of the membership only.
“This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s. And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
— Sir Thomas More challenging his son-in-law William Roper
in Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons”
by Craig Ladwig
Having put multiple children through college this past decade, some of us have a close, personal experience with the modern liberal arts curriculum. That experience has been deflating.
Students come to believe — some adamantly and others simplistically — that modern history can be explicated by skin pigment, it being a mere record of the continuing effort by the privileged to subdue peoples of color. As a result, the discussion of public policy is as demonstrated last week at Middlebury College: the shouting down of a serious and honest thinker, the social scientist Charles Murray. It was a display of incivility fitting of Robespierre and the guillotine.
The issues raised at Middlebury are deeper than mere freedom of speech or academic tenure. History, requisite of anything that could be called an education, is much more complicated than the students and their faculty mentors want to acknowledge. What if Bastiat had been a Filipino? Would the idea that property precedes law be less profound? What if Magna Carta had been written by Ugandan princes? Would the thought that no man, not even a king, is above the law have made less of an impact?
These ideas are discredited because they were put forward by dead white men. But what if Martin Luther King was right that skin color is incidental. And what if those particular dead-white-men ideas are critical to seeing us as free rather than as an “appurtenances of the soil, the property of the ruler,” to use Ludwig von Mises’s characterization of the European serf.
From another direction, would slavery have occurred had our nation been settled by some other nationality? That is problematic, for the slave trade at the time of America’s founding was managed largely by Africans. Our friend, Dinesh D’Souza, notes in his documentary on America that prior to capitalism both physical slavery (chattel on the block) and economic slavery (ruinous taxation) were the only ways rulers of nations and peoples sought to enrich themselves. And that had been so since the beginning of time. Indeed, it was the English followed by the Americans who abolished it in its most dehumanizing forms.
The Middlebury protesters tell us with their actions that they want to tear it down and flatten it out. They imagine — and that is the key word — a world where results are somehow made equal, where democracy is supreme, peoples are nationless, all is stripped clean of religious and cultural trappings or social custom. Most particularly, they dismiss the advantages of a nuclear family and a work ethic.
Let their fathers’ hypocritical, self-serving, constitutionally binding, antiquated system of individual rights, checks and balances and private property, be damned. They assume they would prosper in the default of the world, the one where Rule of Law is foreign, where nothing is legal until a supreme, presumably beneficent, authority deems it so.
We can only hope that some of them will be diligent, or at least curious, and compare this default system with their own exceptional one. They will find the other world hostile to their sophomoric sense of right and wrong.
The historian Dan Hannan establishes that the prosperity of our so-called Anglosphere is a meme rather than a gene. It doesn’t belong exclusively to white men. It can be transmitted without any genetic material whatsoever. That is the point being made by the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar as he travels the globe giving away America’s secret for prosperity. He tells the leaders of impoverished nations how it was founded first of all on liberty, not democracy, and certainly not on statism or egalitarianism or envy. He does so even as Americans themselves forget that secret.
There is an elegant proof of this. It was established by the life work of the economist Lord Peter Thomas Bauer beginning in the 1950s. He compared those peoples oppressed by British colonial rule with those left uncolonized — those left pure, if you will. He found that the former were faring better.
Was that because the British colonizers were nice guys, nation-builders? They were ruthless, in fact, although not as ruthless as the French and German colonizers and, arguably, the times being what they were, not more ruthless than the colonized themselves had they gotten the upper hand. Rather, it was because the British accidentally transferred to the colonies core elements of their system of natural and legal rights.
But perhaps those Middlebury protesters imagine — that word again — they can keep their prosperity if not their freedoms and still promise everyone an equal outcome. If so, they will sow only tragedy.
That tragedy is personified in Nkechi Amare Diallo, a.k.a. Rachel Anne Dolezal, the Caucasian former president of the NAACP chapter who self-identifies as black. Reading her history and her comments, you can conclude that Ms. Dolezal does so not because she admires American blacks but because she abhors American whites, or how she has been taught to think of them.
Moreover, she assigns to blacks the thinking of that default setting, romanticized beyond recognition. She unquestionably accepts its global ideology, stereotypes and heroes, an acceptance fortunately not shared by the great number of authentic black Americans. Nonetheless, the transracial Ms. Dolezal is the poster person (she is bisexual as well) of her age. The truth, though, is that she and so many around her have no idea who they are.
To begin to understand them and their odd view that melanin is prima facie evidence of righteousness or that its absence is de facto evil, we must turn to the Barbadian philosopher and vocalist Rihanna: ”I think (Dolezal) is a bit of a hero,” she told Vanity Fair recently, “because she kind of flipped on society.”
Flipped. That’s the word. It’s how America will look when the Middlebury protesters get finished with it.
Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.