June 2, 2016

RECREATE ’38! In “Suicide by Self-Importance,” Jason Willick writes at the American Interest:

Of all the displays of political myopia and intolerance in the American academy over the past several years, this story may be the most astonishing: Students and faculty at Northwestern University have forced Karl Eikenberry—a retired three-star general and fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies—to withdraw his appointment as head of a new global affairs institute on the Evanston campus on the grounds that he is a “career military officer.” 

The Washington Post‘s report on the story contains a truly remarkable, and telling, quote from one student involved in the crusade against the general (who has contributed to this magazine):

“An ex-U.S. general will likely think about international politics in terms of war and from the perspective of the U.S.’s interests, and the research agenda will be negatively skewed as a result,” wrote Charles Clarke, a Northwestern graduate student and one of the petition’s backers. “Instead, why not appoint someone who will encourage research that is less belligerent and tainted by U.S. bias?”

The petitions condemning the selection of the general display a barely-concealed antagonism toward people who serve the United States in uniform (as Eikenberry told the Post, “This is the worst stereotyping I can imagine and an affront to any veteran”), as well as a snide arrogance toward intellectuals who stray from the academic path.

The obvious analogy is shades of American academia in the latter half of the 1960s; but Eikenberry’s sad fate amongst the campus crybullies also flashes back to Britain’s dissipated university class in the 1930s. As Michael Walsh wrote last year in The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, After World War I,The cream of British manhood lay dead in Flanders’ fields, while those unfit for military service eventually inherited the country,” a dissipated dilettante bunch, as described by Jonathan Last in a Weekly Standard article:

In 1933, the Oxford Union — a debating society and one of the strongholds of liberal elite opinion — held a debate on the resolution “this House will in no circumstances fight for king and country.” The resolution passed. Margot Asquith, one of England’s leading liberal lights, wrote that same year, quite sincerely: “There is only one way of preserving peace in the world, and getting rid of your enemy, and that is to come to some sort of agreement with him. . . . The greatest enemy of mankind today is hate.”

Churchill disdained the new liberalism, mocking one of his opponents as part of “that band of degenerate international intellectuals who regard the greatness of Britain and the stability and prosperity of the British Empire as a fatal obstacle. . . . ” So deep was this liberal loathing of empire that even as the first shots of World War II were being fired, Churchill’s private secretary, Jock Colville, witnessed at a theater “a group of bespectacled intellectuals” who, to his shock, “remain[ed] firmly seated while ‘God Save the King’ was played.”

These elites could see evil only at home. The French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir did not believe that Germany was a “threat to peace,” but instead worried that the “panic that the Right was spreading” would drag France, Britain, and the rest of Europe into war. Stafford Cripps, a liberal Labor member of Parliament, feared not Hitler, but Churchill. Cripps wrote that after Churchill became prime minister he would “then introduce fascist measures and there will be no more general elections.”

In an important sense, the British Empire’s strength failed because its elite liberal citizens stopped believing in it.

The parallels with 21st-century America are striking. In little more than 10 years, England went from victory in World War I to serious discussions about completely disarming herself. Talk of a “peace dividend” began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and culminated 10 years later with a major draw-down of forces and the abandonment of the two-war doctrine.

Last’s article was written in 2005; in retrospect, it’s a prescient snapshot of a similar dissipation that would soon befall an America that was also fundamentally transformed. Just as England discovered almost before it was too late (and in the sense of losing the Empire, it was too late), America’s 21st century elites of both parties “have gotten dangerously out of touch with the country. They are being forcefully reminded of this fact, and those reminders are likely to become more frequent, and more forceful, in the future,” as Glenn warned late last year.

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