The Ivy League Makes Excuses for a Progressive Racist

 

wilson

Portrait of a racist, obscured for purposes of mystery (and emotional safety).

The murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, over the summer led to demands that public and private institutions stop displaying (or selling) the confederate battle flag and other symbols of the Confederacy.

At my alma mater, Yale, the debate took the form of a campaign to remove the name of John Calhoun from one of its residential colleges, as I posted here a few weeks ago. The connection between Calhoun and Charleston was somewhat attenuated: Calhoun died ten years before the outbreak of the civil war, and — unlike the stars-and-bars — Calhoun is not exactly an iconic symbol for white supremacists. Nonetheless, the Yale community has been eager to denounce Calhoun as an irredeemable racist.

It turns out that a very similar debate has been going on over at Princeton but — as I note over at City Journal — with very different results. Princeton has several buildings named after a notorious racist: a man who imposed Jim Crow rules on the federal government, who declared segregation to be a “positive benefit,” who believed that blacks carried infectious diseases, and who held that Chinese immigrants could never be successfully absorbed into American culture.

I refer to Woodrow Wilson. But unlike Calhoun, Woodrow Wilson is a progressive icon: a promoter of an activist government, and the founder of the modern Democratic Party. The inevitable result is that students and professors at Princeton have been falling all over themselves to defend Wilson against narrow-minded folks who focus on just “one aspect” of his presidency, ignoring all his wonderful accomplishments (the Federal Reserve! Hooray!).

I agree that Wilson should be judged upon his entire public record (a pretty awful record). However, why can’t the academy extend the same consideration to Calhoun, who served forty years in government, including two stints as vice president?

Published in Education, History
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  1. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    See also, Sanger, Margaret.

    • #1
  2. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    At least Wilson was an anti-semite.

    • #2
  3. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    iWe:At least Wilson was an anti-semite.

    Well, there is that. It makes up for a lot of sins in the academy.

    • #3
  4. Adam Freedman Contributor
    Adam Freedman
    @AdamFreedman

    St. Salieri:See also, Sanger, Margaret.

    Yes indeed.  Sanger of course shared Wilson’s passion for eugenics – ridding the country of “unfit” and “unclean” gene pools.  In a piece in The Nation, she is sympathetically described as “a product of her era” — just as Wilson is embraced as “man of his times.”   But when it comes to an advocate of states’ rights like Calhoun, he is judged by the standards of 2015.

    • #4
  5. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Wilson was always taught to us as a great man, his racism was never mentioned and this was by professors who may have been democrats in these 50’s classes, but back then Democrats were either normal human beings or rabid Marxists and students knew the difference.  I never met a conservative and wouldn’t have known what it was.  The most scathing attack I ever read on Wilson, was by a disappointed fan,  Keynes in the “Economic Consequences of the Peace” he realized the man was a weak fool.

    • #5
  6. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Leftism covers a multitude of sins.

    • #6
  7. RabbitHoleRedux Inactive
    RabbitHoleRedux
    @RabbitHoleRedux

    Why do liberals always want to white wash history? You can’t  learn from a revisionist past.

    • #7
  8. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    RabbitHoleRedux:Why do liberals always want to white wash history? You can’t learn from a revisionist past.

    Learning from the past would preclude their agenda.

    • #8
  9. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    Phooey on Wilson. I’m teaching world history this year. The textbook’s chapter on The Enlightenment includes the text of US Constitution. The Constitution section begins with a Wilson quote about the constitution’s elasticity and the Living Constitution. I told my students that the “living constitution” interpretation is not supported by all constitutional scholars and pointed out that Wilson was a racist who resegregated the civil service. Of course he wouldn’t want all rights to apply to everyone. Students gasped in outrage & jaws dropped in dismay. It was a very good day. So far, no emails from parents.

    • #9
  10. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    danys:Phooey on Wilson. I’m teaching world history this year. The textbook’s chapter on The Enlightenment includes the text of US Constitution. The Constitution section begins with a Wilson quote about the constitution’s elasticity and the Living Constitution. I told my students that the “living constitution” interpretation is not supported by all constitutional scholars and pointed out that Wilson was a racist who resegregated the civil service. Of course he wouldn’t want all rights to apply to everyone. Students gasped in outrage & jaws dropped in dismay. It was a very good day. So far, no emails from parents.

    Good work!

    • #10
  11. Paul J. Croeber Inactive
    Paul J. Croeber
    @PaulJCroeber

    Adam Freedman:

    St. Salieri:See also, Sanger, Margaret.

    Yes indeed. Sanger of course shared Wilson’s passion for eugenics – ridding the country of “unfit” and “unclean” gene pools. In a piece in The Nation, she is sympathetically described as “a product of her era” — just as Wilson is embraced as “man of his times.” But when it comes to an advocate of states’ rights like Calhoun, he is judged by the standards of 2015.

    Would the The Nation describe Columbus as a “man of his times”?

    • #11
  12. SpiritO'78 Inactive
    SpiritO'78
    @SpiritO78

    I’m not a fan of tearing down all memorials and tributes to past leaders and ideas. The WILLINGNESS to do so in all spheres of American life is concerning to me.

    • #12
  13. BD Member
    BD
    @

    Princeton will follow the New York City Council’s lead and honor Julius and Ethel Rosenberg before they will ever consider turning their backs on Wilson.

    Let’s not forget the man who gave his name to the Fullbright Scholarship either.

    • #13
  14. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    SpiritO’78,  welcome to Ricochet.   We are happy to have you join the conversation.

    • #14
  15. hokiecon Inactive
    hokiecon
    @hokiecon

    Can’t stand the prog obsession with Wilson, but I don’t see any value in erasing history.

    • #15
  16. Pete EE Member
    Pete EE
    @PeteEE

    Both men are great villains, but in the proper vilification of Wilson, let us not fail to give Calhoun the vilification that he fully deserves. While Wilson may be the most racist president since the civil war, Calhoun is the worst political actor in the whole of America’s history.

    John C. Calhoun is the intellectual eminence whose philosophy took America from “all men are created equal” to the civil war. For more detail, see Hugh Hewitt’s Hillsdale Dialogues https://online.hillsdale.edu/hillsdaledialogues

    Calhoun is introduced here (starting at 17 min): Hillsdale College – Hillsdale Dialogues, 05 – 01 – 15, The Second Crisis In America

    and is discussed in detail for this full episode: Hillsdale College – Hillsdale Dialogues, 05 – 08 – 15, The Second Crisis In America, Part 2

    • #16
  17. Naomi Inactive
    Naomi
    @Naomi

    RabbitHoleRedux:You can’t learn from a revisionist past.

    Thanks for this gem.  I want the tee-shirt, bumper sticker and mug.

    • #17
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