Poking the Beehive

 

Professor Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law has poked a stick into a bee hive. Tenure is liberating that way. In an op-ed for Philly.com, she argued, with Larry Alexander, a law professor at the University of San Diego, that the decline of “bourgeois values” since the 1950s has contributed to a host of social ills. Male labor force participation rates are down to Depression-era levels. Opioid abuse is epidemic. Half of all children are born to single mothers, and many college students lack basic skills.

This is right out of the Charen hymnbook. Behavioral standards that were nearly universal in the 1950s, they contend, such as stigmatizing idleness, getting married before having children and remaining married afterwards, “going the extra mile” for employers or clients, eschewing substance abuse and crime, and upholding an ethic of self-control and delayed gratification, reigned from the 1940s to the 1960s, and contributed to economic growth, social cohesion, and educational gains.

It’s a big subject – which is why my forthcoming book addresses many of the same topics – albeit from a slightly different perspective. Even as a cultural conservative, I quibble with aspects of the Wax/Alexander essay. They repeat, for example, the conventional wisdom that the introduction of the birth control pill ignited the sexual revolution. I’ve come to believe that this is overstated. The 1950s are now remembered as an age of wan conventionality. In fact, it was a time when the nation went wild for Alfred Kinsey (later revealed as a fraud), copies of Peyton Place flew off the shelves, and Playboy magazine debuted.

But the thrust of the essay was right about the importance of bourgeois values. The response of some segments of the University of Pennsylvania community to Wax and Alexander illustrates the powerful undertow of illiberalism in academia. Wax and Alexander expressed mainstream views that you will find at the center/left Brookings Institution and the center/right American Enterprise Institute, as well as at leading universities. It contained not a particle of racism. No matter. Wax’s exploration of behavioral norms was damned as white supremacy. Comparisons to Charlottesville proliferated. In a letter to the Penn student newspaper, 54 current and former students declared that:

These cultural values and logics [sic] are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice and the denouncement [sic] of all groups perceived as not acting white enough i.e. black Americans, Latino communities and immigrants in particular.

Many of the signatories were graduates of the anthropology department – which is evidently not a stickler for grammar or syntax.

Part of what provoked the firestorm was Wax’s assertion that “not all cultures are created equal.” This is a red flag for sociology and anthropology types. But their dudgeon is preposterous. They are, in fact, in thundering agreement. The conviction that not all cultures are equal is the heart of their worldview. They obviously believe that Alabama’s culture, circa 1952, was inferior to that of Philadelphia in 2017. If pushed, they might even concede that Afghanistan’s cultural practices vis a vis women and minorities are inferior (that word!) to Belgium’s – though that would be more challenging for them. Afghanistan is a part of the Third World and accordingly, its sins are placed in the Western ledger due to imperialism and colonialism. (Well, Afghanistan was never successfully subdued by invaders, but never mind).

Some of Wax’s colleagues have engaged with her ideas without dialing the meter to 11. But 33 members of the law faculty published a letter anathematizing her. While acknowledging the value of academic freedom (something the students and former students who denounced Wax specifically declined to do), they followed their denunciation with a gaudy non-sequitur:

We believe the ideal of equal opportunity to succeed in education is best achieved by a combination of academic freedom, open debate and a commitment by all participants to respect one another without bias or stereotype. To our students, we say the following: If your experience at Penn Law falls substantially short of this ideal, something has gone wrong, and we want to know about it.

Good Lord, nothing that Wax said remotely called into question any of those principles. In fact, it was the hysterical response, not the article, that betrayed the values of open debate. As for bias and stereotypes, if the left cannot get past its blinkered view that all discussions of character and behavior are code for racism, it will do great harm to all, but most especially to minorities and the poor. And, most important, if the left cannot distinguish reasoned academic arguments from vile racist insinuations, it will strengthen the very extremists it fears. If everything is racist, then nothing is.

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There are 15 comments.

  1. Member

    This story reaffirms my overall pesimism. The attacks on Profesor Wax is a milder for of what sometimes happens to firemen when they are shot or shot at when trying to save lives and property. I wish this story you’ve written could be in every form of news outlet. There needs to be shame attached to the McCarthyite tactics of the left. Shame and mockery to them for such ugly dishonest behavior.

    Thanks for doing your part Mona.

    • #1
    • September 7, 2017, at 3:24 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  2. Member
    EEM

    Be careful, Mona Charen. Pointing out grammatical errors in the students’ letter is likely to generate charges of racism!

    “Putting Writing at the Center of Inclusivity” (discusses antiracist and social justice work in the University of Washington Tacoma Writing Center).

    • #2
    • September 7, 2017, at 3:33 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Coolidge

    You know, it saddens me to read these attacks on Wax and her ideas. I want desperately to believe our professors and students are better than that.

    I should know better. During my 30 years of teaching, I saw my profession grow ever more ideological, more full of disdain for common people and traditional American values. College, I used to think, ameliorated our worse instincts. I don’t think that anymore. And that makes me sad.

    Kent Forrester

    • #3
    • September 7, 2017, at 5:26 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  4. Member

    Has professor Wax (or her colleague) responded to the attacks in any way?

    I’d say I’m heartened to have not yet heard about any groveling… but it may simply be a matter of time.

    • #4
    • September 7, 2017, at 7:00 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Member

    Mona Charen: Professor Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law has poked a stick into a bee hive.

    The Bill Bennett Show: “Scandal Erupts When Professors Argue That All Cultures Are Not Equal“, on the Ricochet Audio Network.

    • #5
    • September 7, 2017, at 9:44 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Member

    I also listened to Bill Bennett’s show in which he interviewed Professor Wax. I was very impressed with what she said as well as her courage in saying it. For years in the schools we were told over and over that we were not to inflict our values on the students. Yet a major part of the value system we came from was exactly what one needed to be successful in an academic environment. No one was willing or able to fight the tide of the leftist tsunami that overwhelmed the schools beginning in the late 1960s. That a reaction is finally happening, and that Professor Wax stands at the forefront of that reaction is very heartening. The reaction to her piece only confirms how accurately she hits the mark. Nothing is more frightening than a direct hit on a vulnerable fortress (of lies). The left will scream and yell, will hurl invective and threats, but they are losing their power. The word “Racist” has lost its impact from over and inappropriate use. Andrew Breitbart pointed the way to deal with it, and that method is beginning to take hold. Enough is enough. A system of values which have been found to be univerally successful in building a nation of educated and informed patriots needs to be reinstalled in public education. The left has held the schools for more than 40 years. Their failures are legion. It is time to boot them out and bring back serious curriculum which teaches and reinforces western cultural values. If you came from a Third World nation or simply grew up in a deprived state, you came to raise yourself above what you were born to. That means taking on the values and culture of the only nation that has successfully achieved equality under the law by honoring those values. Accept those values or stay home! Don’t tell us we can’t teach them in our schools to our children.

    • #6
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:40 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Member

    I wrote to Dr Wax, who responded that she is weathering the storm just fine. Bill Bennett’s fine interview shows this.

    This makes an important point. We can challenge the dominant despicable culture if we do so bravely and refuse to grovel.

    Dr Wax, BTW, has degrees in Biology from Yale, Medicine from Harvard, Law from Columbia and was a trained neurologist before becoming a law professor. As an endocrinologist with an advanced music degree, I am in awe of such accomplishments. She might be the most intelligent and thoughtful person in America.

    • #7
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:44 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  8. Inactive

    I just want to know if Mona knows where the term “dialing it up to 11” comes from.

    • #8
    • September 8, 2017, at 9:37 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Member
    EEM

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):
    I wrote to Dr Wax, who responded that she is weathering the storm just fine. Bill Bennett’s fine interview shows this.

    This makes an important point. We can challenge the dominant despicable culture if we do so bravely and refuse to grovel.

    Dr Wax, BTW, has degrees in Biology from Yale, Medicine from Harvard, Law from Columbia and was a trained neurologist before becoming a law professor. As an endocrinologist with an advanced music degree, I am in awe of such accomplishments. She might be the most intelligent and thoughtful person in America.

    Well, it doesn’t hurt that she has tenure.

    • #9
    • September 8, 2017, at 10:24 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Member

    EEM (View Comment):

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):
    She might be the most intelligent and thoughtful person in America.

    Perhaps, but she has excellent competition in Virginia Postrel, author and Bloomberg columnist

    Well, it doesn’t hurt that she has tenure.

    In her case, I’m very pleased about a very bad policy.

    • #10
    • September 8, 2017, at 11:02 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Contributor
    Mona Charen Post author

    BThompson (View Comment):
    I just want to know if Mona knows where the term “dialing it up to 11” comes from.

    Spinal Tap?

    • #11
    • September 8, 2017, at 3:15 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. Inactive

    Mona Charen (View Comment):

    BThompson (View Comment):
    I just want to know if Mona knows where the term “dialing it up to 11” comes from.

    Spinal Tap?

    Indeed! Well done, Mona!

    • #12
    • September 8, 2017, at 4:29 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Inactive

    We discussed this at Richard Fulmer’s post:

    https://ricochet.com/453456/are-hard-work-and-persistence-really-white-things/

    Of course, when you reflect on it, we have been discussing “bourgeois values” since the beginning of Ricochet.

    • #13
    • September 8, 2017, at 5:19 PM PDT
    • Like
  14. Inactive

    Very nice article, Mona! I enjoyed every word. Thank you so much for a good column.

    • #14
    • September 8, 2017, at 7:33 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Member

    Great post – made greater by the subtle Spinal Tap reference.

    • #15
    • September 9, 2017, at 6:28 AM PDT
    • 1 like