Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Thursday, December 28, 2023
The real issue is not the technocrats at the top. It is the culture that sees leadership in higher education not as a moral calling, but as a technocratic one. That type of leadership suits a broader academic culture that lacks positive moral content, that revels in the spirit of negation, and that cultivates a moral imagination infused with ressentiment among its students. Such leadership cares little for what happens in the classroom unless it affects the bottom line. And until that cultural issue is addressed, changes at the top will likely be accurately described in terms of “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss,” to quote The Who.
When is a crime victimless? When its perpetrators enjoy the status of victims, at least according to the nihilistic tastes of the West in our day. That is the lesson of reactions to various events in recent years, from the looting that accompanied many of the “mostly peaceful” BLM protests of 2020 to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 this year. The response to the violence in Gaza was especially chilling. While there is always room for debating whether a response is proportionate to the act of aggression, the jubilation and exhilaration expressed by American academics, students, and some politicians over the Hamas attacks started before the Israeli counter-attack.
The contradictions at the heart of the modern morality of victimhood have now been exposed to all with eyes to see, even to many who have been pressing it in the political sphere. When members of the LGBTQ lobby express support for Hamas, it is another reminder that many progressives have lost any sense of a moral compass. But this was predictable. When oppressor and oppressed, victimizer and victim are the decisive categories by which to understand the world with no broader moral framework for defining those terms, political morality defaults to that of ressentiment, a reactive stance that simply opposes on principle whatever is. It is the spirit of negation.
Lacking any real framework for ethical discussion beyond this spirit of negation, the moral register is flattened and the language of moral outrage inflated. For example, the word “genocidal,” once reserved for real ethnic slaughter, is now used (apparently with a straight face) to describe legislation that seeks to protect children from bogus “science” placed in the service of progressive transgender ideology. Not only does the West now lack a sophisticated moral register, it lacks any vocabulary in which such could be expressed.
Much has been made this week of the resignation of Liz Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania. Congress had called her to a hearing on Capitol Hill to investigate her handling of recent anti-Semitic incidents on the Penn campus.