The key demand at Columbia was amnesty. Rebel spokesmen have repeatedly stressed this. Even if the administration had conceded to their demands concerning the IDA and the gym, the rebels would not have surrendered until they had been promised complete protection from arrest and expulsion.
Their opposition to Columbia's support of IDA rested on the IDA's supposed implication in the initiation of physical force against innocent victims (Vietnamese citizens, for example). Yet, by forcibly occupying campus property, disrupting, and ultimately bringing to an end, regular classes, holding hostages, terrorizing students and teachers, and provoking fights, the rebels were guilty of the same evil they claimed to be protesting.
Their objection to the Morningside gym presumed that it was racist. Yet the rebels were unable to successfully integrate their own ranks.
The rebels' protests against the IDA and the gym were a smokescreen, thrown up to obscure the real atrocity—their terrorist tactics.
They attempted to justify those tactics by references to the University's complicity with "immoral elements in an unjust society." They argued that by giving intellectual and moral support to "repressive" forces, the University was, in effect, aiding in the oppression of innocents.
Can this act as justification for their actions? Can the Leftists, who initiated the use of physical force at Columbia, who threatened the school with full-scale guerrilla warfare if it refused their demands, whose societal goals are indistinguishable from those of Hitler's Brownshirts, self-righteously posture as the champions of a just, moral society? Could their pose be grounds for amnesty? No.
Amnesty, in principle, sanctions the hoodlums' Nazi-like tactics, while at the same time, condemns as "repressive," moral acts of self-defense. Amnesty, in a vicious, gruesome moral inversion, is like a sick jokester who, for laughs, pins the constable's badge on the thug, and has the constable don the thug's clothing. Thus, the rebels call aggressive occupation, a "demonstration," while police retaliation is termed "brutality." The illegal trespass of a building is "liberation," while the removal of the trespassers is "repression."
The administration said that it hesitated to call in the police to break up the occupation, because it would "make martyrs" of the rebels—but what about the thousands of silently suffering martyrs the administration never consulted—the honest students? Why were they, the victims, to be punished for the crimes? By what atrocious moral inversion? When they were denied the right to be interviewed by the company of their choice, when their classes were disrupted, when their tuitions were wasted, and their plans ruined, when their right to hold dissenting views violated, hadn't they suffered enough? No, said the administration, in effect, the "rights" of the rights-violators comes before the rights of the violated.
Society is a group of men living within a certain geographic area, and dealing with one another. How they deal with one another, whether they treat each other as independent equals, relying entirely on rational persuasion to effectuate their dealings, or whether they resort to brute physical force to settle social problems, decides if that society is just.
Justice consists of treating each individual exactly as he deserves, weighing his actions and words by means of rational and objective standards. Justice requires the choosing between two or more alternate courses of action. It requires further that the chooser be free of coercion. If a man is threatened with physical force should he make a particular choice, then in fact, he has no choice. Choice pertains to the chooser. The choice that a man makes under the threat of a club, is not his own, but the threatener's. Coercion can never produce justice, only thwart it. It is either mind, logic, facts, the use of retaliatory force, and justice, or whim, muscle, club, the use of initiatory force, and injustice.
Morality, in a social context, consists of intransigent respect for individual rights, which means that one must never knowingly initiate force against another person. Immorality consists of disrespect for, and violation of, individual rights.
Man's life is the standard of morality. His survival requires not only physical values, but spiritual ones, too. He must have a motivation to live. The goal and motivation of man's life is happiness; the necessary prerequisite for happiness is self-esteem. Self-esteem is the conviction that one is basically able, and worthy of living, and is the result of the efficacious use of one's mind. Self-esteem is man's emotional fuel, which he earns by dealing successfully with reality (it is not based on any one accomplishment or failure, however).
Man deals with reality on a conceptual level. He has no automatic knowledge; in order to achieve his intended goals, he must engage in a process of thought, focusing on the subject at hand. Force prevents man from acting on his thought, and therefore prevents him from achieving self-esteem. Only by perceiving his effects on the outside world, can man determine if he is thinking efficaciously. If he cannot act on his judgement, he cannot produce any such effects, and cannot feel self-esteem. Without self-esteem, happiness is impossible, and without happiness, life is meaningless.
Can the Leftists tell us that a moral society can be created by destroying the very purpose and essence of life? If man's life is one's standard of value, then it should be clear that force, no matter what the alleged justifications, is the improper method of dealing with other men.
Some faculty members at Columbia suggested that granting total or partial amnesty to the rebels would have sped the return to normal. Yet, a guide review of the incidents during the twelve months preceding the April take-over would dispel any such confusion. Every time that President Kirk refused to punish the rule-breakers, they escalated their activities. When a mob of thugs is on the rampage, amnesty is their green light.
The demand for amnesty, in principle and effect, is a demand that future acts of violence be sanctioned in advance. If a blatant case of rights-violation can be excused today, on what principle can further and more flagrant violations be opposed tomorrow?
Given the evasive ambiguities and the equivocating platitudes that we have seen the administration indulging in (including the recent statements of the newly-appointed president), future violations cannot be opposed. The rebels seem to sense this—thus, their adamant and uncompromising demands for amnesty.
Although several student groups took dissenting positions against the take-over, only one presented uncompromising, intellectual opposition to the rebels. The Committee Against Student Terrorism (CAST), whose members are students of Objectivism, distributed leaflets, sold "Stop SDS" buttons, and circulated a petition.
In a campus atmosphere of hate, cynicism, confusion, apathy, and irrationality, the bulk of CAST's material was exceptionally well-reasoned and relevant. A year before it happened, CAST warned Kirk that if he didn't change his policy towards SDS, a Berkeley-style take-over would occur. Then, this April, it predicted violence at the convention. That happened, too. One of CAST's news releases drew shocking parallels between the New Left and the Youth Corp of Nazi Germany; the similarities are not superficial.
CAST's petition, which drew over 1100 signatures, supported the following program; that the U. grant no amnesty, and that it prosecute against and expel all law-breakers; that it make clear that future acts of violence will be stopped, and instigators be arrested and thrown out; that the U remove sanction from SDS and other militant groups; that the opinions of the students should be considered, but that the decision-making be left up to the trustees and administration.
Information, write; CAST P.0. Box 922 Ansonia Station, NYC 10023
The Cashing-In: The Student Rebellion, by Ayn Rand in her book, "Capitalism—The Unknown Ideal".
On the concept of self-esteem see "The Virtue of Selfishness", pg 36 Mental Health, by Nathanial Branden.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "On Student Brutality—Columbia".