No One To Stop Them
(This month's article diverges from our standard policy of providing readers with intellectual background needed for a general understanding of the subject. Readers can obtain an excellent presentation of supporting philosophical framework in Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, chapter 22. "No One To Stop Them" will appear in revised form in a forthcoming book on student terrorism: The University Under Siege.)
Student terrorists have succeeded in bringing down campus after campus in much the same way that any random collection of gas and dust rushes in to fill a vacuum: by default. For decades, the American university has been in a state of virtual philosophical bankruptcy. Eventually an accounting had to come. And it has, in the form of gun-toting, slogan-chanting leftists who, swooping down on universities like vultures, plan to use the charred remains, the burned-out libraries and lifeless classrooms, as revolutionary staging grounds.
Numerous administrators and professors have displayed shocked disbelief at the "activists'" escalating vulgarity and cruelty. But they have no right to be shocked. For universities themselves are in part responsible for laying the roadbed for coercion. The college president who sadly shakes his head and mumbles that he cannot understand what motivates the protestors is like that kind of parent who, after doing everything possible in a span of two decades to destroy his child's mind, laments to the world that the child refuses to think for himself. Well, what was expected?
And what, too, was expected by college presidents, when universities have not (generally) taught students to think, but to think that thinking is impossible, not taught them how to gain knowledge, but to believe that knowledge is impossible? But whatever it is that they expected, they have gotten terrorism just the same.
Consider the dominant trends of modern education and perceive that student "radicals" despite their assertions of fundamental opposition to the values of contemporary society, are simply literal products of those trends, that they merely spew back over portable megaphone and campus p.a. in undiluted form the same social theories that their professors present couched in euphemism in the classroom. The activists are mirrors protesting the world they so accurately reflect.
In a freshman English class at a university in Boston, a professor tells his class: "Reason is impotent to know things as they are". Meanwhile, in the basement of a building on the other side of campus, a student is setting afire the office that houses Reserve Officer Training Corp. The arsonist is opposed to the presence on campus of that organization and this fire is his method of "persuading" the school to sever connections. If the English professor is right, if reason is impotent, then the arsonist is merely being practical, for beyond rational persuasion there is only one procedure by which to convince other men: terror. What in the professor's lecture—and the many others like it the arsonist has sat through—would suggest otherwise?
In countless classrooms across the nation, the efforts of the Boston professor are duplicated, until at every major campus there exists a cadre of mindless brutes who accept (or profess to accept), in the full and literal sense, such statements as: "We can be certain of nothing but uncertainty—truth is what works—logic is arbitrary—ethics consists of subjective adherence to arbitrary premise."
These little anomalies are the rungs of the New Left's ladder to power, the perfect tools for its proposed second-story job. The agency that dispenses such absurdities would be, by grace of its distance from reality, the logical place for a band of barbarians to center its operations. This is why, during the last few years, the movement of the "movement" has been that of a rapid ooze onto the country's campuses.
On campus, activists realized that they had found a gold mine. Not only did they often gain control of student newspapers, lecture series, university-paid positions, and student governments ( and thus student fees ), but they also received the most important commodity: the implicit sanction of the intellectual community. What working-class support represented to earlier revolutionaries academic sanction means to today's gang; university approval—whether explicit or tacit—is the motor that moves the "movement."
The New Left recognizes that the university is civilization's fountainhead, its source of sustenance; its source of intellectuals (see "The Critical University," REASON, March '69). Should that source be stopped or diverted, civilization would soon collapse, becoming the object of gang rule, with the most powerful mob finally grabbing control of whatever was left. (Toward this end, campus guerrilla tactics serve not only a precedent, but as practice as well.) If the New Left can obtain the sanction or even the seeming sanction of those who society respects as representing intellectuality, that collapse is all but assured. This is the meaning of the New Left's craving for recognition.
Thus far, official reaction almost always has been not that of open, active support, but that of the accommodating compromise and frozen neutrality of men afraid to move. But whether open support, accommodating compromise, or frozen neutrality, as far as aiding the New Left's power plans, all three do equally well.
If cases of open support can be explained by the sorry fact that in America brutes (men who advocate initiatory force) are hired to teach at universities, what explains the neutrality of professors and administrators who should know better? Modern philosophy. The grab bag of confusion that has produced a crop of students who would rather ravish than reason, is also responsible for officials' "spinelessness," their seeming inability to defend their schools against mindless mobs.
Having imbued their charges with the impossible doctrines of modern philosophy, academicians are now paralyzed by demands that they practice what they preach. The activists are capitalizing on the fact that most of academia and the culture at large operates on a double standard, explicitly professing one set of convictions, yet living by another, implicitly held, unstated, unidentified frame-of-reference. The reason the New Left has been so successful lies in the exact nature of the dichotomy: the professed Ideals (altruism, collectivism, mysticism, "human rights") are impracticable; the true, practicable ideals (egoism, individualism, rationality, individual rights) remain unidentified, used but unacknowledged.
The militants put the ultimatum this way: choose—choose between what you call ideals and hypocrisy. To answer such demands would require of officials that they bring into full focus and consciousness those unidentified premises and conduct a total reexamination and revision of their personal convictions, something few adults are willing to do.
Instead, enmeshed in profound guilt, most choose to grant concessions, bowing sheepishly to the militants on any issue, no matter how absurd. Their guilt, provocation of which, in part, is the purpose of the Left's continuing ultimatums, has at least two root causes. First, capitulating presidents realize—no matter how they attempt to blank out the realization—that they have refused to think about issues important to their psychological and physical well-being, that their consciously held "liberal" convictions are in some way dangerous and impracticable, and responsible for producing, protecting, or aiding the savages ravishing their campuses. Second, because explicit premises hold final power over implicit ones, administrators feel guilt over not fully practicing their "liberal" doctrines, even though at the same time vaguely sensing something at fault with them.
Dangling in psychological limbo, most administrators have attempted to preserve last vestiges of their sanity by selecting the status of professional driftwood: withdrawing from the world of principles to float in aimless, uncontrolled patterns, responding to the random tide of the moment, agreeing with whomever is last in their office, moving only out of fear, standing up for nothing except compromise and retreat.
Which is precisely what the New Left wants. This reaction, from a tactical standpoint, is the best possible toward furthering its aims. How easy to point to the nervous perspiring college president who is willing to compromise on moral issues, and label him "the enemy." Sad to say, in a static, physical sense, the label is true; today, such compromisers are all that exists between civilization and savagery. But in a fundamental sense, the label is wrong; the man willing to surrender morality to a cluster of collectivists is done a great injustice when called that cluster's "enemy"; on the contrary, he is its best friend. For only through sacrifice of good to evil can evil control good, and only through surrender of the providence of moral principle to campus activists can they act as effective agents of destruction. Only by means of implicit sanction of those in a position to defend what is right, yet who do not, only through capitulation of those who represent the ownership (which usually in trusteeship) of schools, can the New Left destroy a campus.
University sanction and surrender comes in many forms—some subtle. It begins with the hiring of professors who support demonstratively irrational doctrines. (There is tremendous difference between the professor who teaches, and the professor who advocates, Nazi politics. The former, if competent, can explicate underlying philosophical premises, and thereby prepare students to make their own judgement. The latter can succeed only in either boring or brainwashing them.)
The most dangerous surrender, and the one that sets the tone and precedent for all future concessions, is the continuing acceptance of students who explicitly support the initiation of force (for whatever purpose). Such individuals have no intellectual right to remain students, and the university that keeps them is like a rent-a-car company that loans autos to drunks.
The acceptance of militant groups as legitimate campus organizations represents a similar error. To provide coercive tribes with money, office space, freedom of movement, and official blessings, all to be used for the purpose of planning and executing assaults upon the school, is both suicide and murder (the rights of innocent students are invariably trampled in disruptions).
Once militants are firmly entrenched on campus, there is no end to the ugly, bizarre, and sordid blind alleys an administration can back itself into in frenetic evasion. Consider examples from three schools that have been the locus of recent turmoil: Boston, New York, and Cornell Universities.
Until last summer, The News, a student paper at Boston University, was published under the name of Boston University News. Embarrassed by the tabloid's anti-intellectual attitude, the University changed the name, turned control over to the student editorial board, and granted the news owners a yearly allowance of $16,000, to continue for three years, at which time the paper would have to depend on advertising revenue.
Observe the hypocrisy of this arrangement, one designed in a foolhardy attempt to pacify both alumni and militants. The paper still rents office space from the school and is allowed complete distribution privileges. No amount of name-changing and other transparent footwork can change the fact that the administration has merely switched sanctions, and in doing so, revealed profound preoccupation with enhancing appearances rather than substance, preoccupation widespread in the academic community.
As one moves on to other, more "radicalized" schools, B.U.'s fraud begins to pale in comparison.
At NYU, last October, John P. Hatchett, an instructor hired just last summer, was fired after telling 700 students in early October that Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey were "racist bastards." On the 12th, 100 students seized two buildings to force reinstatement. The siege ended when the University agreed to rent Hatchett campus office space and recognize him as a "representative of NYU black students." But, the school emphasized, "he will no longer be speaking as a representative of NYU."
The qualification, of course, is absurd. Since the administration knows Hatchett's ideas, renting him office apace contradicts the implicit purpose of its contention of non-representation. If the university's move meant anything but direct sanction, those 100 students would have been happy housing Hatchett in a nearby office building, rather than on campus.
At Cornell this spring, concessions took on gargantuan proportions. After students who seized a building armed themselves with more than a dozen rifles, Cornell's administration agreed to a provision in which the school would grant amnesty for all involved; drop previous charges arising from earlier "demonstrations"; pay for all damage caused by the seizure; provide students involved with legal aid against any civil suits that might stem from the seizure, and provide a 24-hour guard around the Afro-American Center. After students were disarmed, the agreement was not declared void.
Cornell President James A. Perkins, afraid that if the agreement was subsequently repudiated the militants would simply rearm and reoccupy, explained: "The University can survive, even through concessions obtained through coercion and force, but not through murder." (Time, 2 May 69)
The technique by which the New Left achieves all its victories, including concessions such as those described above, is essentially the same one used to instill administrative guilt: exploitation of the philosophic bridge linking the Left and its opposition.
Their tactics fall into two categories: intimidation and argumentation. Both modes are designed to accomplish the following objectives: exploit confusion, ignorance, dishonesty, fear, and cowardice; demoralize and silence any real opposition; confuse, obscure, and evade actual issues; establish an apparent position of moral supremacy, and place the opposition on the defensive.
Intimidation, the collectivists' long suit, is successful only because a solid base of rationale has previously been sold to the academic community, which is now quickly disarmed by the mere utterance by the militants of certain key words everyone has agreed represent bad things: war, racism, money, etc.
Mostly, New Left argumentation consists of stark assertion, a mix of physical and intellectual intimidation. While certain facts may get proven in the hassle, basic premises most certainly will not. Relationships between real and imagined facts and concepts are generally established by use of "non-syllogisms," that is, by relying on one or more logical errors. Discrepancies are then covered by emotional devices.
When pressed by an opponent who happens to come uncomfortably close to perceiving basic issues, the strategy invariably becomes one of obfuscation and evasion. The spirit, if not the style, of such evasion is typified by the Cornell coed who said, after the recent gun display there: "Guns, guns, guns, that's all they can talk about. Don't they understand we're talking about the legitimacy of black students on a white campus, our survival as an entity in a hostile environment?" (Newsweek, 5 May 69)
Rhetoric is generously peppered with higher-order abstractions; the more popular, and the less understood, the more likely to be seized and exploited. Examples: racism, morality, ethics, capitalism, values. Such use has the double function of decreasing clarity, while creating the illusion that the New Left is asking complex, important, fundamental questions. Other benefits accrue, depending on the specific word and particular misusage. Extensive condemnation of opponents as "racists," for example, tends to befog the fact that the New Left are apostles of racism themselves, while further corroding what little valid notion of the word the public still holds.
Much New Left argumentation is best understood in terms of tactical maneuvers designed to convert ("radicalize") or mobilize as many "moderates" as possible, even if only for the duration of a single issue.
If those who plan strategy (for example, the various officers of Students for a Democratic Society) are deft (and obviously they are they will draft rhetoric to appeal to both the pseudo and real liberalism of their opposition. Thus will Boston University's SDS use the concepts and precepts of private property to aid their position, even though they reject the idea of private property outright. "Slander," cried they, last spring, in a handout that claim that six SDS members had been slandered by a campus "moderate" group that released a leaflet bearing their alleged signatures. But slander, a subdivision of fraud, is a crime that could be adequately recognized only in a society operating on premises that include recognition of property as a right (part of slander damages may include property losses).
Ideological raids like this are not rare; in fact, they are central to the success of New Left argumentation. For example, the idea that "rights" are something not to be violated with impunity is one the public holds only through the efforts of men like America's founding fathers, the most explicit capitalists in mankind's history. Yet "rights," in the form of the phony formula of "student rights," is what the anti-capitalistic New Left crusades for.
Frequently employed is a mixing technique, called "package-dealing," in which a rational idea is welded onto an irrational one, and offered as if a single unit. Many young people are honest enough to see the validity of the rational point—the wrapping—but not thoughtful enough to examine the product itself.
Thus a New Left publication will quote from Ibsen's A Doll's House ("Before all else you are a wife and a mother." "That I no longer believe."); recommend The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan; and then go on to blame the mystique on, of all things, capitalism, and offer collectivism as solution to this blatantly collectivist error. By the alchemy of package-deals the New Left can substantially weaken the resistance of those who know no means by which to differentiate intellectual food from poison.
But one of the most common ploys is that of arguing in the vaguest terms possible, extruding an enveloping fog of belligerent ambiguities in which those "liberals" who hold their convictions as a psychological device to instill a false sense of self-esteem (the kind that might be heard to think: "I'm no bigot. I wouldn't think of pressing charges against blacks who kidnapped the Dean of Students. Why, that'd be racism.") can drown any doubts they have that the New Left might not be merely a bunch of misguided idealists. "Peace," screams the militant as he swings his club. "Equality," chants the black racist as he squeezes off a few rounds. "That's what I like to hear," the "liberal" gasps as clubs and bullets strike.
Like men unable to resist disease because they have accepted a dose of anti-rejection serum, those who run America's universities are unable to reject the lethal malady the New Left seeks to spread. And each element of the New Left's program is designed to gain from the inability or unwillingness of administrators to think, to judge, and to act in response to the threat the militants represent.
How an essentially unthinking mob of brutes has managed to create such a massive dent in a well-entrenched intellectual establishment is the story of zero-eat-zero. When groups holding the same basic premises clash, the most consistent must invariably triumph, regardless of the actual validity of the premises involved. That the New Left's "philosophy" (that is, its list of slogans) is in serious contradiction with easily observable facts of reality is not important; its opponents hold the same errors; that is the proverbial foot in the door.
From the hard lines of S.I. Hayakawa to the slippery ooze of James A. Perkins, the only essential difference is in the size of the foot. Even Hayakawa, whose unflinching recourse to cops (and curses) brought quick (if temporary) peace to San Francisco State and won him national recognition, may be heard to speak approvingly of "social consciousness," the New Left's pseudonym for altruistic self-immolation.
If, as news reports would seem to indicate, Hayakawa is the most potent antagonist the New Left can be expected to face at a large school for a while, then just as there is little question as to why such a small number have done so much damage, there is also little question that they will continue to succeed in the future.
As kingpins that lean on others, anchors which are lighter than air, administrators in their response to terrorism are moved by many forces other than the integrity of convictions of right and wrong: students, colleagues, faculty, alumni, the press. While these groups may play important parts in many a campus tragedy, they are like the ocean currents in which a giant ship drifts after engine failure. For the most part, they receive their places in the unreeling chronicle of the destruction of this nation's universities in the same manner as the New Left: by default.
Even police, upon whom officials are quite willing to place blame for their own past ineptness, come to figure prominently only because a long line of concessions has emboldened militants to further and more ferocious acts of coercion.
No, the responsibility for halting destruction belongs exclusively to a single group of men, men from whom very little has been heard during recent turmoil: the trustees. They must begin to exercise and annunciate their right to control their property.
They are the owners, the guardians, the proprietors, of civilization's most noble achievement: its universities; to stop student terrorism, they must begin to act like they knew it.