In August 2005, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd invoked a mother’s moral authority against President Bush on the issue of the Iraq War.
Cindy Sheehan’s son had been killed in Iraq the previous year and insisted on camping outside the Bush ranch until the president agreed to speak to her. Bush had already spoken to her, but she insisted on speaking to him again, so she could tell him why the war was wrong and the US should pull out its forces. Dowd attacked Bush’s failure to meet with her, proclaiming that regardless of his own justifications for the war
his humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.
Putting aside the moral authority of parents whose children were killed in the war yet agreed with the reasons for it — the fact remains that the idea of this kind of moral authority resonates.
For example, in 2014 the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network announced on its website:
Over 300 Survivors and Descendants of Survivors of Victims of the Nazi Genocide Condemn Israelâ€™s Assault on Gaza
313 Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide have signed this letter written in response to Elie Wieselâ€™s manipulation of the Nazi Genocide to attempt to justify the attacks on Gaza.
The ‘letter’ neglects to link to or even quote what Wiesel said. But it does make clear that it opposed the “ongoing genocide” of the ever-increasing Palestinian Arab population.
Looking through the 312 signatures — and the moral authoritiy they represent — the breakdown is that the letter was signed by:
- 39 Holocaust survivors
- 97 children of survivors
- 112 grandchildren
- 13 great-grandchildren
- 51 other relatives
The underlying assumption is that not only does the respect due to Holocaust survivors extend to how Israel should defend itself against the genocidal intentions of Palestinian terrorists, but that this ‘authority’ is somehow hereditary and passed down to all descendants.
Part of the problem is that the definition of moral authority, which Dowd took for granted, may not be what these people think it means.
Wikipedia, while by no means authoritative on the issue, defines Moral Authority as
authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws…the authoritativeness or force of moral authority is applied to the conscience of each individual, who is free to act according to or against its dictates.
This definition of the relativeness of moral truth to each individual may explain why Dowd helpfully declared that Sheehan had absolute moral truth — and that it should apply broadly.
Fast forward to today.
With the current wave of riots following the police killing of George Floyd, we have been subjected to a different kind of authority — a collectivist moral authority — one in which not everyone has a say, but which we are expected to abide by nevertheless, lest one suffers from the kind of collective demonization that was prevalent in Soviet Russia.
Writing about The American Soviet Mentality, Izabella Tabarovsky notes a change in social media reminiscent of Soviet Russia:
Twitter has been used as a platform for exercises in unanimous condemnation for as long as it has existed. Countless careers and lives have been ruined as outraged mobs have descended on people whose social media gaffes or old teenage behavior were held up to public scorn and judged to be deplorable and unforgivable. But it wasnâ€™t until the past couple of weeks that the similarity of our current culture with the Soviet practice of collective hounding presented itself to me with such stark clarity.
The mobs that perform the unanimous condemnation rituals of today do not follow orders from above. But that does not diminish their power to exert pressure on those under their influence.
This has resulted in a cancel culture that attacks more than just statues to be torn down.
Ira Stoll has been maintaining a List of People Canceled in Post-George-Floyd Antiracism Purges. Starting with James Bennet, who lost his job over the backlash to the Tom Cotton op-ed, the list includes editors, CEOs, and employees at universities and media — over 20 people so far.
To take an example of the ‘moral authority’ at the university level — we have gone way beyond the usual mob harassment and intimidation of invited speakers that we have been used to talking about, where the students harass and the university sits idly by and allows it to happen.
Instead, at UMass Amhearst, University Targets Its Own Student for â€˜White Supremacyâ€™
Campus professors, administrators, and graduate student instructors publicly smeared UMass Amherst student Louis Shenker as a dangerous racist and falsely charged him with hate crimes to get him expelled from school, claiming that his â€œviews are not the kind we want to cultivate at the University.â€
In December 2018, Shenker — a “Jewish, a conservative, an outspoken Zionist, and a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump” — attended a protest against racism and white supremacy while wearing a MAGA cap and carrying a sign supporting Trump. He was harassed by students, who blocked him from displaying his sign, calling him a â€œNaziâ€ and a â€œfascist.”
That is when a graduate student who teaches undergraduate students grabbed his hat and screamed curses at him. The campus police determined that Shenker was “the victim of larceny and assault and battery motivated by anti-white and anti-Jewish bias.”
The university did nothing.
Then things got worse.
On October 13, 2019, two faculty members and an assistant dean exchanged emails formulating a harassment and defamation plan to force Louis to leave the university. In possession of the emails, Louisâ€™s attorneys confirmed that Professor Maryann Barakso wrote, â€œWe need to talk about Louis. He is becoming a major problemâ€¦. As you know he is Jewish, so we have to be very careful and smart in how we deal with this problem.â€ Professor Lauren McCarthy responded, â€œWeâ€™ve dealt with other problem students in the past successfully and you know nobody likes a racist so we can handle it.â€ [emphasis added]
In other words, as Shenker’s lawyer put it in a letter to the university, “They formulated a plan to terminate Louisâ€™s contractual relationship with the university by defaming him as a racist.”
The article goes on to describe how the university staff put their premeditate plan into action:
On campus, their graduate student sympathizers disseminated hundreds of flyers depicting Louisâ€™s face with big block letters: â€œALERT! WHITE SUPREMACIST LOUIS SHENKER.â€ The flyer went viral on UMass-connected social media where Louis was called a Nazi and threatened with physical violence.
Beth Peller is a long-time militant activist. She proselytizes her students with stories about her past radical escapades including Occupy Oakland and writing articles from Lebanon defending Hezbollah in its 2006 war against Israel. Peller knows how to work the system. She filed a series of false charges against Louis with the municipal police, alleging that he was a white supremacist who was threatening her. These legal actions were vacated by Louisâ€™s counsel for lack of evidence, but not before Louis spent two nights in jail.
Peller then orchestrated an online petition calling on the university administration to expel the dangerous white supremacist Shenker. Hundreds of professors from across the country, including Cornel West, Judith Butler, Mark Bray, Johnny Williams, and professors from Louisâ€™s own university signed on to this slander.
The petition was published by the Campus Anti-Fascist Network (CAN), an Antifa-associated group founded by Stanford Professor David Palumbo-Liu, a virulently anti-Israel academic, and Purdue Professor William Mullen, who wrote â€œwe need to de-Zionize our campuses.â€ Mullen claims CANâ€™s purpose is â€œto drive racists off campuses.â€ He asserts that his group includes a large number of students and faculty and has been endorsed by several university departments. CAN was eager to help with the malicious campaign, given that the organizationâ€™s goal is to silence anybody with whom it disagrees, especially Trump supporters and conservative speakers. [emphasis added]
Fearing for his safety, Shenker was forced to flee the campus.
One of the ominous elements of this account is how easily professors across the country — hundreds of them — were mobilized into attacking, slandering and endangering the life of Louis Shenker. University professors may not be noted as moral authority figures, but historically, professors and “intellectuals” are generally recognized as authority figures and historically such people are looked up to for guidance and inspiration.
Those days are apparently gone.
These days, when the media covers for violent riots as peaceful protests, it seems that anyone can lay claim to the mantel of being an “intellectual.”
According to the article, one of those who signed on to the attack on Shenker was Cornel West — a supporter of BDS who also makes excuses for Palestinian terrorism, writing that the actions of Hamas â€œpale in the face of the US-supported Israeli slaughter of innocent civilians.â€ West once accused President Obama of being â€œmost comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want.â€
Another of those mentioned in the article is Judith Butler, who believes that “understanding Hamas-Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.”
Note the applause Butler receives to this comment.
This is the same Judith Butler, as Elder of Ziyon notes, who is impressed by Edward Said’s thesis that
Moses, an Egyptian, is the founder of the Jewish people, which means that Judaism is not possible without this deï¬ning implication in what is Arab.â€™
In other words, neither Said nor Butler are aware that the early Egyptians were not Arabs.
Mark Bray is a college professor and author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. Bray is a big fan of Antifa:
Bray argues that â€œfascism cannot be defeated through speechâ€ and that the lessons of history suggest that Neo-Nazis and white supremacists have to be shut down before they become too powerful or normalized.
…For Bray, violence is not simply a question of kicking a fascist if a fascist kicks you but of â€œpreemptivelyâ€ shutting down â€œfascist organizing efforts . . . before they turn deadly.â€
Bray said that while anti-Zionism is not a focus of antifa, many members tend to be anti-Zionist as part of their far-left activism. Anti-Racist Action groups, he said, had taken part in anti-Zionist events in the past.
[Jewish antifa member] Sieradski said, however, that Jews play a significant role in the movement because â€œweâ€™re fighting Nazis and anti-Semitism is the prime ideological viewpoint of Nazis.â€
The last “intellectual” mentioned above as participating in the smear attack on Shenker is Johnny Williams, who wrote an opinion piece in 2014 in the West Hartford News, Another view: Academics remaining silent about the perils of Zionism is not an option. Yes, that’s right, Williams wants you to know that
In academia, most scholars shun speaking and writing about the state of Israelâ€™s siege and wars in Palestine.
In a response, Rob Monyak writes Another view: Academics are expressing anti-Israel ‘invective’
Given what has taken place in academic discourse regarding Israel in the last 20 years, I find this to be a truly outrageous contention and makes me wonder whether Mr. Williams has been living under a rock
Apparently, Williams found time to come out from under that rock to join in an attack on a student.
Mr. Williams advocates â€œcritical and untampered public debateâ€ and erroneously concludes that he and his cohort â€œunnerve people because we go beyond the commonly accepted or officially defined version of human events.â€ Thatâ€™s not it at all. The unnerving takes place because their primary interest is not in debate, but in flinging as much populist muck as he can at Israel without regard for intellectual accuracy or conceptual clarity. [emphasis added]
Mr. Williams’s attack on a student is apparently consistent with his past mudslinging.
All in all, such is the level of heroism we can expect these days from our role models in academia, as it becomes difficult to distinguish them from the unruly mobs — with nary a word from the media.
Allan Bloom wrote about The Closing of the American Mind.
These days we may well be witnessing The Collapse of the American Mind.