DEI must DIE

January 29, 2024

Paul Nathanson

Submitted: 24 January 2024

Last night, I watched Nazi Town, U.S.A,[1] a documentary on the rise of American Nazi movements during the 1930s, notably the German-American Bund of Fritz Kuhn and the America First Committee of Charles Lindbergh. This is a useful production, because not many people remember these movements. After all, they ended suddenly when Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. But the show’s underlying point was more political than historical. More specifically, it was about the possibility of similar political movements emerging today. The show concluded with the repetition, in various words, of “It can happen here again.” This is self-evidently true. And why study history at all, in fact, if doing so amounts to nothing of more urgent importance than archeological digging at the remote site of some ancient community? Even though not one of the talking heads referred directly to any contemporary American movements, many viewers must have linked American Nazis of the 1930s with those of today. And there are some today, but the analogy is very deceptive for three reasons.

For one thing, those talking heads concluded by making the point, not once but several times, that American Nazism did not necessarily disappear at the outbreak of war. Their institutions did, because these became illegal, but did their ideas disappear? Maybe not, viewers are told. I think that this point of view was deliberately tendentious and manipulative. Even so, it disregarded a striking historical discrepancy. The very next American generation, after all, produced the Civil Rights movement and the general rise of political liberalism.

Moreover, the Nazis of our time are far from influential. On the contrary, they are very marginal and easily dismissed as “deplorables.” They are angry about being left out of the middle-class mainstream, to be sure, but that makes any tendency toward “insurrection” a self-fulfilling prophecy of their adversaries.

More important for my purpose in this essay, however, is that the most significant historical analogy is not between Right-ideologues of the 1930s and Right-wingers of today but, on the contrary, between Right-wing ideologues of the 1930s and Left-wing ideologues of today. And this should surprise no one, because all political ideologies have much in common.[2]

That brings me to the topic of this essay. Like many other people, I have been following the story of Claudine Gay’s fall from power at Harvard with its tumultuous cultural and political fallout. The uproar over this story has made it emblematic of the current zeitgeist. Beginning within a day of her resignation, countless journalists, pundits, politicians began to write about it.[3]

Gay was among three university presidents to be investigated by a congressional committee on the shocking outbreak, after the Hamas pogrom on 7 October 2023, of anti-Zionist or even anti-Semitic bullying of Jewish students. This included calling for “genocide” against Jews. The other two presidents were Liz Magill from University of Pennsylvania and Sally Kornbluth from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Not one of these leaders was willing to answer Elise Stefanik’s question about her university’s policy on free speech without revealing a double standard. Each of the three presidents insisted that (a) her university’s policy strongly supported free speech; (b) her policy relied on censorship, however, to protect students from harmful speech; but also (c) her policy protected Jewish students from threats of genocide only on a “contextual” basis.

Public controversy did not end with that revelation of hypocrisy at these prestigious institutions. Kornbluth did not resign. Magill did resign within a week of the hearing. Gay resigned, too, after several weeks (remaining as a tenured professor on a very generous salary), but not entirely because of her policy on free speech.

The first problem for Harvard’s board, which had initially supported her vigorously and defiantly, was an accusation of plagiarism. This brought attention not only to her academic publishing record (which was very weak) but also to her managerial ability (which was obviously very weak) and especially to her political support for DEI [4] (which was very strong).

DEI remained in the background during the hearing itself, which was explicitly about university policies on anti-Semitic speech. Almost immediately after the hearing went viral, however, DEI entered the foreground in public discourse, which was partly about the double standard that DEI fosters (protecting some minorities from hate speech but not necessarily Jews) and partly about why Gay was hired in the first place and why she had to resign.

All of these factors added up to the likelihood that Gay had been promoted to her job as president not on merit (which DEI opposes as the main criterion of selection) but on her identity as both black and female (which DEI does promote). And all of this, in turn, led to public controversy over the prevalence of DEI at American universities (along with other institutions) and its consequences for free speech.

To the very end of Gay’s status as president, moreover, Harvard’s board (along with countless political and journalistic pundits) insisted that her resignation was the result of “systemic racism.” But this reaction, many others argued, amounted to cognitive dissonance: an expedient excuse for refusing to accept reality. For the first time in decades, the prevailing ideology in academic and political circles—this has become known in various contexts as “progressivism,” “intersectionalism, “”postcolonialism,” “anti-racism,” “transgenderism,” “Social Justice” and “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (but as “wokism” to its adversaries)—was widely ridiculed in the public square even by many of its former supporters among liberals and Democrats. Consequently, some major donors to Harvard and eventually some members of the board itself demanded Gay’s resignation.

In her letter of resignation,[5] Gay acknowledged fumbling at the congressional hearing but did not apologize for any policy that relied on a double standard. She admitted to a euphemism for plagiarism, moreover, but did not apologize for that mistake. On the contrary, she argued to widespread acclaim that this charge indicated that she was the victim of a conservative and racist conspiracy to undermine DEI. That might or might not have been true—mud-slinging is a common political strategy at all times and in all places—but the mistake was, by her own admission, not a fabrication by her ideological foes.

Bill Ackman, known for a liberal point of view and for generosity to Harvard, his alma mater, was among the rebellious donors. He cited Gay’s willingness to trivialize anti-Semitism and her admitted plagiarism. His brief publications on DEI are not academic treatises, but they do indicate a sound understanding of it as an astonishingly primitive but deceptive ideology that is prevalent in the academic world

“I came to learn that the root cause of antisemitism at Harvard was an ideology that had been promulgated on campus, an oppressor/oppressed framework, that provided the intellectual bulwark behind the protests, helping to generate anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate speech and harassment. Then I did more research. The more I learned, the more concerned I became, and the more ignorant I realized I had been about DEI, a powerful movement that has not only pervaded Harvard but the educational system at large. I came to understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion was not what I had naively thought these words meant.” [6]

In 2024, naïve is right.

The counterattack came almost immediately. It took the form of a conspiracy theory, one that Gay herself launched.[7] Was it merely coincidental that Gay, being a black woman, belonged to no one but two “oppressed” groups? If not, then her downfall must have been due to systemic racism, sexism, or both. [8] One central premise of DEI and related ideologies, after all, is that no other factors—not personal animosity, for instance, or even personal awareness—can explain systemic racism or sexism. Therefore, no other factor needs to be taken seriously as a possible cause of any statistical disparities between people by race, sex, sexual orientation and so on—let alone open conflicts. This point of view gave new meaning to “reductionism.”

Besides, why was plagiarism such a big deal at all? Was it not merely, as Harvard’s board put it euphemistically, “duplicative language”?[9] Never mind that any Harvard student would be expelled, according to the university’s own policy, for doing the same thing. But wait. Someone then accused Ackman’s own wife, Neri Oxman, of indulging in plagiarism.[10] (It might or might not be coincidental, that she is an Israeli.). By defending her,[11] was Ackman succumbing to an expedient double standard of his own? For many academics and pundits, in other words, it seemed fitting to shoot the messenger (Ackman) in order to deny the message (about what happens when DEI takes over an institution).

Could these improbable events amount to a turning point in the relentless “culture wars” over identity politics and the role of ideology in politicizing the university? If so,[12] it would take not days or months but years or even generations to undo the intellectual and moral corruption of an institution that has abandoned even the search for objective truth by giving priority to “our” truth over “their truth and by replacing the importance of personal merit with that of group identity. But even now, after only a few weeks, countless articles and blogs have covered the story and its implications not only for the university—some are openly calling for viewpoint diversity[13] in addition to racial or sexual diversity—but also for the nation.

In this essay, I examine several distinct but related strands in the fabric of l’affaire Gay. By “strands,” I mean conflicts, some of them longstanding, over (1) identity politics and DEI; (2) personal free speech or censorship; (3) institutional free speech or censorship; (4) the double standard of identity politics; (5) justice, revenge, reconciliation and self-defense; (6) promoting social change or seeking truth; (7) institutional free speech or institutional censorship; (8) personal merit or collective identity; and (9) the ambiguous relation between Jews and identity politics.

Identity politics and DEI

The academic context of this essay is a mélange of closely related and even allied ideologies, which are known collectively as “identity politics.” The latter is a worldview that relies explicitly on an inherent, even innate, dichotomy between two classes.[14] Although this worldview has now polarized our society, it originated not yesterday or even the day before yesterday but in ancient times.[15] And although it is characteristic of political ideologies on both the Left and the Right, its most influential, most institutionalized and therefore most powerful venues right now are on the Left—which is to say, in ideologies that derive from Marxism. For Marx, the class struggle was economic and therefore political: the proletarians and peasants versus the bourgeoisie.

Marxism was successful, at least politically, in parts of Europe during the early twentieth century. It was less successful in America, largely because American capitalism generated enough wealth at all levels of society to discourage revolution. By the 1920s, more and more people were migrating from their farms to the cities. Even later, during the Great Depression, most Americans—not all by any means but most—were unwilling to risk destroying the entire structure of society, economically and politically, in a cataclysmic revolution.

By the 1960s, more and more proletarians were entering the middle class and American society was changing in ways that no one could have predicted.[16] But Marxist academics, many of them refugees from Nazi Europe, began to argue that a new kind of revolution, a cultural revolution, would eventually succeed. Nonetheless, this revolution would bring about a utopian society, not merely a reformed one. And it could do that only by destroying the old society in order to build a new one on the ruins. That was the task of academic postmodernists. Instead of sending out military cadres into the streets, would infiltrate universities and indoctrinate students by analyzing, “deconstructing,” “subverting,” “interrogating” or “exposing” the oppressive features of society. And they believed that all features of it were “hegemonic,” “toxic,” and therefore “oppressive.” These included not only the factories, mines and other means of production but also the novels, movies, radio shows, newspapers, advertisements, churches, laws, games, words—especially marriage and the family. All of these cultural productions amounted to what Marx had called “false consciousness,” which prevented people from seeing their true condition as oppressed victims.

Influenced by Herbert Marcuse, Rudi Dutschke (a student radical in Germany) called this process “the long march through the institutions.” It would not complete the work overnight. It would take time to gain power in universities and other institutions, transforming them by converting people, but the result would be less violent and more effective. Many of these cultural revolutionaries, or their students, eventually became “tenured radicals.” Meanwhile, Americans in general, and American parents of college students in particular, were changing their naïve and complacent attitudes toward higher education.

By the 1970s, postmodernism was de rigueur in the academic world (but ignored elsewhere). It was no longer enough to challenge academic methods such as structuralism, which claimed to discern patterns and underlying truths. Postmodernists challenged the whole notion of objective truth (or even the goal of seeking it despite human limitations) and replaced it with the subjective truths of groups. In accordance with Marxist tradition, therefore, they distinguished between “our truth” (that of the “oppressed” or “marginalized”) and “their truth” (mere “narratives” of the “oppressors” or “privileged”). After that, it was easy to fragment society by demanding adherence to an increasingly wide array of competing and sometimes conflicting—but nonetheless closely related and often politically allied—ideologies of identity politics.

After half a century, nothing much has changed except that postmodernism is no longer contained by any academic ivory tower. Its ideological fallout has become conventional wisdom in the public square. The verbal tags keep changing, it’s true, but the basic dualistic structure (which identifies innately innocent victims with “us” and innately evil victimizers with “them”) remains. This pattern occurs in postcolonial ideology (“us” versus the West) and “anti-racist” ideology (“us” versus white people) along with some forms of gay ideology (“us” versus anyone who opposes gay marriage), feminist ideology (“us” versus men), and transgender ideology (“us” versus “cis” people).

To complicate this terminology, some words find application in more than one ideology (although, as I say, they are all one ideology just below the surface). “Intersectionalism,” for instance, allows competitive suffering among those who claim to be oppressed in two or more ways, thus giving priority to lesbians over other women, black lesbians over other lesbians, “neurodivergent” black lesbians over other black lesbians and so on). “Social Justice” refers to a specifically Marxist notion of social justice. In the corporate world, ESG refers to “environmental,” “social” and “governance” policies that are supposed to make even capitalism not only profitable but also virtuous. DEI, which dominated the public square after l’affaire Gay refers to any point of view that relies heavily on the words “diversity,” equity” (instead of “equality”)[17] and “inclusion.” Whether any of these theories actually work as intended, is another matter.

To complicate this terminology even more, the word “wokism” is another synonym for identity politics in all of its Marxist-derived ideological forms. It is by now a pejorative word, however, so I won’t use it here.

Advocates of these ideologies promote the uplift of “marginalized” racial and sexual minorities at the expense of “privileged” ones. In the context of this congressional hearing, that goal affects not only the selecting of students and the hiring of faculty (through some version of affirmative action) but also, perhaps ultimately, the ideological slanting of courses and research projects.

These ideologies add up to a pervasive worldview, but DEI is probably the most familiar, because it has been institutionalized by government officials and either government or corporate bureaucrats in countless schools, colleges, universities and research institutes, professional associations, businesses and so on. In this essay, I refer primarily to DEI as a general worldview that fosters the institutionalization of identity politics in general and of several closely related and politically aligned ideologies in particular.

Personal free speech or censorship

What were the policies of these universities on free speech (or, depending on point of view, censorship and even “cancel culture”)? What should they be? There are three basic positions on free speech and censorship: (a) “absolutely” free speech; (b) totally censored speech; and (c) relatively free speech. All three present moral or philosophical problems.

Very few people would prefer total censorship, which would in turn mean direct government intervention in every form of communication and therefore a hallmark of totalitarianism. But few people would prefer absolutely free speech, either, because that would include not only freedom to express unpopular ideas or feelings but also freedom to incite violence. One solution is relatively free speech: placing freedom to incite violence in a separate category, presumably to avoid compromising the purity of freedom. This was the solution that Gay and her colleagues at the hearing had established or maintained at their universities.

But one favored strategy of all identitarian ideologies is what I call “linguistic inflation.” This means redefining words with political expediency in mind. They have redefined “violence,” for example, to include emotional discomfort (hurt feelings, anxiety when confronted with threatening ideas, fear of “micro-aggressions” and so on). One president after another could tell Congresswoman Stefanik (and the nation) that their students and staff were free to say anything that they want to say unless their words  amounted to “violence” and were therefore not in the same category as free speech. And they could say so with the support of American law,[18] which does not recognize (emotional) “violence” as a crime but does recognize incitement to (physical) violence as a crime.

Institutional free speech or institutional censorship

 Consider now the equally ferocious and equally enduring controversy over institutional free speech and institutional censorship. At issue here is not the free speech of students and teachers but that of universities as institutions (most of which receive funding from tax dollars).[19]

At issue in l’affaire Gay was not only what Harvard students or teachers may or may not say individually about social problems but also about what Harvard may or may not say collectively about social problems through its policy on free speech or censorship. Every university in our time must make one of two possible choices: (a) that it is obliged by policy to promote justice (that is, to shape society by issuing proclamations on various cultural problems); or (b) that it is obliged by policy not to do so. Both kinds of policy build on definitions of the university that I have already discussed.

Institutional censorship makes sense if the university’s ultimate function is to promote justice directly as a collective project[20] Therefore, it not only promotes (or denounces) some ideological program but also hires (or fires) teachers, researchers and administrators with its ideology in mind. Consider the congeries of allied ideologies that now prevail in universities. Reduced to its ubiquitous slogan of “diversity, equity and inclusion,” for instance, this policy publicly advocates racial or sexual diversity and inclusion by publicly denouncing anything that compromises ideologies such as feminism, transgenderism, and “anti-racism”). But that slogan is deceptive. It insists on racial or sexual diversity but rejects viewpoint diversity. Moreover, it excludes those who hold disfavored viewpoints.[21] Consequently, the university becomes an intellectual echo chamber, which defeats the historic definition of a university. Even in the Middle Ages, after all, universities permitted some degree of theological and philosophical debate without necessarily resorting to charges of heresy.[22]

Institutional free speech, however, makes sense if the university’s function is to seek justice indirectly as an individual project. This is impossible without independent thinking—the underlying assumption being that there can be no justice without truth and no truth without the free exploration of ideas.

This second policy does not promise numerical “equity” (based on demographic factors such as race and sex). Instead, it promises equality of opportunity for every individual, based on personal merit.[23]

The double standard of identity politics

But the problem of free speech versus censorship is complicated even further by a double standard that is characteristic of identity politics: some rules for “us” and other rules for “them.”[24] And this hypocrisy is ultimately what led to Gay’s downfall. These universities, including Harvard, are much more zealous in protecting some identity groups from either violence or “violence” than they are in protecting other identity groups.

According to intersectional ideology, the individual is of no importance. What matters is that all people belong innately to either a “marginalized” class (sometimes more than one) of victims or to a “privileged” class (sometimes more than one) of oppressors. The former are not only innately innocent but also perpetually in need of collective protection; the latter are not only innately evil but also perpetually liable for collective punishment. [25] Even though Jews have been classified for centuries as sinister aliens and even murdered en masse for being religiously or racially contaminated, DEI classifies Jews as “white-adjacent” and therefore “privileged.” Not only are they unworthy of protection, therefore, but need no protection in the first place. This is why not one of the three university presidents (one of whom is herself Jewish) could tell Stefanik honestly and willingly that threats against Jews were automatically forbidden by policy. The policy would apply to Jews, sure, but only in some “contexts.” For Jews, that context was not (emotional) “violence” but (physical) violence. And even though the hearing did not explore which other groups, if any, would be excluded from protection against “violence,” it should have been clear to everyone that the “intersectional” hierarchy would exclude all white and “white-adjacent” people, all heterosexual people, all “cis” people and all male people (except, sometimes, for those of “marginalized” racial or sexual groups).

This double standard, more than anything else, caused public outrage. There are three possible ways of avoiding this particular double standard: (a) eliminate it by applying the same standard of protection—that is censorship—to all people, regardless of racial or sexual identity; (b) eliminate it by applying the same standard of protection—that is, no censorship at all (except for the prohibition of violence, which is a matter of law, in any case, not policy); and (c) dismantle DEI itself (all programs, offices, courses, preferments) and return to the standard of personal need, personal responsibility and personal merit.

Few people today would want to increase censorship, and many worry about new digital forms of surveillance (although many or even more people would indeed approve the censorship and surveillance of their adversaries). But even fewer people, perhaps, would want to eliminate censorship entirely. Many or most parents, for instance, would place their own children in a separate category: in need of protection by virtue of age, not race, sex or class. But the population remains hopelessly polarized between advocates of collectivism (such as DEI) as the only way to achieve social justice (a.k.a. Social Justice, with its roots in Marxism) and advocates of individualism (with its roots in both the biblical tradition[26] and the Enlightenment).

Justice, revenge, reconciliation and self-defense

Underlying this double standard is not stupidity or incompetence. It is intellectual delusion or moral confusion. Everyone agrees that some people have more advantages than others do. Everyone agrees that some of these advantages are culturally inherited. And everyone agrees that society should not allow poverty or “marginalization” to prevent anyone from the realization of potential. The only question is how to achieve that noble goal, justice, not only within the context of a democratic society and its legal tradition but also within that of its moral tradition. This means examining justice in relation to (a) revenge; (b) reconciliation and (c) self-defense.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, reconciliation, not revenge, is both a defining feature and the ultimate goal of justice.. On the foundation of that moral premise lies my critique of DEI in any of its current versions. And I can’t think of a worldview that is less likely to generate racial or sexual reconciliation than this one. After all, it’s about genetically transmitted and therefore immutable guilt. Unlike the Christian notion of Original Sin,[27] however, this ideological worldview offers no hope at all of redemption, or salvation—that is, of reconciliation with other people (and therefore with God). So far, in fact, it has led in precisely the opposite direction—toward increasing polarization of every kind—racial, sexual, religious, linguistic, political—in our society. Is that any improvement over the cross-generational blood feuding of tribal societies?

In this age of sentimentality, neo-romanticism, gynocentrism and pop psychology, it might be easier than ever before to confuse revenge with justice. Revenge can be a very satisfying emotion. The moral difference is, as I say, that justice is about reconciliation, not merely feeling satisfied due to recovery from loss or restitution for damage and certainly not merely for feeling self-righteous. Reconciliation takes much more time and effort than feeling anything and is ultimately a moral choice, not an emotional state. But reconciliation does not necessarily entail pacifism. It can entail fighting—that is, acknowledging and engaging actively in an adversarial contest—in order to establish the justice on which reconciliation depends.

But wait. Here’s one more complication. To one or both groups in conflict, the conflict itself can amount not to aggression but to self-defense. Does the end always, or ever, justify the means? Can we say reasonably that “anything goes” in the struggle for self-defense? Although it usually does not, it does in self-defense. Killing in self-defense, after all, is not murder. Even so, the end of self-defense justifies anything that is necessary to achieve it—but nothing more. This—not an equal or nearly equal number of bodies on both sides—is what international law, based on centuries of just-war theory, calls “proportionality.”[28]

An intriguing discussion of this very topic in relation to l’affaire Gay emerged in (at least) one blog. The featured essay, by Lee Fang,[29] accuses the political Right of doing precisely what they accuse the political Left of doing: advocating censorship or punishment by university authorities for those who say what is doctrinally unacceptable or “politically incorrect.” Fang is not referring specifically to schadenfreude on the Right. He’s referring to conservatives who fight fire with fire, in effect, and therefore adopt a reversed double standard. If it’s bad for Left-wingers to “cancel” or slander Right-wingers, after all, how could it be good for Right-wingers to “cancel” or slander Left-wingers in return?

One of the 83 bloggers (and counting), Julian Farrows, notes the following in his comment on Fang’s article “This debate about free speech is similar to the tactics used against Christians. They get endlessly attacked and ridiculed, but when they finally do stand up for themselves, they’re condemned for not turning the other cheek. This article is pure gaslighting.” Likewise, Jews, especially Israeli Jews, often say that only Jews are expected to follow the guidance of Jesus and be good Christian pacifists. Avoiding hypocrisy is surely desirable. But so is self-defense, I suggest, in the name of justice and therefore of eventual reconciliation. In this context, therefore, the victims of DEI would surely be morally justified in fighting fire with fire—but without, of course, resorting to lies of their own. If Gay really did succumb to plagiarism—and she admits being guilty of what amounts to carelessness (which she does not consider a serious offense)—then accusing her of plagiarism can hardly be explained effectively as a “racist,” “sexist” or political conspiracy against her.

Promoting social change or seeking truth

Much of the fuss over l’affaire Gay was about her plagiarism. But the main cause was institutional hypocrisy, not personal plagiarism. This is what galvanized both sides, because each had a competing notion of what the university is or should be.[30] How we define any institution, in fact, affects what does or does not go on there. Some forms of behavior underline its function, and others undermine it. This means that some forms of behavior are inherently honorable and others inherently dishonorable. These two definitions of the university now contend in the public square: the university as (a) an institution that encourages the search for truth or (b) an institution that promotes social change.

The first definition is, of course, much older than the second. Universities had long taught technical skills to students who would become professional lawyers, physicians, architects, engineers and so on. In addition, however, they taught other students to think carefully about the meaning of life and to perpetuate their civilization. This was where the Kulturkampf began. By the 1980s, it was becoming increasingly difficult for many people—that is, for the tiny minority of people who either studied or taught at universities—to think clearly about what had been known traditionally as the “liberal arts.” By the 2010s, it was becoming increasingly difficult to think clearly about even professional skills. In the end, not one but both of these historic functions of the university had begun to atrophy—and for the same reason. [31]

For decades, the “tenured radicals”[32] at universities have been busy transforming their departments in the humanities (such as history, philosophy and literature) into propaganda mills for postmodernist ideologies (at first various forms of Marxism, then various forms of feminism). Their basic goal is not merely “social change” or “reform.” It is revolution, albeit cultural revolution rather than military revolution. They expect this process to occur in three stages. First, they use techniques such as “deconstruction” and linguistic theories to undermine the very foundations of their own disciplines (let alone everything else about Western civilization). After all, a fundamental and profoundly cynical doctrine of postmodernism is that there is no such thing as truth, only “our truth” versus “their truth” (which therefore amount to competing “narratives.”) Second, they deny dissenters, both students and teachers, any protection at all from the weaponization of these ideologies—that is, from forms of intimidation that are known collectively as “cancel culture.” Finally, having emptied the public square of dissent and destroyed every institution, they can build their ideological utopia on the ruins.

Many parents (and at least some of their children) find this state of affairs bewildering, alienating and even polarizing. Until very recently, however, they have found reasons to ignore the danger signs in these fields and therefore to abandon one of the university’s two historic functions: encouraging the search for truth.

After the Great Depression and the Second World War, Americans were more ambitious, materialistic and upwardly mobile than they had been for decades. They placed increasing importance not only on science and technology (encouraged financially by the government) but also on law, commerce and the social sciences instead of philosophy history and the arts They wanted their children to learn practical skills, get good jobs after graduation and therefore maintain the society that would bring them prosperity.

For a while, both students and teachers in the sciences thought that they were immune to ideological attacks. But they were wrong.[33] In the end, their complacency did not protect even them from “woke science.”[34] By 2022, Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, found it politically necessary to answer one interrogator that she could not define “woman.”[35]

Personal merit or collective identity

In this context, consider the controversy over plagiarism, which erupted merely as a byproduct of l’affaire Gay. In fact, plagiarism was a proxy controversy. Everyone understood that her resignation from the presidency of Harvard (though not from the faculty) had nothing to do with either her job performance in general or her plagiarism in particular. But many people understood also that she might never have been hired in the first place had she not been a black woman. At issue, therefore, was the efficacy of DEI.

Plagiarism involves not only stealing ideas from other people but also lying about them—that is, passing these ideas off as the products of her own merit. Even now, Gay could not get away with that in the public square, so she[36] and some of her colleagues did their best to trivialize the charge, excuse it, or even “racialize” it. She and her defenders had to play the victim card. Gay was not a cheat. On the contrary, she was the victim of a racist (and sexist) attack on her identity—which is the foundation of intersectionalist (and feminist) ideology. Worse, she was the victim of a proxy campaign of “conservatives” against DEI. Almost everyone understood, correctly, that this conflict over plagiarism was really over ideology. She and her defenders insisted that plagiarism is not only trivial but common. The public outcry, they added, amounted to nothing more—and nothing less—than the sinister prevalence of “white” values. They understood that if Gay—and Harvard—were to lose this battle would mean the end of DEI.

Like the replacement of viewpoint diversity with racial or sexual diversity, in short, the replacement of merit with identity is inherently alien to the function and even to the definition of a university. These points of view cannot support healthy academic institutions, only corrode them.[37] That it took outsiders to reject what should have been obvious—including the many non-academics who watched the spectacle with a mixture of shock and schadenfreude—indicates how deeply the intellectual, moral and political corruption has set in.[38]

Jews and identity politics

Although I would like to discuss DEI without referring to Jews in particular—full disclosure, I am a Jew—I can hardly do so in the context of what goes on now at universities such as Harvard. The congressional hearing that involved Gay and her colleagues at two other prestigious universities, after all, was provoked directly by a sudden and dramatic rise in anti-Jewish activities on campuses all over the country. But this does not mean that Jews have been passive witnesses to history. My point in what follows is that some Jews are not only passive victims of anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism but also active or at least unwitting participants in the culture of DEI (or wokism or whatever label it has taken on over the past fifty or sixty years).

Bill Ackman is, or at least was, a liberal or progressive Jew and staunch Democrat. He must have been shocked to realize (“naively,” as he puts it) how thoroughly DEI advocates had infiltrated Harvard, his own alma mater. If so, he probably represents many other Jews in his circle. Not all Jews fit this description, certainly not Orthodox ones, but many do. The reason for this irony has nothing to do with Judaism. By the mid-nineteenth century, European Jews saw that conservatives in the larger world were allying themselves with ecclesiastical, monarchist and nationalistic movements, ones that had no room for Jews at best and were anti-Semitic at worst. To the extent that Jews were integrated in European societies, or hoped to be in the near future, they turned to the liberal movements that had emerged from the French Revolution and emancipated Jews. They had no way of anticipating l’affaire Dreyfus. Nonetheless, many brought this liberalism, along with either Reform Judaism or Marxism, to America. But that kind of liberalism, or even that kind of Marxism, has been swept away by the tide of recent ideologies: first neo-Marxism (postmodernism and postcolonialism) and now identity politics (such as wokism or DEI).

That’s the irony for Jews. Most forms of identity politics (except, of course, for most Jewish ones) are overtly hostile not only to Zionists in particular (classified as the avant-garde of “settler colonialism”)[39] but also to Jews in general (classified as an oppressor class that benefits from “white privilege”). This phenomenon, whether you call it anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism,[40] is not one more version of either religious hatred[41] or racial hatred[42] toward Jews (although it often looks that way from the Jewish perspective).

This leaves two anti-Western groups as unlikely but effective allies: (a) Muslims either in or from Islamic countries and (b) advocates of identity politics in Western countries. These two groups have almost nothing in common except their profound hostility toward the West (albeit for different reasons). These schools of identity politics oppose the historic West and plans for its replacement by an alien but utopian society. Ironically, even anti-Western schools of identity politics in the We—that is, anti-Western ideologies—have roots in historic Western schools of thought, mainly in Marxism and neo-Marxism (postmodernism and postcolonialism). Their hostility toward Jews has nothing much to do with Jews or even Israelis per se, therefore, and everything to do with Jews as symbols of modernity and therefore of the West.

DEI, like its allied ideologies, is profoundly anti-Western. And this is evident even in its hostility toward Jews. Its advocates are hostile not only toward Ashkenazi Jews (mainly from Europe). for example, but also toward Sephardi Jews (mainly from North Africa and the Middle East and yet originally from Spain and Portugal). In fact, the same anti-Western hostility applies also to Christians, the targets of active persecution in many Islamic countries. (Their plight is ignored by anti-Western ideologues in order to support Muslims, who produce some of the most virulent anti-Westerners of all.)

This is why words such as “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Zionist” are now either confusing or beside the point—and trivialized by overuse. Worse, they allow Jews to play the political game of victimology. Anti-Zionists insist that they are not anti-Semites. This presumably gives them permission to criticize Israeli policies without being accused of anti-Semitism. But Jews sometimes play the same game by insisting that there is no difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. By conflating the two phenomena, they make it very hard for anyone to criticize Israeli policies. Even fellow Jews who do so can find themselves accused of “self-hatred” or “Jewish anti-Semitism.”

Similarly, many Jews have tried to silence or punish “holocaust deniers” and therefore have either directly or indirectly colluded in the creation of “cancel culture” (quite apart from their support for some causes that cross the border from liberal or progressive ones to woke ones). There is indeed something very disturbing and dangerous about attempts to deny or trivialize the sho’ah, but there is something equally or even more disturbing and dangerous, at least in democratic societies, about punishing historical “thought crimes.” How different is that from the theological thought-crimes of not believing in Christian or Islamic doctrines? Punishing people for speaking incorrectly is bad enough, but punishing them for even thinking incorrectly is even worse. It is an open door to totalitarianism.


The word that best describes identity politics in all of its forms, including DEI, is probably “anti-Westernism.” One thing (among others) that all of these ideologies have in common is relentless and implacable hostility toward anything that they associate (correctly or incorrectly) with the West.[43] The targets include not only Jews but all people who represent Western civilization (although Jews are often more visible than other Westerners because of their general support for Israel and dependence on the United States).

One thing is already clear. The revival of universities, let alone of other institutions that have succumbed over more than half a century to postmodernist nihilism and identity politics, will take a long time—even generations—if it were to begin right now. DEI is already deeply embedded as a vested interest of those wholead almost every institution. Advocates are not going to roll over and play dead, not even after the exposure of their linguistic techniques and double standards—not even after the exposure of their implicit or explicit support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas.


[1] Peter Yost, “Nazi Town, U.S.A.: The Untold Story of Nazi Sympathizers on American Soil,” (American Experience), PBS, 23 January 2024;

[2]Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young, Spreading Misandry: Contempt for Men in Popular Culture (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001): pp. 194-233.

[3] For general summaries of the story, see the following sources:

Jonah Goldberg, “Know When to Fold ‘Em,” Dispatch, 3 January 2024;

Michael Higgins, “For Harvard President Claudine Gay, Resigning Was the Only Appropriate Action; Moral Responsibility Shouldn’t Take a Back Seat to a Poisonous, Divisive Ideology,” National Post, 4 January 2024;


[4] DEI is a slogan: diversity, equity, inclusion. But these words vary in sequence from one place to another: DEI in the United States, for instance, and EDI in Canada. I prefer DIE. But the goal does not vary.


[5] Claudine Gay, “What Just Happened at Harvard Is Bigger Than Me.” New York Times, 3 January 2024;

[6] Bill Ackman, “How to Fix Harvard,” Free Press, 3 January 2024;

Bill Ackman, “Claudine Gay Resignation Was a Good First Step, but More Needs to Be Done to Fix Harvard,” National Post, 5 January 2024;

Tunku Varadaraian, “Harvard, Claudine Gay and the Education of Bill Ackman.” Wall Street Journal, 7 July 2024;

[7]Mike Gonzalez, “The Left Feels Threatened by Those Who Tell the Truth,” Daily Signal, 17 January 2024;

This contention is at first blush paradoxical. Many people, especially those in the center and the center-left, are belatedly coming around to agree that our cultural institutions have made a gigantic mistake in enforcing the view that all of life must be seen through the power dynamic of the ‘oppressed vs. the oppressor.’

“But those of us who have been writing about this for years have made the case that to get power over these institutions, the Left first had to undermine American norms and institutions.

“This is the heart of what is known as “cultural Marxism.” It is not always possible to settle economic scores and overthrow regimes through violent and bloody revolutions … so a better approach is to infiltrate the institutions and indoctrinate the population, especially the young.

“In the lingo of the cultural revolutionaries, this is called replacing the existing ‘cultural hegemony’ with a ‘counterhegemony,’ or engaging in ‘consciousness raising’ with those who have ‘false consciousness’ because they, wrongly in this view, identify with the oppressor class.

“Your average woke professor may call false consciousness being ‘white adjacent’ because our present-day cultural Marxists have racialized cultural Marxism …

“But what is known as the Left’s “March Through the Institutions” (their term) has been so successful that Gay and the rest of the cultural Marxist Left are now putting us on notice that they are the new hegemony and we unwashed are running a subversion that wants to impose a counterhegemony.”

[8] Benjamin Weingarten, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Regime Remains Unbowed,” Epoch Times, 10 January 2024;

“Ms. Gay again notes that she’s had bigoted invective hurled at her. But the legitimate criticism on the merits is what forced her to step down. Not crazies sending emails or making phone calls. In her piece, Ms. Gay again elides all this. She laments only that she had ‘neglected to clearly articulate’ what she really believed about calls for Jewish genocide on campus in falling into a ‘well-laid trap’ by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. It was Republican pouncing and seizing that was at issue, apparently. Further, despite ‘duplicat[ing] other scholars’ language’ in her thin paper-writing record, Ms. Gay writes that “I proudly stand by my work and its impact on the field.” …

“Harvard has shown no contrition for the failures culminating in Ms. Gay’s resignation, nor willingness to otherwise hold itself accountable or change …

“Could the criticism have had anything to do with her own words and actions?”

[9] Yaron Steinbuch, “Harvard Finds More ‘Duplicative Language’ in President Claudine Gay’s Work as Congress Investigates Plagiarism,” New York Post, 21 December 2023;

[10] Tom Ravenscroft, “Neri Oxman Caught up in Academic Plagiarism Row,” Dezeen, 11 January 2024;

[11] Bill Ackman, “Post [on his wife, Neri Oxman], X, [January 2024;

[12] Some observers are already indulging in wish-fulfillment fantasies. Cf. Andy Kessler, “Pop Goes the DEI Bubble,” Wall Street Journal, 21 January 2024;

“I, like most Americans, am for diversity, but not when it’s forced or mandated. In a 2017 interview, Mr. [Larry] Fink admitted BlackRock would use DEI tactics to “force behaviors” of corporations on “gender or race,” including via management compensation. Now that’s power.

“This power inevitably leads to a march of intellectual corruption through institutions, which we’ve seen at Harvard, the Biden administration and elsewhere. Does national security adviser Jake Sullivan really care about equity or climate change? It polled well and put him back in power to implement his own societal design via ‘industrial strategy.’

“The good news is that economics eventually outlasts the control freaks. Central planning loses. Real life is about markets that every day transmit trillions of price signals of human desires. Those prices inform production much better than any government bureaucrat or Harvard professor. Societal design—remember Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society?—requires government control. I’ll take freedom.

“Preferred pronouns are fading. College admissions, and maybe hiring based on race is illegal. DEI departments are being deconstructed. But while the DEI movement may have peaked, like that Monty Python character, it’s not dead yet. The feverish whining of those grasping for the last reins of power will probably get worse before DEI eventually dies with a whimper.”

[13] One example would be the University of Michigan. See Editor, “The Week,” National Review, 19 January 2024;

“With diversity, equity, and inclusion coming under renewed scrutiny following the resignation of Harvard president Claudine Gay, the University of Michigan has adopted what it calls ‘principles on diversity of thought and freedom of expression.’ The university’s president, Santa Ono, said this: ‘Open inquiry and spirited debate are critical for promoting discovery and creativity’ and for ‘preparing our students to be informed and actively engaged in our democracy.’ He further said, ‘At this time of great division, it is more important than ever that we come together in a shared commitment to pluralism, to mutual respect, and to freedom of speech and diversity of thought at this great public university.’ On the same page as the university’s president are its regents, one of whom said, ‘Every member of our academic community should expect to confront ideas that differ from their own, however uncomfortable these encounters may be. This can only occur when diversity of viewpoints exists and freedom of expression flourishes.’ The University of Chicago pioneered these principles years ago. It is cheering to see another major university catching up with its good sense.”

[14] Every political movement involves identity, because every political movement is also a community and therefore provides a sense of belonging. Some people are always insiders, therefore, and other people are always outsiders. But not every political movement organizes itself primarily or even entirely on the basis of innate and unchangeable characteristics such as race or sex.

[15] Suspicion of “others” probably dates back at least as far as the rise of settled communities, agriculture and raiding. But dualism, hatred toward others, is probably somewhat more recent. An early source of that in the West was a religion that Jews encountered during their exile in Babylon and Christians, a few centuries later, in the Greco-Roman mystery religions. Apart from anything else, dualistic theologies feature a metaphysical war between two gods: a good one and an evil one. Of importance here is that people who worship the good one (identified with “us”) will eventually triumph over those who worship the evil one (identified with “them”). This kind of theology provided a satisfying answer to the problem of why the good or innocent often suffer (as victims) and the evil often prosper (as oppressors). Monotheists, however, could not easily abandon monotheism. Instead, they sometimes did so implicitly by acknowledging the source of evil as a demonic or satanic, but not quite divine, being.


[16] The New Left soon looked a lot more promising than the Stalinist Old Left. It called for “change” and “liberation,” not obedience to authority or compliance with doctrine. In one form or another, it prevailed among students, eager to rebel against their complacent and materialistic parents, their threatening draft boards and so on. The Civil Rights movement taught a generation of both black and white students to challenge a way of life that included racial segregation. The advent of reliable contraception and legalized abortion, moreover, convinced many young women to postpone liberate themselves from marriage and family life—and, in one way or another, from men—so that they could become “independent,” build exciting careers or at least have fun sexually.

My point here, though, is that group identity—first as women and black people, then as gay people and eventually as disembodied “gender identities”—replaced economic class as the venue of meaning, purpose and community.

[17] “Equality” and “equity” are not synonymous. “Equality” refers to equality of opportunity, (sometimes known, usually with a pejorative connotation, as “formal equality.”) It assumes the value of competition, self-reliance, earned merit—but also laws that prevent discrimination against whole classes. “Equity” refers to equality of result, (sometimes known as “substantive equality”) and requires government intervention in forms such as affirmative action to help whole classes.


[18] This distinction is not universal. In Canada and some European countries, “hate speech” (including “holocaust denial”) is indeed a criminal offense.

[19] According to conventional wisdom, any institution that relies on tax dollars should represent the demographic sources of those tax dollars. But this is a specious argument, because society is always much more than the sum of its parts. Not everyone has children, for example, but everyone pays for schools. Not everyone has a car, but everyone pays for the maintenance of streets, highways and bridges. Universities, too, are intrinsically valuable. They benefit society as a whole, though not every individual directly, and are therefore justly supported by tax dollars without reference to demographic statistics.

[20] Michael Brendan Dougherty, “Why the Harvard Plagiarism Scandal Is So Irresistible,” National Review, 3 January 2024;

“Upon the surfacing of so much borrowed work in her meager academic product, President Gay should have been quietly let go, immediately. The reason this is a drawn-out story is that she wasn’t, which means something is going on at Harvard besides upholding the high academic standards on which its reputation depends.

“Instead, we witnessed something like a core implosion of the liberal elite. Hundreds of liberal-minded academics took the opportunity to downplay or dismiss real instances of plagiarism, because the accusations came from conservative journalists and staffers at a conservative think tank. That is, they were willing to surrender the most basic academic standards the minute doing so became politically embarrassing.

“The horror expressed at her resignation, I take to be genuine. Academics exist in a highly politicized profession of favor-trading, one in which conservatives have been almost entirely excluded. The opaque and never-quite-specified-in-writing (outside the guidance for admissions officers) hierarchies of race, gender, star power, publishing history, and social pedigree are understood by members of academia, and ultimately accepted by them. Everyone pays tribute to this system in some way by existing in it, until they get tenure, and often well beyond that point. The reality is that this system is designed to perpetrate fraud. There are entire fields that depend upon fraud of one kind or another. Making the replicability crisis in social sciences worse, day by day, is really just part of the academic mandate at this point. Whole departments depend upon continuing this project.

“The accusation of simple plagiarism, made by outsiders—really, outlaws— such as Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon and Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan institute, hits academics like a splash of acid in the face. It can only be received as a life-altering, society-threatening act of terror. It exposes what’s just underneath the skin of modern academia.”

[21] Heather Mac Donald, “Onward with Inclusiveness,”City Journal, 2 January 2024;

“But the Corporation’s reassertion of its commitment to ‘inclusiveness’ is an important marker of the future. The term is particularly charged following the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer invalidating racial preferences in college admissions. When the decision came down, then-president Lawrence Bacow signaled that Harvard would do everything it could to retain its regime of ‘inclusiveness.’ Its subsequent actions have only confirmed that intent. At present, ‘excellence’ and ‘inclusiveness’ (as the latter is currently defined) are mutually exclusive. Thanks to the academic skills gap, a university can be meritocratically excellent or it can be demographically inclusive. It cannot be both. That is why inclusiveness must be affirmed as a separate value from excellence. In a meritocratic world, the only values a university would care about including are those pertaining to academic achievement.”

[22] James Hankins, “Intellectual Freedom in Medieval Universities,” First Things, 2.4 (15 November 2023): 22.

“You would have thought that so strict a regime, which we moderns would surely experience as highly repressive, would have stifled intellectual curiosity and debate. Instead, the opposite happened. Over the next hundred years, European universities fostered the most creative period of philosophical speculation in the West since the Hellenistic era 1500 years before. The universities produced major philosophers like St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. The focus of debate, even more surprisingly, was the thought of a pagan Greek philosopher, Aristotle, whose writings were by no means easy to harmonize with revealed truth. Thus, while their brothers were off smiting the paynim in the Holy Land, back home in Western Europe university masters were studying their Aristotle with the aid of Muslim philosophers like Avicenna and Averroës. While King Louis IX was burning thousands of copies of the Talmud and expelling the Jews from France, theologians like Aquinas were reading Maimonides.”

[23] James Freeman,” ‘Merit Is No Longer Evil,’” National Review, 5 January 2024;

[24] The technical word for this kind of hypocrisy is “dualism,” as I say, a worldview that divides humanity between “us” and “them.” “We” are innately good, and “they” are innately evil. Or, to use modern lingo, “we” are innately innocent and marginalized victims, and “they” are innately guilty and privileged oppressors. Never mind that good and evil cannot be innate, because there can be no such thing as good or evil without moral agency. An innately good being would be not a human but some kind of divine or angelic figure. An innately evil being, on the other hand, would not be human but some kind of divine or demonic figure. My co-author and I discussed dualism extensively, as a characteristic feature of all political ideologies. See Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young, op. cit.

[25] The morally defective notion of “collective guilt” can be traced back to biblical and other ancient traditions. It became institutionalized most dramatically in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Spain, however, when Jewish conversos were suspected of heresy many generations after their conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Not even the sacrament of baptism, in other words, could counteract the innate pollution of what we would now call “race.” The Church suspected them of secretly remaining Jewish infidels (which was true in many cases) but collaborated with the state to persecute them as Christian heretics.

[26] The ancient Israelites were not individualists in any modern sense. But both of the traditions that emerged from theirs, rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, evolved in ways that placed high value on the individual and therefore on independent thinking. The latter is a hallmark of rabbinic debate, for instance, which is one explanation for the fact that talmudic tradition preserves the names not only of those rabbis who won debates (and therefore established points of Jewish law) but also those who lost debates (but nonetheless reinforced the sanctity of Torah study). Individualism became even more deeply embedded in Protestantism, which emphasized the personal encounter with Christ and broke away from the Catholic focus on ecclesiastical institutions and monastic communities).

[27] Rabbinic Jews have never formalized as a doctrine, let alone as a binding one, any interpretation of the story about Adam and Eve. But their interpretation of “the Fall,” in Genesis 3, amounts to much the same thing.

For Christians, thanks partly to the teaching of St. Augustine, the state of Sin (estrangement from God) is an ontological state. It is conveyed from one generation to the next as an innate and defining feature of the human condition, Nonetheless, Christians can return to a state of Grace (reconciliation with God) due to the mission of Christ. (The state of Sin is not to be confused with guilt for personal “sins,” which are specific behaviors that exemplify and reinforce the status quo in this mortal world).

Jews have interpreted the same story as a description of what is self-evident to everyone in daily life: that we are all born into a flawed world and therefore very likely to stray from the path of wisdom as described in the Torah tradition. No one, not even Moses, has ever yet attained a state of perfect wisdom. That remains a goal to be realized partially in the present but fully only in the Messianic Age. Meanwhile, the tradition focuses attention on freedom of choice. Though very unlikely to make wise choices consistently throughout life, everyone is free at any moment to choose wisely and avoid folly.


[28] Proportionality in the context of self-defense is not a new topic of philosophical debate. At the moment, many discussions of it are about the war between Israel and Hamas. I have provided the following references to support my point of view about self-defense in general. Whether they would provide adequate support for Israel’s self-defense after the attack of Hamas on 7 October 2023 is, of course, a matter of opinion—and of no importance in this essay. See also:

David J. Bercuson, “’’Are We Beasts?’ War, Civilian Casualties and Hamas,” National Post, 2 January 2024;


Cully Stimson, “How Israel Defense Forces Strive to Exceed Requirements of Law of Armed Conflict,” Daily Signal, 31 October 2023;

Richard Marceau and Emmanuelle Amar, “Opinion: Hamas Has Committed War Crimes, but Israel Is Complying with International Law,” National Post, 7 November 2023;

“Proportionality does not require that the damage caused to legitimate military targets be the same on both sides. It simply requires that the damage caused to civilians should not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage that’s reasonably anticipated from an action.”

Shlomo Brody, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,” Law and Liberty, 16 November 2023;

“This critique of Israel’s forewarning attempts is a distortion of international law, and it’s critical to understand why. The Additional Protocols I (AP/1) to the Geneva Conventions, initially promulgated in 1977, declare the following requirement:

“Effective advance warning shall be given of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit. (Article 57(2)c).

“The notion of “effective warning” helps minimize collateral damage by separating non-combatants from fighters (discrimination) and preventing disproportionate deaths of non-combatants (proportionality). Note, however, that forewarning is not required if “circumstances do not permit.” It’s understood that such measures are not always feasible. It’s further understood that “effective warning” will not always actually succeed in clearing the area of non-combatants. After all, the attacking party doesn’t have control over the area; the defending party (in this case, Hamas) controls the scene.

Victor Davis Hanson, “When Has War Ever Been ‘Proportional’?” Daily Signal, 17 November 2023;

“Proportionality in war is a synonym for lethal stalemate, if not defeat. When two sides go at it with roughly equal forces, weapons, and strategies, the result is often a horrific deadlock—like the four years of toxic trench warfare on the Western Front of World War I that resulted in 12 million fatalities.

The purpose of war is to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible with the fewest number of casualties—and thereby achieve political ends.

So, every side aims to find superior strategies, tactics, weapons, and manpower to ensure as great a disproportionate advantage as possible.

Hamas is no exception.

“Its savage pre-civilizational strategy to defeat Israel hinged on doing disproportionate things Israel either cannot or will not do …

“Fourth, Israel understands that a country of 9 million to 10 million is facing a virulently hostile 500 million-person Arab Middle East. The United Nations is on the side of Hamas. A now antisemitic Europe has been hijacked by immigrants from the Middle East. Israel’s sole patron, the United States, is buffeted by a hard-left new Democratic Party that is not a reliable partner.

“The result is that Israel still cannot conduct a fully disproportionate war without endangering its source of military resupply in the United States, and a wider conflict with the Islamic world.

And so, the war continues.

“Hamas strives for a more disproportionate terrorist agenda to prolong the war. And Israel strives for a more disproportionate retaliation to end it.”

Barbara Krasij-Maisonneuve, “The West and Its Allies Once Ruled the World. What Happened?” National Post, 22 November 2023;

“Total war, the only strategy that succeeded in victory over true evil, has been replaced by the virtue-signalling of proportionate response. The last war that ended with total victory was the Second World War. Our enemies in WWII, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, were brought to their knees through total war, and their capitulation resulted in decades of peace. Of course, the means of achieving that capitulation were brutal; the bombardment did not stop until the enemy’s will was destroyed. Germany and Japan surrendered unconditionally; anything less was unacceptable. Post war, both received significant aid from the West and rebuilt. Today they are successful economic and democratic nations and staunch allies of the West.

“Since then, we have engaged in proportionate response, and pat ourselves on the back for avoiding the devastation wrought during the Second World War. But what have we achieved? In Afghanistan, 20 years of Operation Enduring Freedom caused thousands of allied casualties and ended in a disastrous withdrawal. The Taliban quickly regained control of the country and its citizens are now living in abject poverty, with a sickening assault on women’s rights in the name of Shariah Law.”

Dan Gardner, “Justice and Wisdom: Israel’s Response to the Crimes of Hamas May Be Lawful. But Is It Wise?” PastPresentFuture, 26 November 2023;

Joe Oliver, “No, Israel’s Military Response Does Not Need to Be ‘Proportionate,’” National Post, 18 October 2023;

“The proportionality rule requires that when an attack is expected to cause collateral damage that is excessive when compared with the military advantage to be gained, the attack must not be carried out. That’s the most difficult rule to carry out in the context of warfare against Hamas and Hezbollah. [Col. Eli] Bar-On said, ‘Proportionality is not a comparison about the body counts on each side.’”

Kevin D. Williamson, “On Morality and Restraint,” Dispatch, 20 November 2023;

David B. Rivkin and Peter Berkowitz, “The Primitive Pacifism of Pope Francis’ Lecture to Israel,” Wall Street Journal, 13 December 2023;

“Just-war doctrine, while refined over the centuries, was largely developed within the Christian tradition by St. Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century. Augustine rejected primitive Christian pacifism and argued that war, waged in compliance with proper rules, is a necessary tool of ethical statecraft. Acknowledging the sanctity of human life and expressing concern about the harm inevitably caused by a clash of arms, just war’s principal role is to protect the innocent to the extent possible, a task that pacifism can’t accomplish.

“Just-war precepts, as incorporated into the traditional laws of war, have two distinct components. The first, jus ad bellum, comprises the rules governing when force may be rightly used. These include just cause, legitimate authority, public declaration, proper intent, proportionality, use of arms as the last resort, and reasonable hope for success. Given Hamas’s longstanding resolve to destroy the Jewish state, the failure of several Israeli military campaigns over the years to deter the terror group, and the Oct. 7 massacre, Israel unquestionably meets these criteria.

“The second component, jus in bello, encompasses the rules governing how force may be lawfully used, including at whom it may be directed. This component underwent considerable doctrinal refinement between the 17th and 19th centuries. On April 24, 1863, the U.S. became the first military power to promulgate a comprehensive jus in bello manual, known as the Lieber Code.

“Combatants must comply with both jus in bello and jus ad bellum, and violations by one side don’t justify violations by the other. Yet defining a war crime isn’t a simple matter of counting bodies. The weighing of conflicting imperatives permeates every facet of just-war theory. Guiding this balancing is the principle of double effect, which holds that it is morally permissible to act in pursuit of a good goal even if doing so would produce unintended but foreseeable harm. This principle is undergirded by a broad proportionality requirement, which measures the totality of positive and negative consequences of prosecuting a given war.

“Jus in bello law contains two basic principles. The principle of discrimination forbids deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. It is absolute and brooks no departures. The principle of proportionality holds that in attacking legitimate military targets—which include military facilities that Hamas has integrated into civilian infrastructure—combatants are permitted to cause unavoidable collateral damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure, provided the harm is proportional to the value of the legitimate military objectives being sought. Destroying Hamas qualifies as a paramount military objective.

“The principle of proportionality has been traditionally applied with considerable flexibility, in part because balancing its imperatives depends on combat circumstances that involve complex technical matters that are inherently difficult to gauge.

“The laws of war used to play no favorites. Since World War II, however, humanitarian organizations, led by the International Committee of the Red Cross, have sought to provide special privileges for national liberation movements, an imprecise term that could include Hamas. These organizations have also tried to dilute rules that classify as unlawful enemy combatants fighters who don’t bear arms openly, don’t wear distinctive uniforms, and don’t operate in military organizations that feature well-defined command structures. Those efforts have constrained the military flexibility of law-abiding powers.

Equating unintended and proportional collateral damage with terrorism, as Pope Francis apparently did, goes further. It undermines the right to self-defense, the cornerstone of the laws of war. If the characterization of Israel’s exercise of its right of self-defense as terrorism were to prevail, the laws of war, instead of reflecting the military imperatives of law-abiding powers, would give a decisive advantage to terrorists and rogue states.

“This is particularly dangerous at a time when Hamas jihadists commit horrific war crimes and Russia attacks, tortures and rapes civilians and brutalizes prisoners of war. For rogue entities like these, war crimes aren’t a cruel aberration but an integral part of their battle plans.

“The pope’s comments to Mr. Herzog amount to a rejection of just-war theory and an embrace of primitive pacifism. They fail to understand that what happens in Gaza won’t stay in Gaza. If the laws of war were rewritten to preclude law-abiding powers like Israel and the U.S. from defending themselves against lawless combatants like Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, lawlessness would inevitably prevail.”

Conrad Black, “High Death Toll Does Not Mean Israel’s Violating International Law,” National Post, 15 December 2023;

“Many critics of Israel seem to be operating under a misunderstanding of the law of armed conflict. As summarized by Charles Kels, senior attorney for the United States Department of Homeland Security and a judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, there is a disturbing trend wherein academics and others conflate jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

“What those who make this mistake are saying, writes Kels, “is that even if a state is acting in self-defence with a lawful objective, and even if their forces abide by (the laws of war) in military operations, they still have a legal obligation to stop fighting if civilian casualties are too high.” This is not the law, nor should it be.

“The death toll in Gaza cannot be taken lightly. However, the magnitude of civilian harm alone is not a reliable indicator of compliance with international law. The fact that Hamas embeds itself within civilian populations, and actively prevents civilians from, likely needlessly heightens the death toll.”

[29] Lee Fang, “Lee Fang, “The Right Has Embraced Cancel Culture,” UnHerd, 11 January 2024;[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3

[30] Douglas Belkin, “Harvard Crisis Signals Broader Fight Over What a University Should Be,” Wall Street Journal, 4 January 2024;,djemITP_h

[31] James Taranto, “The Harvard of the Unwoke,” Wall Street Journal, 19 January 2024;

“But the idea that the purpose of education was, as Mr. Sasse puts it, “to prepare for life and thoughtful citizenship and engagement and caring about the good, the true and the beautiful” also held a good deal of sway. “I think people kind of intuitively understood in the late ’40s and early ’50s that you needed more of both.

“Then came the political convulsions of the ’60s and the “curricular wrestling” in the aftermath of the civil-rights movement and amid protests over the Vietnam War. “By the end of the 1960s, people are so exhausted that the general public decided, ‘I don’t know about all that stuff. I believe in the practical parts … I don’t know about all those curricular debates.’

“As a result, public engagement with curriculum questions “starts to atrophy.” By the late ’80s, “you end up with more and more culture-war skirmishes happening on campus, but that are supposedly only the domain of the experts,” Mr. Sasse says. “The public saw it happening but stopped engaging and stopped paying attention.” Still, young people needed education to succeed, so their parents (and the government) kept supporting the system by sending them off to college.”

[32] Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Higher Education, 3d ed. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1990; 2008).

[33] Lawrence Krauss, “Alan Sokal’s Joke Is on Us as Postmoderism Comes to Science,” National Review, 5 January 2024;

Yakov Joshua Gizersky, “Train Physicians, Not Activists, at Med School,” letters, Wall Street Journal, 16 January 2024;

[34] I use that term, because it evokes the historical parallel of “Aryan science,” which the Nazis hoped would replace “Jewish science.”

[35] Mark Moore and Samuel Chamberlain, “Judge Jackson Declines to Define ‘Woman,’ Says She’s ‘Not a Biologist,’” New York Post, 23 March 2022;

[36] Luther Ray Abel, “Claudine Gay’s Implosive New York Times Op-Ed,” National Review, 3 January 2024;

[37] Editorial Board, “Claudine Gay and America’s Institutions,” Wall Street Journal, 4 January 2024;

“Former New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet wrote in the Economist last month that his former newspaper ‘is becoming the publication through which America’s progressive elite talks to itself about an America that does not really exist.’ The same is true of other once-respected institutions …

“Like Ms. Gay, they’ve done so by impugning as deplorables half of the country that doesn’t share their views. If you support voter ID laws, you’re a racist. If you oppose modern progressive cultural orthodoxy about gender identity or pronoun use, you’re a bigot. If you question the left’s climate policies, you’re anti-science.

“They have sought to shut down intellectual debate on everything from the Palestinian-Israel question to race and Covid lockdowns. The campaign by the press and public-health experts to discredit the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration—which called for focusing Covid protections on the elderly and those at high-risk—was a shocking case in point …

“Ms. Gay writes that campaigns against institutions “often start with attacks on education and expertise, because these are the tools that best equip communities to see through propaganda.” Yet elites invoke their education and expertise to enforce ideological conformity. Today’s illiberal progressives vilify and misrepresent their critics’ arguments rather than engage with them, which fuels the public backlash.”

[38] Charles C.W. Cooke, “Claudine Gay’s Defenders Have It All Backwards,” National Review, 5 January 2024;

[39] Not all Zionists, however, are Jews. Many are Christians, especially evangelical Protestants. But this distinction is irrelevant here.


[40] The debate over how to define anti-Semitism will go on for a long time. I disagree with those who collapse several phenomena into that one category. For them, snobbery, ignorance, envy and so on are all versions of the same phenomenon. Now, so is hostility toward Israel. See the following:

Gary Saul Morson, “To Combat Antisemitism, Understand Its Variety,” Wall Street Journal, 16 January 2024;


[41] By “religious hatred,” I refer here to a byproduct of Christianity. But religious hatred could refer also to a byproduct of Islam, which opposed, from the beginning, both Judaism and Christianity.

No one can say that all or even most Muslims today want to wage jihad against Jews or Christians, although sociologists and psychologists do study popular opinion with varying degrees of accuracy. But my point here is that the Quran itself commands and therefore legitimates jihad (in the sense of spreading Islam by conquest). This might not matter if it were not for the current state of Islam. Westerners sometimes wish for an Islamic reformation, hoping that it would lead to an Islamic counterpart of the liberal, tolerant (and largely secular) worldview of modern Protestantism—forgetting that the early Protestants were, on the contrary, very intolerant and iconoclastic fundamentalists. Their goal was to recapture the original and therefore pristine purity of early Christianity by eliminating the encrusted follies of later (medieval) Catholic teachings and practices. More recently, some Protestants adopted various forms of fundamentalism, which is by definition a reaction against modernity. (Ironically, therefore, Protestantism has not only fostered modernity unintentionally but some Protestants have also reacted against it intentionally.)

My own theory is that Islam has already had (or at least begun) a reformation of its own. And the goal of this reformation eventually included attacks on the alien and threatening worldview of modern Europe. Their goal, like that of the Protestant reformers, was returning to some lost golden age—that of the founding hero and his early followers. This accounts not only for the fundamentalist Wahhabi (or Salafi) movement but also for renewed attempts to wage jihad against the West—not only against Jewish and Christian infidels (along with liberal Muslim heretics) but also against modern and secular ideologies from the West.

[42] By “racial hatred,” I refer to the nineteenth-century translation of Christian anti-Judaism to racist anti-Semitism—due partly to the rise of nationalism as a byproduct of romanticism. But racist ideologies targeted not only Jews but also many other peoples, all of whom ended up in the Nazi death camps.

[43] Western societies did allow slavery, for instance, but so did most or all other societies both historically and cross-culturally. Moreover, Western societies were among the very few to abolish slavery (at great economic and human cost). But the ideologues of our time don’t care about historical facts. They do not acknowledge facts per se, only facts that serve their own interests. They rely instead on the postmodernist notion that there is no such thing as truth, only “our truth” versus “their truth.” And “our truth” is that the West is inherently, uniquely and irredeemably evil.

Lloyd Robertson