In the December 14 issue of the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last reflects on the remarkable success of the student protests at universities around the country. He catalogues the capitulations. Fifteen students occupy Princeton president's office for a few hours, and their demands are taken with the upmost seriousness, including the call to expunge Woodrow Wilson's name. Faced with protestors, Brown's president commits $100 million to create “a just and inclusive campus.” A dean resigns at Claremont McKenna. Professors at Yale are cursed and denounced. And, of course, Mizzou President Tim Wolfe is forced out.
In these and other instances, one is struck by how quickly and thoroughly university leaders have capitulated. The institutions don't defend themselves. The grown-ups in charge offer no resistance. Quite the contrary, they accommodate and apologize. Last points out that last year we saw a preview of this spirit of capitulation. University of Virginia was rocked by a Rolling Stone story about a fraternity gang rape. It turned out to be false, but university administrators continued to recommit themselves to the cause. The same goes for the notorious mattress girl at Columbia who claimed to have been raped by a fellow student. Even though he was exonerated, Columbia continued to honor her protest.
Or there's the case of the back electrical tape covering faces of black professors at Harvard Law School, an incident that caused much soul-searching, but which evidence suggest may have been a hoax perpetrated by student activists. There's precedent. At Oberlin two white student radicals circulated fliers with swastikas and demeaning comments about Martin Luther King. The ruse was exposed. Nevertheless, administrators issued statements emphasizing their commitments to racial justice, inclusion, etc.
What is going on? Why are university administrators so willing to cave to quickly and so thoroughly, even when it turns out that supposed crises are manufactured or exaggerated?
Last argues that the reason concerns power. Aggrieved students, especially aggrieved students from officially designated minorities, seem to have more power than university administrators. And with each capitulation, resignation, and earnest apology, that sense of power grows. That's right, and it raises the question of the source of administrative weakness and minority student power.
The answer comes from our larger political culture. “Diversity” is one of the pillars supporting the legitimacy of our ruling class. (The other is technocratic competence or “merit.”) In our present situation, the President of Yale justifies his power by appealing to his competence—and to his commitment to “diversity.” The same goes for CEOs of major corporations, heads of major philanthropies, and most political leaders. “Diversity” serves to block accusations that the control of power (and wealth) is an inside game that favors insiders. No, says the ideology of “inclusion,” we hold power, yes, but we do so with a self-sacrificial commitment to use it to empower others.
Moreover, “diversity” is also a bludgeon with which to beat up on any challengers to today's elite. Republicans? They're the “white party,” which is another way of saying a party of prejudiced, racist xenophobes. To lack “diversity” disqualifies one automatically. This is a very handy tool with which to dismiss competition for power, especially when you can define “diversity” as you wish, which is what our establishment does.
Minority students, especially black students, are aware (or at least half-aware) that the power of the ruling class depends upon THEIR cooperation. Because of our history of slavery and segregation, our ruling class needs black Americans so that it can certify itself as “diverse.” As a consequence, minority students—again, especially black students—are in a position to collect enormous rents.
Consider this scenario. Twenty white male Yale students surround a black faculty member, cursing and taunting. If Yale's president expelled them, our power elite would applaud. Now, consider what actually happened at Yale, which was the opposite, students of color cursing and berating a white professor. Had Yale's president expelled them, he would have triggered an institutional crisis that in all likelihood would have cost him his job.
Given the importance of “diversity” for the legitimacy of our ruling class, I can't imagine significant resistance to student demands. What's $100 million when running America is at stake? I'm quite sure nobody important is going to object to scrubbing Woodrow Wilson's name from Princeton's campus, if that what's necessary to re-secure the complaisant cooperation of black students in Princeton's project of being a model of “diversity.” This won't come about because the grown-ups at Princeton and elsewhere are feckless. It's because they know what's at stake—their own legitimacy.
The stakes are increased exponentially by the fact that our ruling class is positioning itself to stand astride the entire world. The One Percent is reconfiguring itself as the global establishment. To so so—and to nail down legitimacy—our super-rich and super-powerful must demonstrate their multicultural bona fides. They need to have an ideological profile that promotes “diversity,” scaling up our national project into an international one. Americans aren't going to run the world. No, our ruling class will be “inclusive” and “empowering.” (Obama's early foreign policy rhetoric sounded exactly these notes, and to some extent still does, though the fact that some don't want to be “included” has dampened things a bit.)
Populism Left and Right, here and in Europe, senses that multiculturalism serves as an ideology to justify the transformation of American, French, or German elites into global elites. And they're rebelling, rightly to my mind. Ordinary people rightly see that they'll be sold out if that's what needed to promote whatever form of global “diversity” the One Percent sees as necessary to buttress its right to rule.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.