Bravo to the ultra-wealthy UPenn alumni who cut off their financial support of the university amid the Hamas war on Israel.
Cliff Asness, co-founder of the hedge fund AQR Capital Management, rebuked the university for tolerating “an antisemitic Burning Man festival” on campus in September and then drawing “vague equivalences” between Hamas’s murderous Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s self-defense, thus lending “direct succor to evil.”
Marc Rowan, CEO of Apollo Global Management, lambasted UPenn for its “selective tolerance of hate” and for conduct that “normalized and legitimized violence.”
David Magerman, a computer scientist and entrepreneur, said he’s “deeply embarrassed by my association and support of UPenn,” and has refused to “donate another dollar.”
Let’s hope this starts a nationwide groundswell, because the problem is wider than UPenn and deeper than antisemitism.
For more than a century, Western intellectuals have been warring against the Enlightenment ideals that animated America’s political achievement: reason and science, individual rights, the pursuit of happiness, and free-market capitalism.
At first, intellectuals tearing down this unprecedented political achievement promised a superior alternative in the form of some type of collectivist utopia — communist, fascist, or socialist. World War Two revealed the full horror of their promise. Intellectuals, Ayn Rand observed, were confronted with a choice: radically rethink their philosophic ideas or abandon the quest for progress. In the humanities, too many chose to abandon progress. This was the embrace of nihilism: to tear down — to deconstruct — actual achievements, without any serious thought of how to create something better.
Harvard students who declare that Israel is an “apartheid” state “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” and that what “the coming days will require is a firm stand against colonial retaliation,” are simply applying the wider lessons they have learned in many of their classrooms. Their language, unsurprisingly, is echoed across North American campuses.
Even Hamas has got the message. In 2017 Hamas revised its charter to paint its founding goal of annihilating Israel with a new veneer of academic respectability. Though Israel arose despite the obstruction of colonial powers, Hamas now says it seeks to destroy not Israel but “the Zionist project” which “is a racist, aggressive, colonial and expansionist project based on seizing the properties of others” that “must disappear from Palestine.”
Observe that neither Hamas nor those Harvard students feel the need to offer a genuine, positive alternative.
Elected in 2006, Hamas promptly proceeded to kill or expel political rivals and establish a religious dictatorship, terrorizing and torturing people in Gaza. Do these students care? Even after the Oct. 7 massacre, they do not deign to condemn Hamas. And where are their protests against the vicious regimes in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran, who oppress millions, women and children emphatically included? All the students seem to care about is tearing down Israel, the only relatively free and prosperous nation in the region. This, they have been taught, should be their object of concern.
The oppressed/colonized framing the students deploy is but a successor of multiculturalism, a long-standing academic doctrine that admonishes us to view all cultures as equal, even though from the standpoint of life and progress they obviously are not. This doctrine was never about lifting up the less-developed; it was about denying the objective superiority of production over stagnant tradition-worship; of science over religious superstition; of freedom over dictatorship.
Paving the way for multiculturalism was a multi-decade regression to tribalism. By teaching students that they are determined by their unchosen racial/ethnic “identity” and their natural and cultural environments, academia robs them of individual agency. If your mental content is defined by your blood, heritage, gender, or environment — rather than your independent thought and choices — there’s no hope of communicating across tribal lines. This dehumanizing framework is a recipe for conflict, since it deems others unreachable by reason. Witness the fervent self-segregation of students into racial, ethnic and other groups, and the growing hostility on campuses toward free speech and the intellectual necessity to offer rational arguments.
In his op-ed about UPenn, Marc Rowan acknowledged that “fault also lies with many of our alumni leaders and Trustees, myself included,” for letting “the academic, moral, and objective truth” be “traded for a poorly organized pursuit of social justice and politically correct speech.” True, but this is just the tip of an iceberg concealing at least a century’s worth of moral-intellectual corruption.
The anti-Enlightenment, anti-American animus on campus has been for decades richly funded by donors to UPenn and universities nationwide. Whether because of an overgenerous benevolence, or a projection of their own positive experiences on campus, business leaders have been funding ideas and people that subvert their own values. It’s right to be outraged by the antisemitism and anti-Israel atmosphere currently on display across campuses. But every donor should recognize the true depth of the problem, and the moral responsibility of scrutinizing what their wealth is enabling.
In “The Sanction of the Victims,” Ayn Rand’s last lecture, the author of Atlas Shrugged counseled business leaders not to give money in support of “ideas which you consider wrong, false, evil. It is a moral crime to give money to support your own destroyers.”
To withdraw one’s sanction — to “Go Galt” — is in part to reject the prevailing ethic of self-sacrifice, to reject the role of a victim enabling his own destroyers, and to take seriously the life-and-death significance of philosophic ideas. Irrational ideas have corrupted academia; imagine the unbounded benefits of funding rational ones.
A version of this article was originally published on October 29, 2023 in the Orange County Register and other Southern California Newsgroup papers.