Features Australia

Coming soon to a campus near you

9 September 2017

9:00 AM

9 September 2017

9:00 AM

If you are not worried about the state of free enquiry in universities around the Anglosphere then you are probably someone working at the Human Rights Commission, or for the (read this next bit with the sarcasm drooling down the side of your mouth) wholly independent and apolitical GetUp! organisation.

Let me give you the latest madness from the US. Back in mid-August, only a few weeks ago, two eminent American law professors penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The co-authors were Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania law school and Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego law school. Their joint op-ed started by noting that in today’s USA the male working-age labour-force participation rate is at Depression era lows. And almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, more than that being raised by single Moms. Oh, and the lack of basic skills you see from high school graduates explains why these American students rank below those of two dozen other countries.

The op-ed then noted that there were plenty of things wrong with life in the US in the 1950s but the basic culture back then (think of it as the Protestant work ethic writ large) helped vastly more than it hurt. So Wax and Alexander noted the script back then was to ‘get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighbourly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.’

The two law profs later on observed that ‘all cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy’. And they observed the evidence that across all socio-economic and racial groups those who follow those 1950s or Protestant work ethic precepts do much better, as a generalisation. Wax and Alexander characterised their op-ed as a defence of bourgeois values.

Well, I don’t have to tell readers of The Speccie what the reaction to such views would be from much of the university and media class. It was insane anger combined with the usual bumper sticker virtue signalling. At Amy Wax’s own law school of the University of Pennsylvania, 33 of her law school colleagues (almost half) published an open letter condemning her. Remember, this is an Ivy League law school we’re talking about. Did they rebut a single factual claim made by Wax and Alexander? No. Apparently for these top university minds there is no need to offer counter-evidence or rebut the points made. For them the Wax/Alexander position is so clearly beyond the pale that the signatories need only assert: ‘We categorically reject Wax’s claims’. Phew! Can’t get more into the virtue-signalling game than that.


Then the 33 talk about the ‘ideal of equal opportunity to succeed in education’ and how it is best achieved by ‘respect[ing] one another without bias or stereotype’. And then the signatories ask the U. Penn law students to let them know if their experience at law school has fallen short of this. Get it? They want them to dish the dirt on their colleague Amy Wax.

But here’s the thing.

Firstly, are Wax and Alexander wrong that the virtues of self-restraint, deferred gratification and focussing on the future are keys (in statistical, general terms – as anyone can win the lottery) to economic well-being?

Are they wrong that anti-achievement, anti-authority cultures do a bad job at fostering success in the modern world (with getting jobs at Australia’s Human Rights Commission being an obvious exception)? Take it from me. Basically all the negative responses (because lots of people are supporting Wax and Alexander, just not many in the universities) simply emote, mention being offended (think George Brandis in the Senate displaying what a buffoon he is), and don’t deal with any of the core claims.

Well, I think the whole of the Wax/Alexander thesis is correct. Not all cultures are equal in preparing people for success in the modern world. Not all learned attitudes to how to go about leading your life will, on average and over time, deliver the same success or hit rates. Indeed Amy Wax is a world-class thinker in this field, with a first-class degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale, a Marshall Scholar in Philosophy, Physiology and Psychology from Oxford, and an M.D. (cum laude and with distinction) in neuroscience from Harvard. (Alexander is equally eminent, let me note.) Their thesis is unarguable on the facts, so opponents simply opt to take offence. And they attack, attack, attack. Even Amy Wax’s colleagues of many years go after her.

Now Wax and Alexander have very thick skins and will ride this out. But the attackers’ goal isn’t really to get them as much as it is to send a signal to all junior academics. It’s ‘our way or the highway’ is the clear, implicit message. Meanwhile, the top university administrators do nothing.

If you want an idea of something similar here in Australia, just think about how a doctor who is opposed to same-sex marriage and makes clear she will vote No is attacked and castigated and (where are you ‘call me and complain Tim’?) vilified. And for all of the blathering about ‘diversity’ in Australian universities let me tell you that basically none of this country’s vice-chancellors appears to give a stuff about the diversity of political outlook.

If you are a conservative academic on our campuses you are in a very small minority and if you need promotion you soon learn to keep quiet. (So, the vast preponderance of righty academics shut up about favouring stopping the boats, liking Tony Abbott, thinking Bjørn Lomborg is correct about this country’s idiotic renewables and ‘climate change’ response, being for Brexit and Mr Trump, and heaven forbid going against the grain on the same-sex marriage vote).

This is all pathetic and runs in the face of basic Enlightenment values. Sure, what you’re seeing in the US right now has yet fully to reach our shores. But it’s coming.

And this Coalition government is doing nothing about it. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing.

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