Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Woodrow Wilson meets his Princeton Students

Students gather inside Nassau Hall during a sit-in, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Princeton, N.J. The protesters from a group called the Black Justice League, who staged a sit-in inside university President Christopher Eisgruber's office on Tuesday, demand the school remove the name of former school president and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson from programs and buildings over what they said was his racist legacy.

Poor Woodrow Wilson. His reputation is being savaged by young political radicals at the very institution (Princeton University) where he reigned as President before becoming New Jersey Governor and then the 28th President of the United States. Wilson was an early 20th century avatar of the “progressivism” that Barack, Hillary and their ilk claim make them our inevitable saviors. 

Wilson’s current detractors practice a Stalinist historiography of sorts that seeks to “erase” anyone or anything from history they perceive to be ideologically contaminated.  Just as Stalin had Leon Trotsky expunged from Soviet history for his deviationism, Wilson is on his way to being a non-person for believing what many if not most American politicians of his era similarly believed, that black Americans were inferior to white Americans. The celebrated American President has become one more piñata for the contemporary Left to whack away at, but only recently.  After all, he was a Democrat and, as mentioned, a “progressive” and an intellectual, a trifecta of goodness for today’s cultural Marxists whose capacity for forgiveness is vast for anyone who expounds liberal-left pieties and is not tainted by any sort of conservative affiliation or an aversion to the dismantling of the traditional social institutions, like marriage. 

But the bar has been raised and Wilson has recently been “outed” by the angry Maoists at Princeton University as: white, Christian and a segregationist. This, of course, is only breaking news to the students who make it to the Ivies these days in a combined state of historical hibernation and high dudgeon.  Awakened, they find it unbearable to imagine that the world outside the cocoon that protects their PC existence might harbor unpleasant realities that they have to grapple with.  The students have called for the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from the School of Public and International Affairs.

All of this is richly ironic since Wilson himself was a model for today’s self-righteous, censorious pontificators of the Left who perceive themselves as uniquely virtuous and are unable to tolerate anyone who does not swoon or at least capitulate when they dispense their moral certainties followed by the non-negotiable demands.

Winston Churchill nicely captured the American President’s uniquely grandiose sense of intellectual and moral superiority when he encountered him Paris in 1919.  Wilson arrived at the Peace Conference expecting to preside over it like a modern day Solomon and then observe the world harmony that would follow upon the recognition of his unparalleled wisdom of his Fourteen Points and their practical implementation.

“The French plan, however, did not at all commend itself to Mr. Wilson. It thrust on one side all the pictures of the peace conference which his ambition and imagination had painted. He did not wish to come to speedy terms with the European Allies; he did not wish to meet their leading men around a table; he saw himself for a prolonged period at the summit of the world, chastening the Allies, chastising the Germans and generally giving laws to mankind.” (Churchill, Winston S. (2013-09-23). The World Crisis, Vol. 4 (Winston Churchill's World Crisis Collection) (Kindle Locations 1587-1590). Rosetta Books. Kindle Edition.)

The complicated and monumental scope of Wilson’s life and career has collided with the crude reductionism of today’s identity politics and the clamoring campus Neanderthals who practice this ascendant tribalism.  So, for whatever else he was and did, Wilson is now rendered that singular, pathetic entity, the worst sort one can imagine these days … are your prepared? – a racist, which means nullification and erasure of his name from public places.

The Left now seems to be increasingly devoted to symbols, particularly to their circumscription. The scope of what they deem “offensive” constantly expands in direct correlation to the ever enlarging sense of their moral perfection and quivering, delicate sensitivity. With this conviction of moral perfection comes a furious compulsion to make the world they look out upon completely and consistently reflect their own unalloyed goodness and purity. And when it does not, they demand that it must. Any opposition or reluctance must be immoral or criminal. Symbols like the Confederate flag and statutes of Confederate generals spark their fury. Statues, street names, commemorative flags, even menus are symbols that give off coded messages that tell the wrong story. And for the Left, only one story is to be told.  Competition would be “hurtful” and thus not allowed.

The PC lexicon of the Left also offers a redefined meaning of “safety” consistent with the solipsism that seems to have enveloped the entire enterprise.  Solipsism is the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.  Safety now means that one must be completely insulated from ideas, arguments, memories that might be troubling, which means that, above all, self-regard must be inflated, feelings protected, the “self” in effect must remain undisturbed by the intrusion of hurtful reality, completely swathed in its pristine ideological purity.   

This solipsistic bent of the leftwing ideologue is connected with self-esteem and the need to appear and feel virtuous.  Politics becomes fundamentally personal and self-referential.   Any given political act – how I vote, what protest I attend, what politician I execrate or deify – is determined by how virtuous it will make me feel.  The self is both the starting point and the final destination. This is why so much of leftwing politics is so given to theater and performance that features the participants making dramatic, emotional expression of their convictions.  Calling a conservative leader or candidate “Hitler” is a hyper-dramatic gesture that tells everyone how strongly I feel about what an awful person he is, how exquisite is my moral outrage, so why not call him the worst name I can think of, even it is silly? Obama’s 2008 campaign chant of his followers, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” is a masterpiece solipsistic mantra.  Nothing else exists outside of the “we” who waits and the very same “we” who is to arrive and take charge.  Politics is nothing less than the celebration of our own perfection.

Wilson’s recent take down is just another example of how the Marxist vision of history as the singular story of oppressors and those they oppress continues to operate and how it shapes the moral universe of today’s progressives and predictably guides their tactics.  Their world is continuously populated with new victims, which of course have histories of victimhood, each with a different crop of oppressors, some of whom are still in come circles held in high regard.  Political activism for them is the business of delegitimizing, as the French Jacobins in their demolition of the Ancien régime would cry:  écrasez l'infâme (crush the infamous thing). The past and all the evil it symbolizes must be erased.  High regard for the wrong people such as Woodrow Wilson is not legitimate and must not be tolerated.  

Unfortunately, as we look back over the last 100 years or so, the “delegitimizers” (“revolutionaries” as they called themselves – Bernie Sanders now claims to be one) who seek power so as to make the world much better than the one they execrate inevitably give way to the nihilists who believe in nothing but holding on to their own power.  In none of the utopias built by the great delegitimizers – Lenin, Mao, Fidel, Chavez – did anything emerge other than a ruling class made up of sociopaths more corrupt and venal that the original “oppressor” class they dispossessed.  

The Democrats, who were recently determined to make a woman under criminal investigation President, apparently wanted to move directly from idealism to stagnation and corruption, Leonid Brezhnev style.  It work out so well in Argentina with Kristina Kirchner, why not here. It is the robotic, seemingly embalmed while still alive Brezhnev who Hillary most closely resembled politically, a career ideological hack, a nihilist who believed in nothing other than his entitlement to power and the enjoyment of all of its special perks.  
History for the Left remains the story of oppression. It is increasingly a barren region with little to celebrate and many to execrate. So many to bring down, so little time.