UVa’s Modern-Day Barbarians

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The latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has stirred up emotions at the University of Virginia more than any event since the George Floyd riots. Not only are students holding demonstrations and counter-demonstrations; faculty, parents, and alumni are chiming in.

Eighty University of Virginia professors signed an open letter proclaiming themselves to be “unsettled” by the tone of a statement previously issued by President Jim Ryan concerning events stemming from Hamas’ October 7 terror attacks on Israel. Ryan expressed sorrow for the atrocities inflicted upon Israeli citizens, the writers aver, but did not acknowledge the sufferings of the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, more than 15o parents and alumni have signed a letter expressing concern for the safety of Jewish students in an atmosphere of increasing antisemitism nationally. The university, they say, needs to create a task force to eradicate antisemitism within the UVa community.

The Jefferson Council members with whom I am in contact — and I have heard from many — are unanimously supportive of Israel. The Jewish state is far from perfect when measured against a utopian ideal of pluralistic, democratic, rights-respecting nations, but Hamas, a terrorist organization masquerading as a state, bears no comparison. It is in the same league as the Huns, Vandals, Goths, Vikings and other ancient barbarians who laid waste to the settled societies around them. Council members have chosen to side with the heirs of Western Civilization and against those who seek to destroy it.

The pro-Palestinian rallies at UVa have driven home a fact that some of us suspected but never fully appreciated. The diverse factions of the far left that have taken root in Charlottesville — the anti-Zionists, the radical feminists, the LGBQT militants, the racial and ethnic identitarians, and the old-fashioned class warriors — have united in a grand intersectional alliance. While their preoccupations may seem splintered and contradictory, they rally around a nihilistic impulse to tear down “structures” erected by colonizers, racists, homophobes, the patriarchy, and other oppressors; that is to say virtually every institution the rest of us hold dear.

The soft, liberal do-good wing of the left at UVa — one might call it the “Great-and-Good” faction — is acutely sensitive to the world’s injustices but is disinclined to violent remedies. It shares many suppositions of the militant left regarding systemic injustice and the flaws of Western Civilization yet maintains a vestigial dedication to democratic process, freedom of speech and the rule of law. Though disapproving of the nihilists, the Great-and-Goods are paralyzed by conflicting moral impulses, thus ill prepared to deal with the challenge the zealots pose.

Indeed, the Great-and-Goods created the intellectual environment that allows modern-day barbarism to thrive. They have fostered the fracturing of the student body into racial, ethnic, sexual-orientation and gender identity groups. They have legitimized the rhetoric of victimhood, grievance, and resentment. They have presided over the intellectual and cultural transition from philosophical and viewpoint diversity into stifling leftist monoculture. The obscene willingness to justify the slaughter of Israeli innocents on the supposed grounds that the state of Israel has done worse to the Palestinians could never have taken root at UVa had such an idea been subject to vigorous fact-checking and moral reasoning in classrooms and dormitories and public fora.

It is no accident that 80 faculty members at UVa express their support for Palestinians while not one faculty member has publicly defended Israel. It is no accident that 15 or more student groups endorse Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) while not one student group (other than Jewish ones) has openly opposed it. It is no accident that the only voices openly siding with the Jews are parents and alumni who are not immersed in UVa’s leftist monoculture and, thus, are capable of thinking for themselves and can speak without fear of retaliation.

The lesson to be learned is not just, as some have suggested, that professors should be chastised for giving students extra credit for attending pro-Palestinian rallies, or that UVa needs to create an antisemitism task force, or even that President Ryan should more forcefully condemn the advocates of Israeli genocide. The lesson is that UVa has become a profoundly diseased place — a hothouse of intolerance and an incubator of hate — arising from an intellectual environment that allows pernicious ideas to run unchecked and unchallenged.

Restoring viewpoint diversity to UVa is the necessary condition for the flourishing of free speech and mutual tolerance. We should never take our eye from that goal.

James A. Bacon is executive director of The Jefferson Council. This column has been republished with permission from the Jefferson Council blog.

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