Up in Arms About a Coat of Arms

Harvard Law School, in abject surrender to student activists, is about to change its escutcheon because its design was derived from that of Isaac Royall, Jr., who endowed the first chair at the school. Royall’s father made the family fortune from slave plantations in the West Indies and Massachusetts, a fortune that was therefore tainted (as Balzac said that all great fortunes are).

Since the escutcheon was adopted only in 1937, it hardly counts as an immemorial symbol of the law school. This is not the destruction of Palmyra, but I doubt that the students who agitated for change were great respecters of antiquity in any case. Like the Salafists, they assess the value of anything and everything according to their own inflexible standards, and demand that monuments and memorials be entirely consistent with their own current moral preoccupations.

How long before they suggest the Palmyran-type destruction of the Washington and Jefferson Memorials in the American capital because both historical figures were slave-owners, and of the Lincoln Memorial into the bargain because, in the 1850s, he said he was not at that moment arguing for the political and social equality of whites and blacks?

On the American website of the British liberal newspaper, the Guardian, I found a photo of a Harvard Law student holding a placard in front of him with a beatific look on his face. The placard said:

(let me put this in language HLS will understand:) whether we’ve failed purposefully, recklessly, or negligently is of no moment. When it comes to the failure to confront structural racism, we must all hold ourselves strictly liable. [Emphasis in original]

The psychology of the messenger is, of course, much more interesting than his tedious and tediously expressed message. It is alarming that a student at an elite, or even hyper-elite, college should think so muddily and write so badly.

Who, exactly, were the “We” to whom the self-satisfied youth addressed himself? Surely he could not have meant the combined students and faculty of the Harvard Law School, for he addressed the faculty with an unmistakable air of condescension, de haut en bas (recurring to language they could understand, as if the faculty were composed of mental defectives). Who, one is tempted to ask, are the teachers at Harvard Law School and who the taught? To adopt the imperative tone that seems to come so naturally to the young moral giants of that institution, we must presume that the “We” refers only to the students.

Vehemence is here a substitute for clarity.

For what and to whom are the students strictly liable? Is this liability legal or merely moral? Is failure to protest henceforth to be made actionable at law? Who will sue whom? Had students at the law school better protest lest they find themselves having to pay damages? If so, to whom, exactly?

Where is Harvard Law School’s “structural racism”? If it has an admissions policy that takes applicants’ race into consideration, that might be called structurally racist. But it seems to me likely that the institution’s structural racism acts in favor of rather than against hitherto disfavored races. (Of course, you can’t discriminate positively without discriminating negatively.) More likely the deeply smug student with the placard meant that the law school  suffered from some kind of moral dry rot that had entered its fabric, so all-pervasive that it needed (after the student’s graduation, of course) to be replaced in its entirety.

What the student really meant is, however, beside the point. He was not intent upon conveying information, much less an argument. He intended to communicate the militant purity of his heart and soul. The world is rotten, he was saying—but I am not. I am pure. If the rottenness continues, it won’t be because of me.

Awareness of his own virtue shone from the student’s face. He positively glowed with it, virtue for him consisting of the public expression of the correct sentiments. Virtue required no discipline, no sacrifice other than of a little time and energy, instantly rewarded by the exhibition of his own goodness.

The painlessness of virtue as the expression of correct sentiment is, of course, its chief attraction. Who would not wish to achieve goodness merely by means of a few gestures, verbal or otherwise? In that way, you can avoid genuine self-examination altogether. After all, of what importance is your conduct in the little circle around you compared with such enormous wrongs as structural racism?

I have no reason to impugn the young man’s private conduct. For all I know, he is an excellent young man except for the shallowness of his prose, and his complacency and self-importance. For many students (if I remember my own past correctly), one’s self is one’s own ideal.

Then, too, he no doubt felt a youthful impatience with the sheer intractability of the world, and hence a desire that its problems should be solved by purely symbolic means such as a change of escutcheon. This desire partakes of magical thinking: incantations will somehow bend reality in the desired direction.

Still, the moral grandiosity of the student (and those like him) had a distinctly coercive quality. His virtue gave him the locus standi to dictate to others for the good of humanity. The expression he wore was that of someone who had successfully liberated his inner totalitarian.

Much may be forgiven youth. As the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, so wisely put it in a selection of his speeches and writings published by the Foreign Languages Press, everyone is young once in his life. But it is craven for older people in positions of responsibility to surrender to youth, even if the once in their lives that they were young happened to be in the 1960s.

Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, contributing editor of the City Journal and Dietrich Weissman Fellow of the Manhattan Institute.

About the Author

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you, Dr. Dalrymple.

    In the USA, it seems “we, the people,” is oblivious to the dark forces of Christianity that have dominated humankind for 2000 years. My guess is that at least 6.5% of inhabitants are sympathetic to liberation theology (1950s Latin American origins), more recently black liberation theology (James H. Cone, Harvard, 1969).

    Today, it adorns itself with the raised fist symbol to represent the violence of disruption. We may read their demands under their symbol at http://www.blackliberationcollective.org/our-demands/ . Detractors label the activity Marxist. Marxism and theology seem strange companions.

    However, Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter XI, warns of the inexorable power of politics and priesthood in partnership. Anytime religion creeps into politics, the affected people are in trouble, and perhaps after 225 years, that idea is becoming evident in America.

    When one observes the crowds shouting “black lives matter,” in Chicago last week, The imagination leaps to more than 6.5% involvement. I just hope not many people get hurt by this Marxist variation on theology: Liberation theology.

    • gabe says

      So now we also find a theologian / historian behind the curtain!

      “..is oblivious to the dark forces of Christianity that have dominated humankind for 2000 years.”

      AND
      “warns of the inexorable power of politics and priesthood in partnership. Anytime religion creeps into politics,”

      It would appear that the charge is predicated upon the “warning.”

      But a fair historian would cite evidence that it is far more probable that it was FIRST politics that CREPT into religion, which being weak was compelled to go along for the ride. doubtless, they, the priests but more convincingly the Bishops, Cardinals and other Church Princes, benefited from this arrangement as is borne out by the practice of simony and / or the Crown’s appointment of Royal relatives to positions of authority in the Church.

      Let us be somewhat more mindful of historical facts / conditions / motivations before we sling slander from behind the veiled and velvet curtain of OZ.

      Oh, BTW the first physicists were CHURCHMEN, as were the first agronomists, economists, astronomers, etc etc etc. Ah, but this must be the “dark” influence of which you blather.

      Give it a break and let the rest of us get back to Kansas!!!

  2. R Richard Schweitzer says

    One of America’s great teachers laid out the thesis that, in their interactions, the members of a social order develop facilities (instruments) to meet particular needs of their society; that, in time, those facilities became “institutions,” that have taken on activities and purposes of their own, separate from and different from the purposes for which they were intended. The self interests and self-serving goals of those **within** the institutions are usually identified as the sources of the institutionalization of those facilities.

    Facilities for learning have not been exempt as examples of that thesis.

    Amongst those **within** those institutions are coteries of students; many of whom take on (sometimes for life) a status that is derivative of having been a member of the institution; not only the institution, but institutions within an institution, such as a clique, law review or journal.

    From history we observe that institutions ultimately disintegrate from self absorption, failure to reform and adapt to a function of purpose in the needs of the social order as it has evolved. With its exaggerations, Cervantes’ observations of that process are still applicable; and we see more and more quixotic behaviors emanating from the institutions.

    In the attacks on the escutcheon of Harvard Law school we observe the quixotic perceptions of three sheaves of grain in place of windmills.

  3. gabe says

    “The psychology of the messenger is, of course, much more interesting than his tedious and tediously expressed message. It is alarming that a student at an elite, or even hyper-elite, college should think so muddily and write so badly ”

    Alarming! Dear Sir, you are, unfortunately, mistaken. Such a psychology IS the ATTRACTION of such institutions.

    It is in a very real sense the grandchild of 1960’s activists desire “TO MAKE A STATEMENT.” A simple gesture, you may remark. Yet, it has come to be seen that the STATEMENT made is more about the purveyor of the statement(s) than about the alleged crisis or injustice.

    Goodness gracious, I only wish that I, as a young man, could have seized upon this transformative mechanism. Consider how superior I (we) could have imagined myself (ourselves).

    Oh well, Live and Learn as they USED to say; apparently not much of that goes on at elite universities!

  4. David Hardesty says

    Was it Thomas Sowell who pointed out, “Liberalism is not about ideas; it is about rhetoric”? The student’s placard is rhetoric, his demeanor is rhetoric, and the photo itself is rhetoric. Harvard student or not, asking him to enunciate his ideas beyond the cardboard soundbite would probably be fruitless. I am astounded, however, that the guardians of the institution(s) seem to think today’s group of sophomores are wiser, deeper, and better, than all those who have gone before or will come after.

    • R Richard Schweitzer says

      David,

      Should we not also wonder **what** the “guardians of the institutions” are guarding; **why** (to what ends) they are so guarding; and, in what ways those issues determine **how** they act and what their true interests are?

      • David Hardesty says

        Mr. Schweitzer, those are good questions but let me ask three more. Would the guardians themselves be able to clearly, logically, and persuasively explain what they are guarding, why it is important enough to be guarded, and whether their guardianship serves humanity or only themselves?

        To put it in the vernacular of that crusading sophomore, “Why should Harvard, with its racist history and debt to the patriarchal, misogynistic, and homophobic past, not be disenfranchised and its $37,000,000,000 endowment distributed to the poor?” I would suspect that in their world of of-the-moment relativism they would have a hard time sounding convincing.

  5. Scott Amorian says

    By the same reasoning we should get rid of the American flag. After all, so much of America came from the slave fields.

    Oh, crap. I meant that sarcastically.

    Could be worse though. We could have one of those Harvard guys as President.

    Oh, crap, again.

    It’s hard to have a sense of humor when all your sarcastic jokes turn out to be realities.

  6. nobody.really says

    Guys, I sense you regard this topic as really important, so I’ll just toss in my 2 cents for what it’s worth. But from my vantage point, this discussion does not exactly shower any of us in glory.

    Here’s my recap of the situation: Harvard Law School has a symbol. A student discovered that the symbol is associated with slavery. Harvard now chooses to discontinue using that symbol. And the harm of that choice is … utterly lost on me.

    Here’s my recap of the argument: We must defend the use of Harvard’s existing symbol for no other reason than that Harvard has done so since 1937 and, well, any practice that old must be GOOD! And get those damn kids off my lawn!

    Dalrymple then cites a photo he saw of a Harvard law student, and from there extrapolates a paranoid diatribe about the student’s thinking and intentions.

    Now, perhaps it’s more common to find kids holding signs declaiming about how they intent to treat members of the rival football team during next Friday’s big game. Instead, we find a student who holds a sign discussing a social issue. That doesn’t offend me — even if I might be inclined to find fault with the sign, or the message (which, admittedly, I’m not).

    And ‘cuz he’s a law student, the sign-holder phrases the sign in legal jargon regarding intent: “purposefully, recklessly, negligently” and “strictly liable” (that is, liability that arises without regard to intent). Given the context – a protest to the use of a symbol – I can’t take the claim to strict liability to mean anything other than an intensifier, akin to someone saying “my head was literally going to explode.” Basically, I read the kid’s sign as a jokey form of advocacy. By going ballistic over this sign, Dalrymple appears like a fuddy-duddy who just doesn’t get the joke.

    Again, one guys opinion….

  7. gabe says

    Nobody:

    ” Basically, I read the kid’s sign as a jokey form of advocacy.”

    I think yo misread both Dalrymple and the soon-to-be legal beagle.

    Dalrymple, to my reading anyway (and recall his profession is that of psychologist or psychiatrist) appears to be addressing the internal emotive state of the sign-holder. While, I myself have come to similar conclusions about many of the vociferously moral advocates that I have encountered over the last five – six decades, and while it is surely reasonable to tell ME that I am blowing smoke, I suspect that, in all fairness, we ought to allow the good Doctor a tad bit more leeway in his assessments / pronouncements than someone such as I may merit. He does do this for a living, after all!

    It is when proponents of “God knows what-next” assume or arrogate to themselves the mantle of moral superiority that others may, and rightfully so, call into question their motivations.

    Yes, quite frankly, I could not give a damn, Scarlett, about the Harvard Law School banner. It is of no consequence to me. Yet whenever I observe any one of our future elite geniuses engaging or propagating the current Progressive narrative, and also observe the smug and almost beatific sense of rectitude accompanying such display. I like, Dalrymple have (and not without justification) cause to question the motivation of the protester.

    Let us not dismiss this as a “jokey” form of advocacy. It has been my experience (shared by others no doubt) that the modern Progressive is bereft of a sense of humor (nobody.really IS excluded) and is concerned primarily, if not exclusively, with advancing both their partially understood cause and their own self perception and enhancing the esteem in which others may behold them.

    You may have scoffed some months back when we talked about “What next” – changing the name of Counties or municipalities. shortly, thereafter, precisely such moves were made by the likes of these social justice warriors.

    What the heck, let’s just rename everything that in the mind of some morally superior CHILD could be offensive and thus violate their *safe space.”

    however, one should be careful what they wish for – there may be unintended consequences (a phenomenon about which the Progressive elements OUGHT to be familiar (but sadly willfully refuse to recognize). Case in point: My own home County called King County.
    A number of years ago, it was decided to change not the name but the “attribution” of the name from some knucklehead named King to Martin Luther King. Lo and behold – what an uproar was caused when the Parks Department paid several million dollars to have new plastic garbage bags issued with the image of Mr. King.
    Stupid / lack of foresight, yes. But nevertheless, a prime example of unintended consequences.

    Perhaps, as others suggest, Harvard and Harvard Law ought to divest itself of the $37b endowment it currently enjoys because, after all, the funds were raised under the banner of a long dead racist miscreant.

    Heck, I will take some of that case. There is a special on Doubleback Cabernet from Walla Walla Valley. I could certainly use it AND having been a poor New York city street urchin during my youth, it is pretty clear that I was disadvantaged by not being even considered for Harvard.

    • gabe says

      Then again, nobody MUST be correct – re: “jokey” How else to explain two news items in today’s local paper.

      Item #1: Adults flock to local library and demonstrate their creativity with comic books. The look of serenity on their faces is priceless as, they explain, they allow their creativity to come to the fore.

      Item #2: Latest target in the area of “inequality” – the price of women’s *tampons* – what, do men pay less for their tampons than do women?

      Surely, they all jest, do they not?

      Yet, one must conclude from this that it is not only the *mal-educated* young that are afflicted with a need for blissful self delusion, self satisfaction, moral preening and self aggrandizement, but also our baby boomer buddies!

      Have we lost completely the ability to be embarrassed?

  8. Scott Amorian says

    Required reading:

    https://archive.org/stream/communistpsychol1958unit/communistpsychol1958unit_djvu.txt

    Mr Edward Hunter introduced the word brainwashing to the American public. In the linked document, which is a testimony before Congress, Hunter lays out a foundation for why people like Dalrymple and I so dislike what we are seeing. It is a deep psychological problem affecting society in general.

    It isn’t one stupid Harvard guy’s actions that concerns us. He’s just one stupid guy (used as a poster boy for the purpose of illustration). It’s the larger pattern that is the problem. And it isn’t a small problem.

    As far as nobody.really goes, he’s not hard to figure out. He’s “all in” with the bad guys.

    • nobody.really says

      Oh, yes, please, everybody read this. After all, where else will you read such praise for the antisocial?

      [W]hen I was a young man, every personnel department was looking for leadership qualities. What was sought was a man’s capacity as an individual to achieve new things. Today that is not even considered by personnel departments in their “employment policies. They ask, instead, if the man “gets along” with everybody. They do not ask what is his individuality; they ask how he conforms. When we raise a young man to believe that at all costs he must get on with everyone, we have put him into a state of mind that almost guarantees, if he falls into the hands of an enemy such as the Communists, that he will react as he had been raised, to try “to get on,” because he must not be “antisocial.” Being “antisocial” has become the cardinal sin in our society.

      Dear Edward Hunter assures the House Committee on Un-American Activities – my, how long it’s been since I’ve read those words – that in our rivalry with the Soviets, “we are losing so fast that unless we put a very drastic end to it, the question of who is winning will be academic in a decade.”

      That’s no mere prediction; it’s a mathematical certitude: “I have never made a prediction as such in my life. I have only predicted in the manner that one predicts the total of 4 after seeing the figures 2 plus 2.”

      And we need not fear only the Soviets! He warns us about the threat posed by the Chinese. And the Poles. And the dreaded Yugoslavs. *Shudder!*

      What does “put a drastic end to it” mean? Hunter doesn’t say exactly, but offers this helpful insight:

      In Korea, we had atomic weapons, but lost the war and were unable to use those weapons because of a political and psychological climate created by the Communists. The Kremlin today is fighting total war, and this means total, not with weapons of physical destruction alone, but mental destruction, too. The new weapons are for conquest intact, of peoples and cities. The future Pearl Harbor sputnik will be used if the situation demands it.

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Truly, phrases such as “the future Pearl Harbor sputnik” are beyond me.

      Oh, and there’s this:

      This is strategy. The Kremlin is merely giving the United States a choice of surrendering by voluntary change of attitude, to avoid more destructive ways of surrender. Unfortunately, in the United States, large elements, mainly among our non-Communist population, have been softened up into believing that we can just stall on this situation, it will take care of itself.

      How unfortunate that belief was. It deprived us of the opportunity to nuke Russia, just as it deprived us of the opportunity to nuke Korea. Tsk, tsk.

      In short, I concur with Scott Amorian: Edward Hunter’s flavor of paranoia seems consistent with Dalrymple’s. And Dr. Strangelove’s.

      • rudolph-abel says

        Really – and what precisely would have been wrong with “nuking” Russia, said the kind old Progressive gentleman to the young student?
        I mean after all, we could have prevented Chernobyl, saved the Ural Sea, prevented countless mass slaughters and perhaps most of all not had to deal with a soviet inspired and funded campaign against a) Pope Pius Xii, Joseph McCarthy, capitalism, “liberal education” as it was preciously known and all standards of conduct being denigrated, denied and made a mockery of!

        As for Korea, perhaps McArthur was right – it would seem as if we would not have to deal with the Kim (insert middle name) “Ills” of this barbaric dictatorship.

        And as for your quote of Hunter – put it in to today’s terms. What this means, in practice, is that one must go along with the Progressive zeitgeist – either PC or you are out buddy. Schools are not the only arena INFECTED with this Progressive PESTILENCE; look to Mozilla – or even better look to an acolyte of nobody.really’s hero (the Buffoon in the Oval Office) AG Lynch who has admitted discussing whether “climate change” skeptics may be charged with wither civil or criminal offenses.

        Oh! this sarcasm of nobody.really is dispositive; one ought not to consider any alternative to nobody’s Progressive mantras, masked as they are by satire – they are still founded upon a rather negative view of human association – unless, of course, that be the association of the nations “victims” and deviants.”
        In other words, unless one has been *privileged* with the badge of victimhood, one a) ought not to speak and b) if one is so stupid and insenstive to speak, one should not expect to be heard or respected.

        How about this: Screw all victims!!!!! Go back to the 1950’s when perhaps there was some justification for your contemporarily provided and exalted status of victim.

        Clearly, there is no social pressure to “go along” now is there. Progressives, however, ACTUALLY do not believe that there is any pressure. why is this. Simply because it is UNTHINKABLE that any sane, rational person would think otherwise. After all, nobody really knew anyone voted for Reagan (insert any other GOP type).

        How do I know. I am the Author of the Deputy and numerous other screeds against the West. It is comforting to know that my work continues to be admirably advanced by academia, the media and “patsies” along for the morally enhancing ride.

  9. gabe says

    And if anyone doubts the truth of comments regarding the utter vapidity and stupidity of collegiate AND Progressive ? Democrat Party commentary the following is a prime example of people actively seeking out (and unfortunately convincing the idiots in the leftist judicial academy and courts) that it is indeed proper for “victims” to go out in search of crimes and offenses, oops, I mean *micro-aggressions* against them. as someone else said – Screw’em!!!

    In the following, does not one wonder how the Judge does not get tongue tied. Who knows with the new gender neutral languages the child, or is that the “human unit” (oops -offensive to monkeys) may end up going to the wrong “paretnal unit.”

    Cut the Bullsh*t!!!
    and grow up!

    I mean after all, there is the newly announced issue of “tampon” inequality.

    Nobody really believes this nonsense!

    http://hotair.com/archives/2016/03/16/ohio-family-courts-adopt-gender-neutral-language-rules/

    • says

      The guy in the video has interesting opinions.

      He said, “Nothing moral follows from the facts of biology.” Does this mean that a man who impregnates a strange woman has no responsibility for the child? Is it then immoral for the magistrate to require the impregnator to pay child care?

      He said, “What causes something is logically separate from what can reverse it.” Does this imply that infidelity has no impact on fidelity?

      Both of these issues reflect physics-based ethics.

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