A self-indulgent observation about the campus troubles. I’m currently reading “Germany 1945,” and just finished “Berlin at War” and before that Adrian Weale’s “The SS: A New History.” While I don’t want to say the parallels are identical, there are some similarities between the pureblood Nazis and our own little tyrants-in-training on campus.
One of the main characteristics they share is an obsession with “identity.” Reading on the collapse of Nazi Germany, about the last thing that went for them was “identity.” Even at the bitter end they were obsessed with it. Everyone had an identity – some mix of “race” or “ethnicity,” occasionally spiced with “gender” or conduct (usually misconduct). But by and large the identity you were born with defined you forever. It could never be transcended. Jews who had been heroes in World War I found themselves pilloried, at best barely tolerated. Successful (even lapsed) “Jewish” businessmen or doctors or academics found themselves scooped up almost as easily as the most mundane but orthodox Jewish clerk. Jews were simply irredeemable and no matter what they did to serve the Reich, they were always doomed. The same, only in a slightly lower degree of vehemence, went for Freemasons (whom the Nazis had an inexplicable obsession with), Gypsies, Slavs, et al.
Meanwhile, the Nazis were, of course, the right mix of races and ethnicities so naturally they had to be on top. You had to foul-up badly for you to render your inherent superiority moot. Whether you had actually ever accomplished anything was wholly beside the point.
And now we see a similar attitude on campus – where “identity” again rules all. All of these various “demand” manifestoes boil down to group grievances. It’s the same groups at each college: the LGBT alphabet of sexually confused people, skin-color-obsessed minorities, illegal immigrant supporters and abortion-centric women (mostly the Democratic party coalition, sans the handful of secular Jews and politically-oriented Asians remaining in the party). Every one of them gets a pigeonhole and they want a particular set of pigeonhole accessories – a cultural center, a separate dorm, special patronizing academic department, curriculum and degree, along with dedicated affirmative action grievance professors and administration apparatchiks. (One could argue that it’s the full-blown narcissus treatment – these people just want to study themselves.)
Oh, and like the Nazis, they want to publicly humiliate their enemies (especially forcing them to mouth “apologies” for being who they are and not properly kowtowing to their betters and acknowledging often age-old “crimes” or “white privilege”).
In the end, like the Nazis, it always boils down to WHO THEY ARE, not what they do or accomplish (because they don’t wish to be defined by such mere trifles). They never exist as individuals but rather permanent members of an all-knowing and “entitled” (or special enlightened) group.
(They also share the Nazi’s paranoia and perception of imagined persecutions and slights but that’s a whole ‘nother screed.)
SCOTT adds: Steve’s linked post quoted from Leo Strauss’s 1941 lecture on nihilism. I think that this is a PDF copy of the Strauss lecture published in Interpretation.