Campus Activists Are More Radical—and Troubled—than You Think

When only victimhood confers moral authority, ‘victims’ rule the roost, often violently.

Americans have become accustomed to student activism. Progressive Boomer parents and grandparents fondly remember their days in the quad, protesting the Vietnam War. My generation’s liberal activists built their anti-apartheid shantytowns and rallied for more faculty diversity. Hollywood and mainstream historians have whitewashed these movements, emphasizing their idealism, overlooking their violence and oppression, and proclaiming student protest as a virtual rite of passage for the good American citizen.

The whitewashing continues to this day. Leftist riots are excused and often even celebrated, victim status grants moral authority — regardless of the “victim’s” ideas or tactics — and conservative speech (no matter how peaceful or reasoned) is deemed suspect at best and “violent” at worst. But the whitewashing has to stop.

Campus radicals hold a shared vision that has the potential to rip this nation to shreds. It’s a vision instigated by people with impossible demands who combine towering self-righteousness, mental instability, and bizarre utopianism to create a recipe for endless conflict. Indeed, their vision is not only immune to reason, it rejects reason entirely.

The New Yorker has published an extended piece by Nathan Heller that outlines the ideas of Millennial progressive campus activists better than any other piece I’ve read. It’s effective in large part because it’s sympathetic. The activists opened up to the writer, told him their life stories, and explained their ideas. And their ideas are startling indeed.

RELATED: Blame Parents for Millennials’ Laughable Fragility

At the heart of much campus activism is the notion of “intersectionality,” a theory that Heller identifies as “originating in black feminism, that sees identity-based oppression operating in crosshatching ways.” As Heller notes, “The theory is often used to support experiential authority, because, well, who knows what it means to live at an intersection better than the person there?”

No one can question the demands of the ‘marginalized.’ They can only be granted, or there is no justice.

When combined with “allyship” — a term that allows privileged whites to join campus social movements, provided that they (to paraphrase Heller) defer to the experience of the marginalized, learn from their accounts, and aid in their struggle — the result is a movement that combines group solidarity with an irrefutable presumption of oppression. No one can question the demands of the ‘marginalized.’ They can only be granted, or there is no justice.

And who has the moral authority to make these demands? Heller profiles students such as Eosphoros, a suicidal, physically disabled transgender man with ADHD and bipolar disorder. This is a person who labeled microaggressions a “massive catastrophe” and singled out an incident in which a work supervisor assumed that employees were working for “pocket money” and not rent money.

RELATED: The Pink Guards on Campus: The Rise of the Teacup Totalitarian

Then there’s Jasmine Adams, a black student activist who talked about crying and being “ready to self-harm” after allegedly hearing the N-word. Or there’s Zakiya Acey, a man who doesn’t care about the law: “The argument was ‘Oh, so students ask for this, but it’s not legal. . . . But it’s what I need. And it’s what this country needs, and it’s my country. That’s the whole point.” (Emphasis added.)

#share#In other words, the more mentally unstable the person and the more unrealistic his demands, the more moral authority he has. And the very act of attempting to rebut their assertions — especially if that rebuttal comes from a white male — is an act of oppression. To deny their demands is an act of oppression. To fail to grasp their subjective emotional need of the moment — even when those needs aren’t communicated — is an act of oppression.

RELATED: The Ululations of Radical Campus Crybabies

This isn’t a philosophy, it’s a temper tantrum — but one that is connected with a raw will to power that renders the movement exceedingly dangerous. These “delicate” activists have proven that they can quickly convert their hurt feelings into civil unrest, and the attempt to impose law and order itself becomes yet another act of oppression.

#related#When political activism is so intimately connected to subjective, moment-by-moment psychological well-being, conflict is eternal. There is literally nothing that anyone can do to permanently remove human pain, especially the pain of people who are already mentally troubled. So their only solution is to run the place, to take charge. But not even that will ease their psychic trauma. The ascension to power will inevitably be accompanied by the quest to root out dissent until everyone — everywhere — knows exactly what will keep Jasmine Adams from crying.

Administrators or government officials who believe they can control or appropriate this movement are sadly mistaken. Intersectionality grants the most authority to the most troubled students. Allyship gives them a ready army of angry activists. A gullible progressive media magnifies their power. America, beware: Eosphoros cannot be appeased.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Sinking Collusion Ship

The entire Trump-Russia collusion narrative was always implausible. One, the Washington swamp of fixers such as Paul Manafort and John and Tony Podesta was mostly bipartisan and predated Trump. Two, the Trump administration’s Russia policies were far tougher on Vladimir Putin than were those of Barack ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More