See a Little Light

Teresa Benedicta (Photo: Wikimedia)
Against despair

It is easy to despair: nuclear confrontation abroad, social and intellectual decline at home. But the calendar helps, sometimes.

At the nation’s leading technology company, an engineer has been blacklisted for having unpopular political views, and, rather than recoil from this, the nation’s young people have in no small part celebrated Google’s exercise in suppression. This is a reminder that Mohandas K. Gandhi’s mathematical observation goes both ways. Gandhi famously informed the British authorities that Indian independence was inevitable inasmuch as a few hundred thousand Englishmen could not hope to control a few hundred million Indians if those Indians did not cooperate. The despair-inducing converse of this fact is that tyranny is never really imposed on a population from the outside. The people are almost always collaborators in their own repression: Germans, Russians, Venezuelans, and, in time, Americans.

The Google situation is a particularly maddening example of a strange modern phenomenon — the vulnerable person who is so exquisitely sensitive that he can act simultaneously as hostage and hostage-taker. One Google apologist noted that some of the firm’s employees were so distraught by . . . the discussion of opinions at variance with their own . . . that they stayed home from work. Those kinds of shrill theatrics used to be called “hysteria,” but we’ve all been taught that that is a horribly sexist word, which means that we’ll need a new word to describe women who are so emotionally incontinent that they become non-functional human beings when it is suggested that they are emotionally less continent than maybe they could be.

The engineer in question had argued that Google’s closed corporate culture created an echo chamber marked by ruthlessly enforced conformity. Google proved him right.

Thanks to some solid Republican Supreme Court picks — don’t say Mitch McConnell never did anything for the cause — the First Amendment is in pretty good shape as a legal question. But the culture of free speech is in real trouble. Charles Murray, one of the most consequential public intellectuals of our time, cannot speak on a college campus without being subject to violent assault; National Review’s Kat Timpf was assaulted at a political event only a few days ago. Black-shirted thugs who would rather see the Berkeley campus burned to the ground than to allow Ann Coulter to speak there operate with the tacit blessing of the relevant police and academic authorities.

Google is itself a target of the self-appointed inquisition, endlessly criticized for having a work force that is disproportionately male and Asian or white. About 70 percent of Google’s staff, and about 80 percent of its technical employees, are male. There are many other characteristics they share as well: They disproportionately didn’t major in English or gender theory, and they disproportionately knocked the stuffing out of the math section of the SAT. The Justice Department naturally is suing Google for this. The reality is that the talents and drive needed to work at a firm such as Google are distributed in a way that is neither random or even nor organized with an eye toward pleasing the diversity police — and that reality must, as a political matter, be denied.

Indeed, Google’s apologists point to such lawsuits in trying to justify its dismissing an employee for his social views. We might call that the Corporate Nuremberg Defense, a corollary to Christopher Buckley’s Yuppie Nuremberg Defense, described in his classic novel Thank You for Smoking: “I was only paying the mortgage!” We all have our financial realities, and no doubt Google’s craven executives calculated that they might spare themselves future litigation by throwing a nonconforming nerd to the PC wolves. But Google is flush enough to stand up for itself and to set an example. That is what Chevron has done, performing a great public service by standing up to the Democrat-organized attempts to extort several billion dollars from its shareholders in the matter of the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador. Chevron probably could have saved itself a little money in the end by settling, but the smell of blood draws parasites and predators, whose appetite comes from eating. One knowledgeable party estimated that Chevron’s efforts to defend itself from Steven Donziger’s shakedown cost more than $1 million a week. Google prides itself on being a good corporate citizen — “Don’t Be Evil” and all that — but living up to that takes guts that Google’s leaders just don’t have. And it may not even be that: It may be that they are happy to have the excuse to rid themselves of such turbulent pests.

I like the term “Corporate Nuremberg Defense,” even if my former Daily Texan colleague Mike Godwin would hasten to point out the limitations of such comparisons. And it is perhaps in keeping that fact in mind that we can see a little light.

Teresa Benedicta may have died a victim of vicious politics, but she transcends the merely political.

Today is August 9, 2017. Seventy-five years ago today, a Catholic nun named Teresa Benedicta of the Cross — formerly Edith Stein, the youngest of a large Jewish family in Poland — was put to death at Auschwitz. Teresa began her career in a German convent and was sent to a Dutch one after the Nazis came to power. That wasn’t far enough, and she became a martyr. No, I am not quite satisfied with that passive construction: She was murdered by fanatics, by men representing the government of one of the world’s most cultivated and literate nations, who had dedicated themselves to reinventing their society by eliminating all that which they found displeasing to their eyes and ears: decadent art, decadent books, decadent ideas, and the members of the minority groups who mulishly persisted in their own distinctness, whose nonconformity prevented (so the ruling philosophy held) the emergence of a single German mind bent to the service of a single German ideal. Only a small number of Germans served as SS officers or as guards at concentration camps. But it is not only the violent and the fanatical who move the world and allow themselves to be moved.

Thirty years ago, Teresa Benedicta’s fellow Pole (and fellow saint) Pope John Paul II presided over her beatification in Cologne. The martyr of Auschwitz and the Polish saint who saw the Soviet Union to its grave were lights in the double darkness of the 20th century, Nazism and Communism having been only slight variations on the same terrible theme. Teresa Benedicta may have died a victim of vicious politics, but she transcends the merely political, a reminder that the consecrated life is possible, that there is not so much power in mere power as the powerful imagine. Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump may promise one another “fire and fury,” but there is a fire beyond fire, a signal in the night.

It is easy to despair. But not today.


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— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.


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