Intentions vs. Results 2017 Case Study: Professors Amy Wax and Larry Alexander
In August of this year two tenured professors, each holding an endowed chair, published an article titled “Paying the price for the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture” in the Philadelphia Inquirer. They are Amy Wax from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Larry Alexander from the University of San Diego Law School.
These two authors described the social norms and personal behaviors that were generally supported prior to the 1960s and that continue to enable productive, fulfilled lives to this day, those being:
Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
While they might have gotten away with praise of these once obvious virtues, they committed unpardonable sin against the Progressive idol by recommending that these virtues be uplifted once again in today’s culture. They didn’t mince words.
… restore the hegemony of the bourgeois culture. … will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it.
The Progressive Response
The Progressive response was eerily more like the Cultural Revolution in 1966 China than the operating of academic freedom in a liberal democratic republic, with these brave authors being denounced as racist (and worse!). Here’s a quote from a statement by 54 Penn graduate students and alums. By the way, if you still have any doubts about the intention-based model’s assumed simple-mindedness in this earlier post, I now rest may case.
We call for the University of Pennsylvania administration — Penn President Gutmann and the deans of each school — as well as faculty to directly confront Wax and Alexander’s op-ed as racist and white supremacist discourse and to push for an investigation into Wax’s advocacy for white supremacy. We believe that such statements should point directly to the historical and sociopolitical antecedents of Wax’s hate speech, and to disallow hate speech whether shrouded in respectability or not.
Refusal to Bend the Knee
For their part, neither author backed down. Amy Wax’s response was both lucid and unflinching.
What the objections boil down to is that the bourgeois virtues are somehow racist, or somehow cause racism—contentions that I and my co-author expressly contest, of course … But if, indeed, bourgeois values are so racist, the progressive critics should be out there in the street demonstrating against them, stripping them from their own lives, and forbidding their children to practice them. They should be chanting, ‘No more work, more crime, more out of wedlock babies, forget thrift, let’s get high!’ … Of course, there’s little chance we’re going to see anything like that, which shows the hollowness, indeed the silliness, of the critiques.”
Larry Alexander’s response was no less powerful and persuasive.
The charges of racism, white supremacy, etc. are, sadly, the predictable responses of those who can’t refute the claims we made … And those charges are laughable, given that I was a civil rights marcher and have a multi-racial family. But, of course, when you don’t have the facts on your side, you resort to calling names. Pathetic!
Perhaps this wisdom backed by courage and conviction will be a turning point where the vicious Progressive campus mob is finally repulsed and discredited. I certainly hope so, but regardless there are significant lessons here for our discussion of intentions vs. results.
Professors Alexander and Wax have transgressed against Progressive theology by daring to point out that intentions the Progressives have defined to be “bad” can lead to good results. That is, their position violates “facts” 4, 5 and 9 that underpin the intentions based philosophy.
For, to assign higher value to norms that are derived from pre-1960s America is seen by Progressives as an act of racist judgmentalism. It also violates the “good intentions” associated with multiculturalism, “kindness” and “open-mindedness.”
So, were their argument allowed to stand, the simple-minded Progressive model of only “good intentions” creating “good results” would be disastrously undermined. Clearly, norms that honor marriage, fidelity, family, work and honesty would be enforced by discouraging the opposites of these virtues. But, this would be “bad” by Progressive ideology, so to the barricades comrades!
Professor Wax’s response, in which she throws the hypocrisy of the upper middle class Progressives back in their faces is particularly powerful. For, as is demonstrated by a recent article in the Federalist titled “The Research Proves The No. 1 Social Justice Imperative Is Marriage,” the primary differentiating factor between well off and less well off social groups is an intact, committed family structure. The key figure from this source is shown here. Note that for the Poor a baby arrived prior to marriage at almost five-times the percentage of the Middle / Upper Class. Also, the Middle / Upper Class is currently married at more than twice the percentage of the Poor. Thus, it is very likely that the Middle / Upper Class critics of Professors Wax and Alexander are living their own lives in accordance with bourgeois culture while recommending that the Working Class and Poor not do the same.
Were we to start playing by the Progressive Left’s rules, and, assume the worst about their motives (as opposed to commenting on their public actions and statements) we might say: “That’s certainly a way to limit the pool of competitors for Middle / Upper Class jobs!” I doubt they would like this treatment even though it’s far gentler than what they are saying. What they fail to realize is that by virtue of their policy preferences and behavior, they have assumed a level of moral hazard that makes them highly vulnerable to legitimate, powerful criticism. I’ll have quite a bit more to say about this in the next post.