Monday, August 20, 2018

Commentary: The Pleasures of Bullying

Feigned outrage against Marshall DeRosa, a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, has now taken predictable forms.  Nietzsche observed that a successful war can be used to justify any cause.  At Florida Atlantic, even going after an implausible victim can provide sadistic satisfaction to bullying students and faculty.
Professor DeRosa's picture has been plastered on the walls of college buildings by supposedly concerned students with demeaning messages that he's a "white supremacist" and that his presence on campus is an outrage "demanding action."  In my opinion, it's ridiculous to describe those engaged in these defamatory actions, as some commentators do, as "snowflakes."  They are dangerous thought police, who in this case have targeted a thoroughly decent teacher.
Marshall is someone I have known for decades and who has suffered unbearable personal tragedy.  Last fall, he lost a brilliant son of twenty-seven, who practiced law in Boca, when a car struck him from behind while he was loading his parked vehicle.
Leading to these attacks was, among other factors, Marshall's acceptance of a Koch grant to teach prison inmates in a nearby correctional institute.  We know that academic recipients of Koch funds have been targeted by the left elsewhere – for example, at the Eudaimonia Institute at Wake Forest University.  Those who are "outed" as beneficiaries of Republican foundations can now expect to see all hell break loose on their heads, once academic agitators and their groupies organize against them.
As someone on the right who never received such a grant, I too was verbally abused as a speaker at an elite academic institution.  Not taking money from a Republican foundation is no guarantee that the P.C. police won't go after you if you're a teacher or university speaker.  But accepting Koch money may cause the P.C. crowd, led by gender studies students and activists at Florida Atlantic, to swing into action.  And since no one is likely to push back, why not kick around and degrade one's target?
The charge of being a "white supremacist" that's been leveled against DeRosa is supposedly justified on several grounds, all equally specious.  One, although he's given his time and energy sacrificially to teaching prisoners and preparing them for life after prison, he's done this with money from a Republican source.  Never mind that there's zero evidence that the Koch Foundation has ever advocated for a single racist position or that it's even particularly conservative on social questions.  According to Politico, the Koch brothers have had at best an "uneasy relation" with the Trump administration, if that's our new criterion for white racism.  But that's not how the thought police (not snowflakes) at Florida Atlantic and Wake Forest think.  The Koch brothers generally support the GOP and therefore must be racist, as the left now defines that term.       
Two, DeRosa must be a racist because decades ago he published The Confederate Constitution of 1861: An Inquiry into American Constitutionalism with University of Missouri Press.  Since then, he has had the audacity to note in scholarly commentaries that blacks sold other blacks into slavery and that "although slavery is a reprehensible institution," Southerners were justified in claiming that it was protected as property under American law.  Just about everything DeRosa seems to have said on the subject of slavery that his detractors are now pulling out of context was said by historians of slavery, including Marxist ones, until the day before yesterday.  In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded a National Humanities Medal to Yale historian David Brion Davis, whose scholarship maintains the very points on slavery for which DeRosa is being pilloried. 
Concerned students also crashed a faculty meeting, presumably without repercussions, to denounce DeRosa for once having been a member of the League of the South, a Southern regional organization that took on white racist overtones years after being founded.  It's a matter of record that DeRosa quit the League in protest over this change.  Even the decidedly leftist website Media Matters admits this fact.  One has to wonder (or does one?) why, given this well known repudiation, students had to break into a faculty meeting to humiliate a senior professor.
Ironically, the target of these attacks at Florida Atlantic is someone who has been an outspoken advocate of prison reform in his state.  DeRosa has given speeches and published articles calling for the release of prisoners for nonviolent offenses.  He has also conspicuously protested long prison sentences.  An essay that DeRosa published in the Journal of the James Madison Institute includes this line that might have been drawn from the collected speeches of a very liberal Democrat.  DeRosa praises "every bit of progress this country has made toward expanding access to that dream [of freedom] to millions of people who were previously denied it."
A large percentage of the prisoners whom DeRosa has argued for happen to be black, and it is ridiculous to claim that his use of a Koch grant has gone toward advancing white supremacist ideology.  Two years ago, I was a co-presenter with DeRosa at a conference sponsored by the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.  Contrary to what I expected to hear, which was a comparative study of the Federal and Confederate constitutions, DeRosa launched into an impassioned speech about the black victims of what he thought were overly long prison terms in his state.  When DeRosa and I had dinner together, he continued in this vein and then interrupted himself to assure me, "No, I am not a bleeding-heart liberal."  At that point, I jokingly retorted: "You certainly give that impression."
DeRosa's field of study or his characterization of himself as a libertarian of the right has absolutely no bearing on his fate as a target of the academic left.  It is also hard to believe that his standard observations about slavery in the Western Hemisphere or his onetime membership in a then-anodyne League of the South have produced genuine, belated cries of outrage.  The charge against him, like denunciations of "running dogs of capitalism" made against victims of the murderous Maoist regime in China, are transparently false.  The bullying that occurred at Florida Atlantic was a way of flexing leftist muscle and pushing faculty who might be inclined to offer a dissenting opinion into anxious silence.
As Marshall DeRosa in his lecture at Auburn described hapless youth incarcerated in Florida jails, a fellow listener turned to me and remarked with a broad smile: "No good deed goes unpunished."  What was intended as humor has turned out to be prophetic.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in American Thinker and has been rerun with permission of its author.

Paul E. Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe. He serves as head of the editorial board of The San Francisco Review of Books.

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