Columbia: Rat’s Nest of Wokeness

Columbia: Rat’s Nest of Wokeness

This morning, David P. Goldman – a.k.a. “Spengler” at the Asia Times – tweeted his disgust with his alma mater:  “My father (doctoral program in economics), my mother (Teachers College) and I (Columbia College) all had degrees from Columbia. I’m disgusted by the rat’s nest of wokeness that this university has become.”

He is referring, of course, to the recent “protests” on Columbia’s campus and throughout New York City by Columbia students about the war between Israel and Hamas.  Note, I use the scare quotes around “protests” because they’re not really protests at all.  They’re fits of antisemitic rage.  No one who is protesting is “anti-war.”  Rather, they’re anti-Jew.  And Goldman has just cause to be disgusted.

But while Goldman is right that Columbia “has become” a “rat’s nest of wokeness,” it is worth noting that this didn’t happen overnight.  Indeed, Columbia has been on a slow but steady path to rat’s-nest status for more than 100 years now, and its arrival there should surprise no one.

Columbia, as it turns out, was the home – in differing capacities – to many of the early Progressive giants.  Richard Ely, the granddaddy of all proto-Progressives and the most effective and aggressive advocate for the Social Gospel, earned a degree from Columbia.  Frank Goodnow, an early Progressive who, along with Woodrow Wilson, is the godfather of American public administration, studied law at Columbia.  John Dewey, the quintessential American philosopher of the early 20th century and perhaps the most destructive philosopher in all of American history, was the best-known and most important faculty member at Columbia from 1904 until his retirement in 1930.  While on faculty at Columbia, Dewey co-founded The New School for Social Research, perhaps the most Progressive (and, by extension, “woke”) university in the nation.

As for Columbia’s most significant and irreversible dive into Leftism and what would eventually be called “woke,” I think I can probably explain that best with a quote from The Dictatorship of Woke Capital.  It’s a long quote, but a relevant one (emphasis added):

The same year that History and Class Consciousness was published [György Lukács], a man named Felix Weil received his doctorate from Goethe University Frankfurt, writing his dissertation on the practical problems of imple­menting Socialism. Weil was from a wealthy Argentinian family, and not long after graduating, he financed a weeklong symposium in Frankfurt that was attended by Lukács and some twenty-plus other like-minded intellectuals, with “the hope that the different trends in Marxism, if afforded an opportunity of talking it out together, could arrive at a ‘true’ or ‘pure’ Marxism.” The meeting was organized by Weil’s professor Karl Korsch, a prominent German Marxist. The event was so successful that Weil decided to support an ongoing discussion of these subjects. He funded what we today would call a “think tank,” dedicated exclusively to the study of Marxism as a scientific discipline. Its formal name was the Institute for Social Research, although it would come to be known, simply, as the Frankfurt School.

The Frankfurt School, in turn, became the “iskra” for Cultural Marxism. Iskra is the Russian word for “spark” and the term that Lenin used for the bloc of bourgeois intellectuals (like himself) whose inter­vention was necessary to awaken the masses and thus to “spark” the revolution. Under the leadership of Max Horkheimer, a Marxist profes­sor of philosophy, the focus of the School shifted from uncovering the problems of Marxism to an activist-oriented and typically utopian agenda of liberating “human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.” Horkheimer called this process “critical theory,” which he said was differ­ent from traditional Marxist theories because its purpose was to critique and change society rather than simply try to explain or understand it. He put it this way: “[Critical Theory] is not just a research hypothesis which shows its value in the ongoing business of men; it is an essential element in the historical effort to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers of men.”

The German professor Jürgen Habermas, a second-generation Frankfurt School philosopher, explained critical theory this way: “[Horkheimer developed it] to think through political disappointments at the absence of revolution in the West, the development of Stalinism in Soviet Russia, and the victory of fascism in Germany. It was supposed to explain mistaken Marxist prognoses, but without breaking Marxist intentions.”

In 1933, when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Horkheimer moved the Institute to Geneva, then to Paris, and finally, in 1935, to New York City, where it affiliated with Columbia University.

The Frankfurt School remained at Columbia until returning to Germany and reestablishing itself in Frankfurt in 1953.

In April 1968, Columbia’s radical Leftist Students for a Democratic Society held massive protests on the campus and, in conjunction with the Student Afro Society, took over Hamilton Hall (which housed the school’s administration).  The protests eventually degenerated into a racial conflict between the SDS and SAS (because why not?)  In the end, the student radicals held three administrators hostage and occupied the building for a week, only leaving when their occupation was forcefully ended by NYPD.

The following year, Columbia became one of the first American universities to kick ROTC off campus, in protest over the Vietnam War.

In 2007, Columbia was again the site of controversy, when President Lee Bollinger agreed to allow Iranian President (and general psychopath) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus in conjunction with the fall session of the United Nations General Assembly.  Predictably, Ahmadinejad used his Columbia speech to attack Israel, deny the Holocaust, and also to deny the existence of homosexuals in Iran.

I could go on, I suppose, but you get the point – which is that a place like Columbia does not become a “rat’s nest of wokeness” by accident or overnight.  It takes careful, steady effort to enable such degeneracy.

If the antisemitic student protests at Columbia damage the school’s reputation, then we’ll be thrilled.  No one deserves it more.

That said, we’re not optimistic that that will be the case.  Columbia has a long history of disastrous and destructive activism – most of which is paid for by other people.  We’d like this time to be different, but we’re not counting on it.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.