He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust. — St. Thomas Aquinas
It seems that almost everybody is angry these days, and there are a lot of good reasons for it. Injustices have abounded in the last few months. Bad cops have killed helpless citizens, rioters and looters have disrupted legal protests, good cops have been murdered by criminals, small businesses have gone broke due to government shutdowns, burned by rioters, or maybe both. The list goes on. Suffice it to say that Americans are starving for the one thing that can abate the anger: justice.
But what is justice and who decides? Any valid answer must be based upon reason and not will. There can be no justice devoid of reason, for without reason the concept of justice falls prey to the passions and run the risk of being rendered irrational. Irrational justice is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, numerous recent calls for justice, masquerading behind the mask of reason, are irrational. Legitimate anger, as Aquinas states plainly above, “looks to the good of justice.” Illegitimate anger, rooted in the passions, leads to hate, the mortal enemy of justice. What follows is but one example of the irrational masquerading as rational in the name of justice.
Alex S. Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College (CUNY), penned a recent article in the Paris Review titled “Policing Won’t Solve Our Problems.” The article claims it is time for the basic role of police in society to be reevaluated. This is not to say that Vitale is suggesting we should abolish the police, as that would be seen as absurd by the great majority of Americans. He advocates reform. But any reform that fails to look at the bigger picture runs the risk of backfiring: “However, those reforms must be part of a larger vision that questions the basic role of police in society and asks whether coercive government action will bring more justice or less.” The phrase “coercive government” stands out. It indicates that Vitale considers our current governmental system as oppositional to the people rather than representative of them. He goes on to point out that this same system deploys racial discrimination, capitalism, and brute force to keep a stranglehold American power.
Vitale then outlines a recipe to overthrow the tyrannical powers-that-be. Along with “restorative justice,” and “justice reinvestment,” he cries out for affordable housing, unionization, and an end to free trade. Sound familiar? Vitale is not as progressive as he might like to appear. His solutions are rehashed versions of a big government agenda that took hold in American cities in the 1960s. In short, Vitale is a political activist masquerading as a social scientist, and his argument is not based upon reason but political will.
Though I agree with Vitale that the middle-class is becoming an endangered species, financial disparity is a serious problem, and corporate power cannot be left unchecked, his failure to mention the gains our country has made in the past and continues to make reduces his argument to a political wish-list. Vitale looks at one side of the argument while fully ignoring the other. This violates a basic tenet of the art of reasoning.
Blaming the police for what is amiss in America is akin to cherry-picking evidence to support a specious argument. Of course there are bad apples who must be held accountable for their actions in any institution, but these individual crimes cannot then be writ large over an entire institution in order to define it. It just doesn’t make sense. But make no mistake, there is something amiss in America. A teaser for a recent interview with Dr. Jason Hill gets to the heart of the matter:
The basis for the 1619 Project is that the history of the United States is rooted in slavery and racism at every turn. Dr. Jason Hill, Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago, joins us to examine how the U.S. overcame slavery and helped pull many people out of poverty through capitalism. But instead of being taught this in classrooms, students learn how to hate what it means to be an American. (“Rewriting the Facts of History”, Steel on Steel Broadcast for May 30th, 2020)
In the interview, Dr. Hill suggests that some Humanities and Social Sciences departments should be considered a danger to national security and, because of this, should be defunded. The 1619 Project is a symptom of a disease that festers in our education system. Suggesting that U.S. history can or should be reduced to slavery and racism is absurd. It simply does stand to reason. Yet editors at the New York Times who, presumably, attended college, where they, presumably, were taught the art of reason, published it.
When the project was criticized by leading historians on both the left and the right, the politically charged NYT refused to back down. As such, the 1619 Project is now being taught in a number of public school curriculums. This is the crisis. Far too many in the so-called “educated-class” either lost the ability to reason when they became entangled in political ideologies, or they were never taught how to use reason in the first place regardless of their years in school. Either way, we are now reaping the whirlwind of irrationality. In abandoning the art of reason—and here I mean the Logos that has served as the foundation for Western Civilization for centuries—they are attempting a mutiny, even though a mutinous crew ill-versed in the art of reason is in no position to navigate the ship. It is folly, and not the type that Erasmus, who was ever faithful to the Church he chastised, praised. No, this is folly is madness. Madness is absence of reason.
Just as the 1619 Project cheapens history by appropriating it for a political end, Vitale’s targeting of the police is ill-founded. He accuses “the system” of housing a demonic, racist spirit that haunts traditional U.S. institutions, and in doing so relieves individuals from the responsibility of reasoning for themselves. Poor judgment is a cop’s worst enemy. Sound judgment comes from right reasoning. The art of reason is learned first at home, then in school. Once upon a time, a high diploma signified that the graduate was now a citizen trained in the art of reason. Not anymore. How many of our current politicians and journalists have graduated from college? How many of them are Sophists rather than a Socrates? Our university system, once considered the Church of Reason has become, by and large, a Ship of Fools. This, at bottom, is where illegitimate anger germinates: if you want to teach your children to learn how to hate America and Western tradition, send them to the university.
For example, I recently witnessed a Harvard-trained biologist lecture a group of 300+ freshmen. The Professor instructed the students that the Aztecs did not understand how to lie until European contact. I kid you not. The students seated in the auditorium didn’t flinch, so I don’t know how many of them bought the story, but I’m sure some of them did. Though I should have stood up and challenged the esteemed Professor, I was stunned into silence, and before I could act the moment had passed. There were upper-level administrators and other professors in the auditorium as well. They, too, were silent. I don’t know why. The Professor’s claim, blatantly politically charged, anti-European, and irrational, was passed off as fact.
I have witnessed other equally egregious acts by faculty, and I have little idea of what most professors teach in their individual classrooms, alone with students, with no one but the students to hold them accountable. Do you? For years I took it for granted that the great majority of my colleagues held dear the rules of right reason, but I can no longer be so confident. Whatever the case, many are now out in the open in substituting political bias for fact. The revisionist 1619 Project substantiates this claim.
Political activists have hijacked far too many departments in our colleges and universities. They accomplished this over recent decades because many of us who should have taken them seriously did not. We didn’t take them seriously because their arguments could not stand to reason, and we assumed the Identity Politics/Politically Correct movement would be consumed by its own foolishness. It wasn’t. Just the opposite. The movement fed on raw emotion stirred up by inflamed political rhetoric and grew into a monster increasingly incapable of reason. The students who were drawn into this pit are not to be blamed. They were for the most part unwitting victims. They were taught how to feel rather than how to think, what to think rather than the art of reason. They are now teaching in our public schools and colleges. Shame on all of us who allowed this to happen. We must do what we can to make it right, even if it appears to be too late. To do otherwise would not only be irrational but immoral as well.
Vitale’s concern about “more justice or less,” then, is baseless. It is impossible for power void of rationality to mete out justice of any kind. Justice is necessarily rational. Long ago in a reality far away, Thomas Aquinas observed that when law deviates from reason it becomes unjust. Martin Luther King Jr., drawing on that same Catholic tradition, puts it well in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.’” History is not a means to a political end. Studied under the lens of reason, it might lead to wisdom rather irrational power grabbing, justice instead of political expediency.
The police, then, are a relatively small part of the problem. Everybody will agree that America must continue to move forward until, one day, we are all treated equally under the law. There is no controversy here; America is unified on this point. Professors who willingly subvert reason in order to promote political agendas are the real culprits. They are the ones who train the teachers who then teach our children, some of whom will grow up to be cops who routinely make decisions that impact real lives. Reason matters. It saves lives, serves justice, and seeks social tranquility. That’s what we send our kids to school to learn: the art of reason, not hate. Reason is what make us human. Without it, we become something less.
All the chaos as of late, the blood on our streets, the looting and burning, is irrational. Which institution is to be blamed for these injustices? Law enforcement? Having spent almost two decades teaching in university humanities departments, I know the answer. Defunding the police is madness. Defunding departments and teachers that subvert the art of reason to forward political beliefs makes perfect sense. Untempered by reason, anger becomes hate. Hate will never serve the good of justice.
(Editor’s note: Brooklyn College (CUNY) was identified as Brooklyn University in this essay; that has been corrected.)
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