Richard Kronenfeld
Adult Ba'al Teshuvah Ph.D. Physicist

The Breakdown of Civil Society Part 1: Reflections in a Broken Mirror

Pat Cross cartoon "Equity-Police," July 24, 2022. Reprinted with permission from
Pat Cross cartoon "Equity-Police," October 27, 2021. Reprinted with permission from

It’s no secret that civil society around the West is under severe stress from economic dislocations, threats to civil liberties, indoctrination replacing education – accompanied by a rejection of virtually every standard of human behavior and accomplishment – and increasing disrespect for authority and for one another. Religion, marriage, and the nuclear family are declining. Crime, human trafficking, and drug smuggling across our wide-open southern border are flourishing. Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for 18- to 45-year-old Americans. Identity politics is replacing meritocracy, individual achievement gives way to group quotas. And anything and everything is branded as racist and/or white privilege, even such basics as punctuality and expecting only one answer to math problems. Morality is out the window as teachers promote having drag queens reading to five-year-olds.

Academia is entering a secular version of the Dark Ages, in which the new woke religion is taking on the role of suppressing heresy. One recent obsession I just discovered online is the idea that archeologists shouldn’t classify skeletal remains by gender or race, despite logical criteria for such identification, because we don’t know how these individuals identified themselves. This is a nonsensical attempt to extrapolate current gender theory back to a time when it was virtually non-existent.  The foolishness has reached the point where Joseph Manson, a long-time tenured anthropology professor at UCLA, is retiring at 62 because of the woke culture, as well as excessive political correctness and rampant anti-Zionism. Overall, our education system from kindergarten to graduate school is so blighted that the acronym IQ may need to be changed to “ignorance quotient”.

The dominant character traits in society appear to be ingratitude on the part of corporate executives and journalists, as well as college professors and students, for the nation that has given more opportunity to more people than any other in history; racial and gender animosity; defiance of law and common decency; and arrogance. Ingratitude in particular is a serious matter. As Rabbi Yissocher Frand writes, “The Medrash equates the sin of ingratitude with fundamental theological denial (kefira b’Ikar) of the Almighty. One who is ungrateful towards his fellow man is ultimately ungrateful towards the Almighty as well. One who is an ingrate to his boss, his friends, his spouse, his parents, and his neighbor will eventually come to deny the favors of the Almighty.”

There exist genuine concerns as to how Western civilization can survive when so much of the public no longer believes in its institutions. In fact, I recently purchased a softcover copy of The Federalist Papers to bid a fond farewell to constitutional democracy. While waiting for Lefty, we can examine the root causes of all this turmoil.

Ultimately, responsibility for our actions lies within us. The Left tries to fool us into believing that human nature is basically good but society corrupts it, so their solution is to liquidate whichever element of society they hold responsible – the capitalists, the kulaks [peasants who own land], the bourgeoisie, and most of all, the Jews. No matter what is the worst problem of society, it’s our fault. The Left condemns us as capitalists, the Right condemns us as Communists, and so it goes. The late great Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin summarized it simply as “Goyim kill goyim and they come to hang the Jews.” Why us? Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin give a dozen reasons in their incisive book, Why the Jews? but for purposes of this discussion allow me to reduce them to one: resentment. Those who are still pagans at heart resent our having brought the knowledge of G-d’s Existence to the world, because once we recognize Him, we’re expected to observe His Laws. They don’t want to answer to any external standards; they want to do whatever they want. Consequently, they seek to destroy religion and the nuclear family. To me, this explains why they want to turn adults into children – encouraging college students to seek out a room with beanbag chairs and stuffed animals in case anyone dares to disagree with them, for example. Sensitivities are heightened inordinately, and differences of opinion are escalated into microaggressions. And if they don’t get their way on a major issue, they can always throw a temper tantrum worthy of the “terrible two’s,” often accompanied by name-calling, threats on the Internet, and sometimes actual violence.

History tells us that at least in the advanced Western industrial societies, revolution begins on college campuses. Nazi Germany is a prime example. As mentioned in previous posts, in America the rebellion arose when Marxist theoreticians realized that the way to “fundamentally transform” society is to change the culture. Thus the Left has systematically worked its way up to controlling our major social institutions. At the same time, recognizing that class warfare has little support among the generally contented working class, they switched to generating hatred along racial and gender lines. Here is where our narrative begins.

While the beginning of radical student activism is usually traced to the Vietnam war and the Free Speech Movement at the University of California-Berkeley, let us focus on an early example of racial strife, namely the sit-in at Cornell University in April 1969. As background, we recall that America was in turmoil through the year following the tragic assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968. One of the most explosive incidents occurred at San Francisco State College (now a state university).

As fascinating recounts,

“In November 1968, San Francisco State University was in crisis…. [A] coalition of minority student groups, called the “Third World Liberation Front”, lead[ing] a strike and campus shutdown in protest of Eurocentric curriculum, a lack of discussion about oppression and identity, and a low percentage of minority students on campus. They made 15 ‘non-negotiable’ demands to end the strike, including measures that gave outright and explicit preferences for blacks including a black studies department completely independent of university administration. Joining them on strike were Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers…

“Confrontations during this period between student activists and police were marked by violence. The university president, Dr. Robert Smith, the sixth one in eight years, resigned after Murray beat him up in his office and he proved unable to end the strike. His temporary replacement …, semantics professor S.I. Hayakawa… made national news when on December 2nd, wearing a tam-o’-shanter, he disrupted protestors screaming obscenities into a loudspeaker by climbing onto a sound truck and ripping the cords out of the loudspeaker….In response to the ‘non-negotiable’ demands he refused to negotiate, at least for a few months. Disruptions of classrooms were met with police, and he was able to get classes opened for other students. He would also in response to protesting shout back with a bullhorn [and] condemned ‘the intellectually slovenly habit, now popular among whites as well as blacks, of denouncing as racist those who oppose or are critical of any Negro tactic or demand’.

“He did eventually give some ground to the protestors such as establishing the first Ethnic Studies Department and agreeing to admit nearly all minority students for fall 1969, ending the strike that had lasted five months. His approach proved effective at countering disruption and permitting the continuation of education for those who were not protesting and he was officially elected university president….”

Like San Francisco State, at Cornell the issue that sparked rebellion was race. It started with white radical activists at Cornell protesting against the Vietnam war and distributing sexually explicit materials. Meanwhile, although Cornell’s president, James A. Perkins, moved to increase black admissions from four in the 1963 freshman class to 94 in 1968, bringing the total black enrollment to 259 as of spring 1969, discrimination by a Cornell fraternity in October 1966, followed by a building takeover at historically black Howard University, inspired black radical activism at Cornell. Activists issued non-negotiable demands, used group intimidation, and appealed to white guilt, especially on the part of administrators. Their first action, motivated by objections to remarks about poverty by an economics professor, was to seize control of the Economics Department office for seven hours, asserting three demands, including dismissing the professor and replacing him with a black professor. After a fight between students and plainclothes guards, the university agreed to an investigation. The investigating commission exonerated the professor of racism and referred the black students to Cornell’s judicial board. The administration, however, declined to charge any students and even expressed sympathy for their cause; the dean of the College of Arts and Science pronounced that most whites are racist to some degree (!) This inaction set the stage for the armed takeover of Willard Straight Hall the following year.

In the fall of 1968, Cornell began planning to create a black studies program. The Afro-American Society (AAS) insisted on a fully autonomous department, as the San Francisco State students had, and when their demands weren’t promptly granted, in December they initiated action.

“Seven militants pointed toy guns at students in front of the student union and disrupted traffic. They invaded the administration building, committing petty vandalism (knocking over a sand-filled container with cigarette butts and two candy machines, discharging a fire extinguisher, and banging on office doors). Back at the student union, they surrounded a campus police car, striking its hood and roof, and barged into a closed dining room pretending to demand service. The following day, 75 African-American students, accompanied by some children, staged a brief sit-in in front of the president’s office…. Another group of 30 went to three different campus libraries, removing an estimated 3,700 books from the shelves, dumping them in front of the circulation desks and proclaiming that they had ‘no relevance to me as a black student.’” The December actions ended the following day, when a radical contingent delayed that evening’s basketball game by marching across the court while playing music. It would be the reprimands of three AAS students involved in the toy gun episode by the student-faculty judicial board after a nearly five-hour meeting that lasted until 2:00am on April 18, that would precipitate the Willard Straight takeover the following day.

In the spring of 1969 SDS and AAS joined to protest Cornell’s investments with Chase Manhattan Bank, which did business in South Africa. President Perkins was prevented from speaking at an event to explain the board of trustees’ reluctance to sell the university’s Chase stock when an AAS member came to the lectern and grabbed him by the collar. He was soon released and exited the hall. A week later, another scuffle occurred when SDS and AAS blocked Chase Manhattan from recruiting students for jobs, and the following week three white students were assaulted. The administration acted timidly, not proposing any disciplinary measures against the students, and the faculty voted to approve the black studies program. Nevertheless, the protesters had one final demand, to withdraw the reprimands against the original three students, which they reinforced by staging a phony cross-burning in front of the black women’s residence, accompanied by a brick thrown through a window. At 5:00 AM on the morning of Saturday, April 19, AAS members, some armed with knives, chains, and clubs, entered Willard Straight Hall, and awakened and expelled 28 parents staying in rooms upstairs for Parents’ Day. Still wearing nightclothes, the parents had to leave their belongings behind and, as recalled by Donald Alexander Downs, who was a Cornell undergraduate at that time, were led “…down a long flight of stairs to the building’s garbage area, where they were forced to jump off a three-foot loading dock. Though none was injured, most were left shocked, frightened, and angry. During the occupation itself, a fair amount of vandalism occurred.”

Eight hours later, after 25 white students attempted unsuccessfully to oust the occupiers, with minor injuries on both sides, the militants, fearing attack by sheriff’s deputies or the national guard, had rifles and hatchets brought into the building. SDS formed a picket line around the building to protect the occupiers, which proved unnecessary, for as soon as guns were brought in, the administration determined to accede to AAS’ demands about the reprimands. Looking back at the outcome, Dr. Thomas Sowell, who was then an assistant professor of economics, called it “the day Cornell died.”

In the final analysis, the Cornell community had broken the principle of liberal democracy of holding everyone, regardless of status or ethnicity, to the same set of laws. Some professors left the university, while others began self-censoring their lectures to avoid upsetting their students. As for the activists, for the most part they didn’t reflect on the morality of using coercion to get what they wanted, or even the consequences of achieving their goals. All of these outcomes have increasingly bedeviled American education and civil society for the succeeding six decades.

How do the Jewish people fit into this picture? Stay tuned for Part II.

About the Author
I'm a native New Yorker (Brooklyn, to be precise) transplanted to the desert as a teen-ager. I hold a Ph.D in Physics from Stanford and have taught mathematics and physics at the high school, community college, and university level. I'm an adult ba'al teshuvah and label myself as centrist Orthodox and a Religious Zionist along the lines of OU, Yeshiva University, and Mizrachi.
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