Sunday, December 13, 2009

O Radical, Where Art Thou?

Protest marches on college campuses are old news, at least since the 1960s. But what makes this march different, and noteworthy, is the mysterious absence of students -- students who are usually quick to join in on civil rights fights.

This protest was organized not by students, or by the faculty, however, but by residents of neighborhoods near Columbia University, who fear the school will use eminent domain in pursuit of a West Harlem expansion project. A New York appeals court recently slapped down the school, ruling that its efforts to displace holdouts, through eminent domain, were unconstitutional. The protesters are asking Columbia not to appeal the decision; to build around the holdouts. But school officials are noncommittal.

It's curious that Columbia's famously-radical students are largely silent on the issue. This isn't the '60s, I know. But isn't the indignation of students stirred by seeing working-class people bullied by the school into giving up their homes and businesses? One of the school's few libertarians raised his voice in protest, yet campus liberals (the self-styled champions of civil rights) haven't much been heard from.

Where is the anger?

Where is the outrage?

Where is the outcry for justice?

All are absent in this case, except from non-students in the neighborhood.

Does apathy explain it? Or could it be that Columbia students, so quick to see injustice elsewhere (and everywhere), can't see it when it's right under their noses? Has self-interest in this case trumped self-righteous indignation? Perhaps, more ominously, the liberals at Columbia don't see property rights as a civil right, although they were recognized by the country's founders as paramount. The big brains at Columbia surely must see that all civil rights are undermined if a person isn't secure in her person or possessions. Don't alarm bells go off at seeing the state empowered to take someone's property, virtually at will?

This highlights a curious blind spot on the part of American left-wingers, who are so shrill in defense of other (arguably less-important) civil rights. Property rights apparently rank low on the list of causes they'll take to the barricades for, perhaps because these rights stand as obstacles to other agenda items, like "economic justice," redistribution of wealth, social equality, government regulation, etc.

Property rights aren't recognized in the leftist fantasy land called Cuba, just as they were absent in the former Soviet Union (with which many American liberals had a love affair, let's not forget, right up to the moment the wall came down). Property rights are the first things to go when leftists take power, because they carve out a zone of individual autonomy and control that statists can't tolerate. And even here, in the civil rights-happy U.S., property rights are looked on with suspicion and scorn by the left -- are seen as speed bumps that slow the pace of state-sponsored "progress."

That, more than anything, may explain the strange absence of student radicals from the anti-Columbia protests.

No comments: