Princeton Prof. Kevin Kruse exemplifies academia’s vacuity and arrogance

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Kevin Kruse

Tweets between Dean Cain and Princeton Professor Kevin Kruse about debating controversial ideas exemplified academia’s intellectual vacuity and arrogance.

My years at Berkeley left me with tremendous disdain for academics — and keep in mind that this disdain set in almost 40 years ago, before the current insanity of identity politics and hard Leftism. Cal was Left, but it was just a warm-up act for what was to come.

I won’t deny that, while at Cal, I had a few good teachers, and I am grateful for them. Most, though, were tenured hacks who considered the students who funded their paychecks an unpleasant evil interrupting their pleasant lives. And I do mean pleasant. Even as they preached Marxism from the classroom pulpit, they lived in elegant hillside homes complete with Japanese gardeners and Hispanic housekeepers. Additionally, every seven years they got a year-long paid vacation, again courtesy of the taxpayers and students they thought so contemptible.

That little polemic is by way of stating the inherent bias with which I read a Twitter back and forth between Dean Cain and a Princeton professor. Cain is not just a courageously open conservative in Hollywood, he’s also a Princeton grad, which, at one time, had a certain cachet. It’s questionable whether that cachet still exists, which gets me to that Twitter conversation Cain had with an unusually arrogant Princeton prof.

It all started with a tweet from Dinesh D’Souza, the man the hard Left prosecutor in the New York’s federal court system went after for a small-dollar campaign donation violation that had never been the subject of a full-bore criminal prosecution:

In the video, D’Souza says that his leading critic is Princeton historian Kevin Kruse, and that he’d be more than willing to debate him. D’Souza explains that he offered to debate Kruse at Princeton and that Kruse refused the offer, because debate is “not the proper format” for addressing the issues.

Dean Cain thought a debate was a good idea:

Kevin Kruse thought it was a bad idea, and responded by personally attacking Cain and D’Souza, as well as raising all sorts of arguments we associate with the climate change debate, most notable of which are the fact that D’Souza’s scholarship is the equivalent of “Holocaust denial” and that “the facts are settled.”  But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the begin with Kruse’s tweet in response to Cain’s delight in the thought of a good debate:

If that “Holocaust denial” argument looks familiar, it’s because those who believe in the imminent demise of planet earth thanks to anthropogenic climate change, rather than debating facts with those who don’t believe in an imminent Apocalypse, dismiss them as “climate deniers” who are intellectually identical to Holocaust deniers. In doing see, the Climate Changistas ignore the fact that the Holocaust is a past event while the Armageddon of alleged anthropogenic climate change is a future prediction based upon computer models that rather consistently prove to be wrong. In other words, it’s an intellectually bankrupt premise that is intended, not to advance knowledge, but to embarrass into silence anyone who dares challenge them.

If this is true, it’s all the more reason to debate D’Souza. Hiding from D’Souza, rather than strengthening Kruse’s position, makes him look like an intellectual coward.

The fact that D’Souza tweeted out a “burn the Jews” hashtag was new to me, so I did a little research. It turns out that, when D’Souza was promoting one of his movies, he retweeted someone who praised the movie. That underlying tweet included the hashtag #BurnTheJews. D’Souza apologized, saying that he was focused on promoting his film and clicked retweet without notice the hashtag. I’m inclined to believe that it was indeed a genuine error. D’Souza has never said or done anything remotely antisemitic and is, in fact, very pro-Israel.

In this regard, D’Souza is readily distinguishable from Professor Kruse. In 2014, Kevin Kruse officially joined the BDS movement — the goal of which is to destroy the world’s only Jewish state — when he signed a petition to “divest from Israeli occupation.”

The data therefore shows that D’Souza is a staunch friend to Israel, while Kruse wants to see it destroyed. While the former apologized for tweeting a hashtag (and we’ve all hit the retweet button too fast), the latter supports destroying Israel. Ignoring Kruse’s sneering condescension, I’ll leave it to you to figure had who has the moral high ground when it comes to wishing Jews well.

And there’s that other page from the climate change playbook: Just as “the science is settled” regarding the predictive powers of computer models examining infinitely complicated climate systems, so too does Kruse live in a world in which history has only one fact and one face — his. By making that statement, Kruse revealed that he’s not a scholar, he’s a hack. Of course, Kruse is not alone, which is why I keep telling people that every penny they spend for their child’s liberal arts education is a penny misspent. (And yes, both my children are in that system, and I hate it more with every passing day, but mine is not the only voice in our house on the subject.)

And right on time, Kevin Kruse throws into the discussion another irrelevant Leftist canard the sole purpose of which is to try to embarrass conservatives into silence so that Leftists don’t have to address substantive matters. It’s laughable to see Kruse, the same man who proudly signed on to destroying Israel, trying to insult an openly pro-Israel person by calling that Israel supporter an “antisemite” for attacking George Soros. A few facts about Soros are that he has no discomfort about his days as a Nazi collaborator,* he is an open atheist who disdains any religion, and he funds dozens of groups aimed at Israel’s destruction, including groups that envision at bloody genocide for Jews.

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While a DNA test would reveal Soros’s Ashkenazi heritage, there is nothing Jewish about him. It is completely reasonable for anyone who loves Israel and the Jewish people to despise him for his acts, especially his acts damaging Israel. I don’t know about Kruse’s Jewish connections, but I’m Jewish and I loath Soros. He’s as evil as Karl Marx, another genetic Jewish, who was one of the most antisemitic people ever in the modern era and whose antisemitism spawned the socialist hatred for Jews that reached its apex under Hitler, but that has had a bloody impact wherever socialists gain control. When it comes to throwing around accusations of antisemitism, Kruse not only fights dirty, he does so from a sound foundation of ignorance (whether real or feigned).

I mentioned above that Kruse, in addition to being an obnoxious, arrogant, condescending, snide, supercilious Leftist twit, is also an ignoramus. If he were a little more informed and a little less arrogant, he might know about the 1961 debate at McGill University in Montreal between Professor Arnold Toynbee, possibly the most famous historian of his time, and Dr. Yaacov Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to Canada (as well as the son of Israel’s second Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog and brother of its future president Chaim Herzog).

Toynbee found the whole idea of Jews troublesome. To him, they were an unpleasant living fossil. As far as he was concerned, Jewish civilization should have ended with Christianity. The Jews’ habit of refusing to retreat from history following what he considered a major civilizational failure offended his sensibilities. By 1961, Toynbee was so offended by Israel’s continued existence, something that put the lie to his theory that civilizations have a “rise, thrive, die” cycle, that he sounded exactly like today’s Leftists, equating Israel with the Nazis.

Beginning with Hitler in the 1930s, Toynbee had shown an unfortunate predilection for charismatic socialist justice warriors, even going so far as to meet with Adolf Hitler. In the 1950s, the perfect predecessor to today’s campus Leftists, he wrote that the Jews were the new Nazis.

While Toynbee’s scholarly books flew under the radar, matters came to a head in Montreal in 1961:

A prominent scholar and public intellectual visits an elite college campus to speak to students. In his remarks, he shocks his audience and the Jewish community by questioning the right of the Jewish people to a state, and asserting that the Zionist treatment of the Palestinians is morally equivalent to the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Naturally, the address elicits strong condemnation from the local Israeli ambassador.

Toynbee’s statements were so inflammatory (remember, this was only 16 years after the world saw the Nazi death camps), that Herzog didn’t even bother to call Israel for advice about how to act. Instead, he immediately challenged Toynbee to a debate. To his credit, the world famous Toynbee agreed to a debate with Ambassador Herzog. Although Toynbee was a much greater historian than Kruse could ever be, unlike Kruse, he thought historical facts deserved debate and he was willing to engage in this debate.

Yair Rosenberg ably summed up what happened at that debate:

And so, on the evening of Jan. 31, the young ambassador stood before an overflow crowd at the McGill Hillel House, surrounded by press and microphones from numerous radio stations. “First let me clarify that I am here in my personal, and not in my official capacity,” Herzog opened. “Indeed, over the past 48 hours since Professor Toynbee agreed to this debate, I have done very little in the nature of my official capacity and have been more or less traversing beyond space and time a few thousand years of history, back and forth, trying to disentangle civilizations and fossils.”

With these words, Herzog tacitly acknowledged that both local Canadian Jewish leaders as well as some Israeli Foreign Ministry officials had disapproved of his challenge to Toynbee, fearing the relatively unknown diplomat would be overmatched by a famous intellectual nearly twice his age. As Herzog’s biographer Michael Bar-Zohar wrote, “At that moment, he was not a civil servant and government official, but an unofficial spokesman of the Jewish people, fighting for its honor.”

Toynbee’s opening statement was emblematic of the charm for which the avuncular historian was well known. “Boxers shake hands before they fight,” he said. “Perhaps that is rather a good example for ambassadors and professors. I am afraid we shan’t give such an entertaining performance as boxers might do, but still, this is a very important and serious occasion.”

With that, battle was joined. The hour-and-20-minute sparring match ranged over Jewish history, Arab history, and human history, tackling everything from the Palestinian refugee problem to the minutiae of international law. Each debater scored points off the other, but on the key contentions on which the dispute had been predicated—whether Israel’s actions in 1948 were morally equivalent to the Nazis, and whether the Jewish nation was a fossilized civilization—Herzog emerged the clear victor.

From the start, Herzog pressed Toynbee to explain how, exactly, Israel’s actions during a war of self-defense against multiple Arab armies could be compared to the Nazis’ systematic genocidal program against the Jews. Toynbee explained that he did not intend to statistically equate the actions of the Nazis with those of Israel’s founders, but rather simply to draw a moral comparison: that individual massacres committed by Israeli forces in 1948 were no different than those perpetrated by the Germans against the Jews. “If I murder one man, that makes me a murderer,” he observed. “I don’t have to reach the thousand mark or the million mark to be a murderer.”

Herzog pounced on this point, turning Toynbee’s own scholarship against him. “Now, Professor, in volume four, page 128F, of your Study of History you say, ‘In the history of man’s attempt at civilization hitherto, there has never been any society whose progress and civilization has gone so far that in times of revolution or war, its members could be relied upon not to commit atrocities,’ ” Herzog recited. He then listed all the nations Toynbee himself implicated in this charge: the Germans in Belgium in 1914, the British in Ireland in 1920, the French in Syria, and many others throughout history—including, of course, the Nazis.

Herzog then added one group that Toynbee had omitted: “Do you agree that there were also Arab massacres of Jewish civilians?” Herzog made reference to such cases, asking, “Were these also in the category of Nazi atrocities? And if so, why don’t you say that both sides did things in such a category? Why do you choose us? Why do you single us out? Why don’t you write of Britain and of almost every country in the world according to your own definition?”

After several minutes of such questioning, Toynbee conceded the point. “I agree that most societies have committed atrocities, but I do not think that condones atrocities,” he said. “I agree with you on that,” Herzog quickly responded. “But do you agree that this comparison can be applied on the universal level to any country which in war its soldiers have committed atrocities against civilians?” Toynbee had to concur: “Yes, atrocities are atrocities and murder is murder, whoever commits it.” Herzog asked if Toynbee would similarly stigmatize “Arab atrocities against Jewish civilian populations,” and those committed by the United States. “Of course,” the professor replied.

With that admission, Herzog essentially disarmed the historian. After all, if every nation had behaved like the Nazis, then the charge was divested of moral meaning. “In other words,” Herzog concluded, “the Nazi pall lies across the world, before the Nazis came … and after they have gone.” Jews, then, were no more prone to immoral conduct than any other people, and Israel no more and no less guilty than any other modern state.

The debate turned to the question of whether the Jewish people were indeed a “fossil”—an outmoded remnant of a bygone era—or rather a living, breathing civilization in their own right. Was the establishment of Israel an anachronism or an achievement? On this question, Herzog managed to extract another concession from Toynbee, when the historian acknowledged that “Israel can defossilize, just as you can defrost a car.” While Toynbee continued to insist that due to persecution and isolation, Jews had not played an influential role in much of modern history, he allowed that “the Jews in present times have … become part of the general stream of life and have played this enormous part in it.” Herzog closed by inviting Toynbee to visit Israel and witness its “defossilization” firsthand.

By the end of the engagement, it was clear the young ambassador had bested the elder historian. Toynbee’s wife Veronica was overheard telling him afterward, “I told you not to take part in this debate!” The leading Canadian dailies commended Herzog’s performance, and congratulatory telegrams poured in to the Israeli embassy in Ottawa. The event also proved an inspiration for many Jewish students in attendance. One such student was 20-year-old Irwin Cotler, who went on to become a professor of law at McGill, specializing in human rights, and a member of Canada’s parliament, serving as justice minister from 2003 to 2006. “If the Jewish students had felt humiliated by Toynbee’s lecture, now they felt pride and self-respect as Jews,” he told Herzog’s biographer. “What Herzog did had psychological no less than intellectual impact.”

Kruser is neither a Toynbee (i.e., a eminent scholar willing to defend his ideas) nor a Herzog (i.e., someone outside of academia who holds a position opposing that scholar’s ideas). He is, instead, a petty little man who skims the surface of information and then, armed with a limited repertoire at best, uses personal insults and condescension to disguise the fact that he lacks both the facts and the intellectual fire power to defend his own beliefs. Perhaps if Kruse had ever functioned in the world outside academia (and it does not appear that he ever has), he made be a bit more robust when it comes to defending his beliefs and being willing to debate with people who are not either students desperate for a good grade or fellow academics whose idea of a debate is to agree with and puff up each other.

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* As sure as the sun rises, someone is going to say “but he was only a child and he was doing what he needed to do to survive.” I agree, he was a young adolescent and many people did horrible things to survive. I don’t judge Soros at all for his actions during the war. What I find so disturbing is the fact that he has no discomfort about his actions. I grew up in a world of Holocaust survivors and learned early that one of the most evil things the Nazis did was make Jews participate in their own destruction, whether it was forcing the leaders in the ghettos to identify who should be rounded up or making Jews prepare people for the gas chambers, clean out the gas chambers, strip the bodies of gold teeth and hair, and then burn them. No one I know would ever have judged these survivors . . . but the survivors judged themselves. They did what they had to but, unlike Soros, there was no feeling of “oh, whatever!”.

Image source: Twitter screen grab

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Bookworm came late to conservativism but embraced it with passion. She's been blogging since 2004 at Bookworm Room about anything that captures her fancy -- and that's usually politics. Her blog's motto is "Conservatives deal with facts and reach conclusions; liberals have conclusions and sell them as facts."