Today’s protesters calling for free higher education are just the latest in a long line of people engaging in destructive behavior in the name of egalitarianism, the concept of equal treatment for all. The 1960s brought a wave of destruction in opposition to the Vietnam War. In a rather silly echo of that impulse, Trenton Oldfield, a fanatical egalitarian from Australia, ruined the famous Oxford-Cambridge rowing race on the Thames River a few years ago by jumping in the river and blocking the competitors in the name of resisting the elitism. He was dubbed in the United Kingdom the “anarchist swimmer” and has mounted other guerrilla strikes to promote his agenda. He is urging, for example, cabbies to take well-to-do passengers on long detours and cleaners not to place toilet paper where they are expected to serve rich folks.
It is easy to dismiss this sort of thing as mere childish pranks by a nutcase, but this individual is a graduate of the London School of Economics (LSE). He seems to be taking the goal of social leveling very seriously, although his project is incoherent and mostly destructive.
Still, if you are exhorted by the likes of President Barack Obama or LSE grads and their professors — such as John N. Gray, a former classical liberal who has turned into a postmodernist leftist—to rip off the rich, who can tell what limits, if any, there are to this agenda? After all, there are innumerable activities wealthy people undertake that may, along egalitarian lines, be sabotaged. Polo games, fencing, and bridge tournaments will have to be attacked. Fine restaurants likewise belong on the list, as well as upscale stores, clubs, and car dealerships.
In fact, any form of entertainment is fair game for such equalizers, because whenever one is enjoying such recreation, one could instead be serving humanity by attending to the poor or the sick. Nothing is safe from a person determined to wrest enjoyment from others’ grasp.
A host of emotions well up in me when these people write this material, take to the streets, or make insane demands of society from university podiums. It’s true most rivers are seen as public goods anyone may use to his or her heart’s content, so Oldfield may well have a technical right to ruin everybody’s fun by blocking a boat race on the Thames. A private lake would be easier to protect from such terrorists. Fortunately, common sense and a longing for mutual civility lead most people to refrain from expressing their political dreams by ruining events like the Oxbridge rowing regatta.
But what can one expect when the head of the most powerful government in the world advocates the egalitarian project, suggests tax policy based on its aspirations, and bashes the rich at every turn? Not that there is anything revolutionary about this. After all, throughout human history, firebrands of all sorts have promoted aggression and violence as the proper course for those who cannot bear to accept some people being better-off than others.
One can be somewhat grateful for the complaints of college protesters, Oldfield, Obama, and others who come right out and state their willingness to destroy things for everyone else if they don’t get their way. What society needs today is for these fanatics to come out of hiding, remind us of exactly what their warped thinking actually leads to, and, one hopes, inspire sensible people to reject their leaders at the ballot box.
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