Letter from Oxford
Paul Craig Roberts
The letter below came to me from Oxford University where I was a post-graduate.
I do not think it conceivable that the letter was actually written by Oriel College, or any authority at Oxford. This letter was written in exasperation by someone who feels that the civilized world has collapsed around him. This is a letter that the author of the letter wishes had been written.
By presenting the letter, I am not endorsing a make-believe letter or its point of view. My point is different. The world’s most famous university lacks the confidence to defend itself from from unreasonable demands made by students from its former colonies who desire to remove the association of Oriel College with its benefactor, Cecil Rhodes.
Yet, despite insufficient confidence to stand up to foreign students, England has mustered the confidence to align with Washington against the Muslim World and Russia. How do we explain this?
If the British still had enough confidence for an Oxford College to have penned such a letter, the British would not have forsaken their sovereignty and joined the European Union. What saved Cecil Rhodes stature at Oriel College was not Oxford but alumni who said they would cancel bequests of 100 million British pounds if the university succumbed to erasing its history in order to appease foreigners who claim to be offended by it. If they are offended, say the alumni, let them go elsewhere.
The future independence of universities is in doubt, especially those dependent on alumni support. Old grads are turned off by the erasure of what they remember. Recent grads are not experiencing the same success. A university degree no longer brings the same economic success that it did in the 20th century. A financialized and offshored capitalism has heavily redistributed income and wealth to the One Percent. One consequence is that the alumni donor base will shrink.
Moreover, the older generation of graduates, who made their money in the past, is constantly reminded by fund-raising materials that the college or university that they attended has been replaced by something else. What they experienced is gone. Oxford colleges were segregated by gender and attended mainly by British. Today they are gender-integrated and multi-cultural. Judging from photos in fund-raising materials, at Oxford the British appear to be a minority.
Instead of warm and fuzzy feelings, old grads feel dispossessed. The psychological effect on those who experienced a different Oxford environment is similar to returning to the site of your grandparents farm and finding a subdivision, a bedroom community for a once distant city. The creek you explored is now inside a pipe buried under back yards, and the trees you climbed are cut down. You feel a loss. This is what many alumni feel when they experience the transformation of their educational institution. They experience a loss of association, which is not a racist or sexist response.
As survivors of an era in which economic success was more broadly based pass away, colleges and universities will turn increasingly to corporations and the One Percent for funds. These donors will extract a price. Colleges and universities will be suborned, as the media and politicians are today, to serve the powerful interests on which they are dependent.
We might think that this is what the Oxford alumni are doing when they threatened to withhold bequests, but it is not. The alumni are not saying what is to be taught and not taught or how things are to be explained. The alumni are saying that it is impermissible to destroy history by throwing it into Orwell’s memory hole. Oxford alumni have had to accept so much change and now the physical image itself, the historical landmarks, are to be thrown away. The result is that nothing any longer corresponds to their memories. Their association with their college and the university becomes severed.
There is no doubt that the British and US governments have ground under their feet many peoples. But history is history. We have to live with it and try to make the future better. We cannot substitute for history our view of what should have happened.
Here is the letter that indicates more British confidence than actually exists:
This letter is a response from Oxford to Black Students, some of whom are
attending as Rhodes Scholars, who are demanding the removal
of the statue of their and Oxford’s benefactor, Cecil Rhodes.
Subject: OXFORD – THE FIGHT BACK HAS BEGUN
Interestingly, Chris Patten (Lord Patten of Barnes), The
Chancellor of Oxford University, was on the Today Programme
on BBC Radio 4 yesterday on precisely the same topic. The
Daily Telegraph headline yesterday was “Oxford will not
Patten commented ““Education is not indoctrination. Our
history is not a blank page on which we can write our own
version of what it should have been according to our
contemporary views and prejudice.”
Rhodes Must Fall
“Dear Scrotty Students,
“Cecil Rhodes’s generous bequest has contributed greatly to
the comfort and well being of many generations of Oxford
students – a good many of them, dare we say it, better,
brighter and more deserving than you.
“This does not necessarily mean we approve of everything
Rhodes did in his lifetime – but then we don’t have to.
Cecil Rhodes died over a century ago. Autres temps, autres
moeurs. If you don’t understand what this means – and it
would not remotely surprise us if that were the case –
then we really think you should ask yourself the question:
‘Why am I at Oxford?’
“Oxford, let us remind you, is the world’s second oldest
extant university. Scholars have been studying here since at
least the 11th century. We’ve played a major part in the
invention of Western civilisation, from the 12th century
intellectual renaissance through the Enlightenment and
beyond. Our alumni include William of Ockham, Roger Bacon,
William Tyndale, John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh, Erasmus,
Sir Christopher Wren, William Penn, Samuel Johnson,
Robert Hooke, William Morris, Oscar Wilde,
Emily Davison, and Cardinal Newman. We’re a big
deal. And most of the people privileged to come and study
here are conscious of what a big deal we are. Oxford is
their alma mater – their dear mother – and they respect
and revere her accordingly.
“And what were your ancestors doing in that period? Living in
mud huts, mainly. Sure we’ll concede you the short-lived
Southern African civilisation of Great Zimbabwe. But let’s
be brutally honest here. The contribution of the Bantu
tribes to modern civilisation has been as near as damn it to
“You’ll probably say that’s ‘racist.’ But it’s what
we here at Oxford prefer to call ‘true.’ Perhaps the
rules are different at other universities. In fact, we know
things are different at other universities. We’ve watched
with horror at what has been happening across the pond from
the University of Missouri to the University of Virginia and
even to revered institutions like Harvard and Yale: the
‘safe spaces;’ the blacklivesmatter; the creeping
cultural relativism; the stifling political correctness;
what Allan Bloom rightly called ‘the closing of the
American mind.’ At Oxford however, we will always prefer
facts and free, open debate to petty grievance-mongering,
identity politics and empty sloganeering. The day we cease
to do so is the day we lose the right to call ourselves the
world’s greatest university.
“Of course, you are perfectly within your rights to squander
your time at Oxford on silly, vexatious, single-issue
political campaigns. (Though it does make us wonder how
stringent the vetting procedure is these days for Rhodes
scholarships and even more so, for Mandela Rhodes
scholarships.) We are well used to seeing undergraduates –
or, in your case – postgraduates, making idiots of
themselves. Just don’t expect us to indulge your idiocy,
let alone genuflect before it. You may be black –
“BME” as the grisly modern terminology has it – but we
are colour blind. We have been educating gifted
undergraduates from our former colonies, our Empire, our
Commonwealth and beyond for many generations. We do not
discriminate over sex, race, colour or creed. We do,
however, discriminate according to intellect.
“That means, inter alia, that when our undergrads or post
grads come up with fatuous ideas, we don’t pat them on the
back, give them a red rosette and say: “Ooh, you’re
black and you come from South Africa. What a clever chap you
are!” No. We prefer to see the quality of those
ideas tested in the crucible of public debate. That’s
another key part of the Oxford intellectual tradition you
see: you can argue any damn thing you like but you need to
be able to justify it with facts and logic – otherwise
your idea is worthless.
“This ludicrous notion you have that a bronze statue of Cecil
Rhodes should be removed from Oriel College, because it’s
symbolic of ‘institutional racism’ and ‘white
slavery’ — well even if it is – which we dispute – so
bloody what? Any undergraduate so feeble-minded that they
can’t pass a bronze statue without having their ‘safe
space’ violated really does not deserve to be here. And
besides, if we were to remove Rhodes’s statue on the
premise that his life wasn’t blemish-free, where would we
stop? As one of our alumni, Dan Hannan, has pointed out,
Oriel’s other benefactors include two kings so awful –
Edward II and Charles I – that their subjects had them
killed. The college opposite – Christ Church – was built
by a murderous, thieving bully who bumped off two of his
wives. Thomas Jefferson kept slaves: does that invalidate
the US Constitution? Winston Churchill had unenlightened
views about Muslims and India: was he then the wrong man to
lead Britain in the war?
“Actually, we’ll go further than that. Your Rhodes Must
Fall campaign is not merely fatuous but ugly, vandalistic
and dangerous. We agree with Oxford historian R.W. Johnson
that what you are trying to do here is no different from
what ISIS and the Al-Qaeda have been doing to artefacts in
places like Mali and Syria. You are murdering history.
“And who are you, anyway, to be lecturing Oxford University
on how it should order its affairs? Your rhodesmustfall
campaign, we understand, originates in South Africa and was
initiated by a black activist who said in one of his lecturers
‘whites have to be killed.’ One of you – Sizwe
Mpofu-Walsh – is the privileged son of a rich politician
and a member of a party whose slogan is ‘Kill the Boer,
Kill the Farmer.’ Another of you, Ntokozo Qwabe, who is
only in Oxford as a beneficiary of a Rhodes scholarship, has
boasted about the need for ‘socially conscious black
students’ to ‘dominate white universities, and do so
ruthlessly and decisively.’
“Great. That’s just what Oxford University needs. Some
cultural enrichment from the land of Winnie Mandela, burning
tyre necklaces, an AIDS epidemic almost entirely the result
of government indifference and ignorance, one of the
world’s highest per capita murder rates, institutionalised
corruption, tribal politics, anti-white racism and a
collapsing economy. Please name which of the above items you
think will enhance the lives of the 22,000 students studying
here at Oxford.
“And then please explain what it is that makes your attention
grabbing campaign to remove a listed statue from an Oxford
college more urgent, more deserving than the desire of
probably at least 20,000 of those 22,000 students to enjoy
their time here unencumbered by the irritation of spoilt,
ungrateful little tossers on scholarships they clearly
don’t merit using racial politics and cheap guilt-tripping
to ruin the life and fabric of our beloved university.
“Understand us and understand this clearly: you have
everything to learn from us; we have nothing to learn from
Oriel College, Oxford