Commentary: The New Puritans

Anne Applebaum
The Atlantic

Excerpt: Sometimes investigations take place because someone in the community feels that you haven’t paid a high enough price for whatever it is you have done or said. Last year Joshua Katz, a popular Princeton classics professor, wrote an article critical of a letter published by a group of Princeton faculty on race. In response The Daily Princetonian, a student newspaper, spent seven months investigating his past relationships with students, eventually convincing university officials to relitigate incidents from years earlier that had already been adjudicated—a classic breach of James Madison’s belief that no one should be punished for the same thing twice. The Daily Princetonian investigation looks more like an attempt to ostracize a professor guilty of wrong-think than an attempt to bring resolution to a case of alleged misbehavior. . . .

During China’s Cultural Revolution, Mao empowered students to create revolutionary committees to attack and swiftly remove professors. In both instances, people used these unregulated forms of “justice” to pursue personal grudges or gain professional advantage. The sociologist Andrew Walder has revealed how the Cultural Revolution in Beijing was shaped by power competitions between rival student leaders.