On the Monday before Thanksgiving 2023, around 400 students at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, rampaged through the building. Wreaking pandemonium, they even tore a water fountain clear off the wall. What inspired this riot? A Jewish health teacher had posted a picture of herself at a pro-Israel rally on her private Facebook page. The teens were gleefully hunting her down.
New York City’s Department of Education Chancellor David Banks responded, saying that the mob’s behavior had created “teachable moments from this challenging situation.” He reassured: “But, to be clear, no form of hate, whether it be anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or any other form of bigotry will be tolerated in our schools.”
Mayor Eric Adams provided a more forceful condemnation of Hillcrest’s “vile show of anti-Semitism,” but he echoed Banks’s framing of bad behavior as having been “motivated by ignorance-fueled hatred, plain and simple.”
Forget about teaching that hate will not “be tolerated.” You can’t simply teach people not to feel hate. And, unlike actual malicious acts, malicious feelings can be tolerated. This wrong approach has dominated the American response to anti-Semitism—and always leads to the wrong results. Rather, from our schools to our streets to our offices, American educators, leaders, employers, and parents need to start teaching the skill of self-restraint—with the concomitant message that decency makes you more valuable both to yourself and as a citizen.
The anti-Zionist protesters who have blocked bridges in Manhattan and the airport in Los Angeles, smeared paint on government buildings, burned police hats, and bludgeoned their opposition with megaphones aren’t the miraculous or demonic manifestations of the attacks of October 7. Their actions to disrupt, menace, and injure others have come about as the result of a policy, procedural, and moral failure—a failure that has led the perpetrators of these offenses to believe themselves not only justified but elevated somehow by their decision to take action. This failure is the logical conclusion of a profound societal change over the past two generations—a decision to teach our youth that true virtue comes from claiming you are deserving of an entitlement.
The idea that you are virtuous because of what you can get for yourself (or your cause) represents a radical shift from the traditional understanding of “virtue.” It’s a word that derives from the Latin vir. The word means “adult male.” The idea here is that the virtuous person is a man—not in the sense of being fully grown and possessing the XY chromosome but in the sense of aspiring to be what man can be at his best. In today’s egalitarian universe, where women participate in all spheres with equal rights as voters, breadwinners, and leaders, these basic ideals should govern how women behave in the world, as well.
Old-fashioned virtue is about achieving the self-mastery that might also allow you to achieve great things personally—but only by taking constructive risks, protecting those weaker than you, and performing your duty to family, community, and country. This is why virtue is not achieved through the massing of wealth or power. A virtuous man is praiseworthy and deserving of emulation if he merely manages to put food on the table for others and pay for a roof over the heads of his family—precisely because he might instead be spending his time and effort solely on himself and the pursuit of his own pleasures and wants. Thus virtue cannot be achieved without self-restraint, which is the brake a virtuous person places on the acting out of his own desires.
Virtue as entitlement is something else. The notion that you are virtuous because you make demands and assert the necessity of those demands is antithetical to self-restraint. In practice, you cannot force others to give you special treatment and then expect to share a mutually beneficial or satisfying relationship.
And so, we’ve seen traditional manly and adult behaviors, all of which require self-restraint, rejected by campus crusaders of critical race theory, by Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) professionals with their morality-shrouded calls for anti-racism, by defund-the-police enthusiasts, and, coming full circle, by the most cartoonish worshippers of Donald Trump’s crudeness.
A generation has been told that demanding special benefits is what will get them valued as adults. Yet what they are left with—an infantile reflex of plaintive aggression—rings hollow not just to society but to their own inner voice, a consciousness aware of the fact that gluing yourself to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route to “free Palestine” won’t really make you a man.
This entitlement mentality is, in fact, a central feature of the ultimate form of unrestrained behavior: crime. It is a key element in antisocial personality disorder, a diagnosis that fits or describes maybe 3 percent of the overall population but between 40 and 70 percent of men in prison. You would not think “entitled” would be a word to describe the American prison population, because it has become confused with things like financial means or skin color rather than a way of placing yourself in the world. Entitled individuals hold unreasonable expectations that they should receive especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their desires. They believe they have an actual right to do whatever they want, take what they want, and hurt whom they want. Therefore, entitled egos feel they are suffering individual injustices when told to curb their behavior.
Unfortunately, as Matt DeLisi, John Paul Wright, and Rafael Mangual have documented in a May 2022 issue brief for the Manhattan Institute, when we indulge feelings of entitlement, they become further entrenched: “A number of psychological and criminological studies substantiate entitlement as critical to an accurate understanding of antisocial conduct and aggression.” That is why a key obligation of parenthood is teaching toddlers to be less self-absorbed; continued behavior of that kind brings about consequences. But as a society, we are now actively encouraging this tantrum-y mode of being.
This fostered sense of entitlement has fueled the withering away of behavioral norms that we used to expect—and demand—in our neighborhoods. We see it in a breathtaking rise in violence, and perhaps even more so in growing “minor offenses,” where lax self-restraint makes the difference in whether or not a person feels justified evading fares or shoplifting.
Outside of criminality, indulging entitlement is fueling an epidemic of elite college students silencing speech they don’t like. In the absence of self-restraint, critical reasoning and a free debate of ideas also go out the window because these forms of engagement require internal and external discipline. Critical thinking demands that a person test his own ideas, information, and ethics against a full range of opposing ones. To debate, a person must control his responses, marshal his reasoning, wait while others speak, and accept the possibility of losing an argument.
But for many students, virtue has shifted drastically to being something one ought to demand. So keeping silent while opposing views are being expressed therefore becomes an unwarranted accession to another’s demand and must not be allowed—rather than simply being a polite way of waiting your turn to speak. Because you are to be given things, you do not attempt to get them through labor or patience. Bad things follow from this. Achievement now smacks of evil privilege, since virtue comes from being given rather than working to get. As a result, a rising generation takes dramatically fewer constructive risks.
This morphed concept of virtue has been particularly devastating for groups for whom self-restraint as part of manhood is not always an internally well-enforced cultural norm.
Tragically, the philosophy called “anti-racism” has mapped out an entitled vision of black adulthood that is more pugilistic than deliberative, more solipsistic than nurturing. This conceptual wrecking ball asserts that racism and bias exist within all white people and in the veins of all American systems—and that virtue arises from actively rooting it out. Thus playing the role of protector of your own—your family, your loved ones generally, your block, your neighborhood, even your country—is itself a surrender to the racist status quo. You should not have to do it. And so if you do it, you are giving in to injustice.
Indeed, anti-racism’s progenitor, Ibram X. Kendi, makes this rejection of traditional manliness explicit: “Masculinity can be toxic,” he explained last month, “not just to the world, but even to men.” Instead, his worldview dictates to kids that adulthood is proven through ego-fueled assertions of entitlement, not through the less sexy ability to let the slings and arrows of humanity’s biases roll off your back.
And just as entitlement is pervasive among toddlers, the anti-racist wave has been unavoidably infantilizing. The Big Brother–is-watching mode in which this movement tries to squeeze any negative feelings about blacks out of people has an intrinsically emasculating aspect. What kind of a man requires constant vigilant anti-racism—even “antiracist babies,” as Kendi’s children’s book demands—in order to succeed?
And critically, even as guilt-sodden soccer moms and indoctrinated kindergarteners are now proactively shielding others from potential racism (the Antiracist Baby board book was a number-one New York Times bestseller because it seeks to engender this attitude), in some significant areas, black men have been losing ground. This is most pointedly evident in the criminal-justice arena, where a decade of Black Lives Matter (BLM) advocacy against policing and incarceration has not budged the racial disparities when it comes to arrests and incarceration. (What would actually reduce these disparities? Self-restraint on the part of would-be criminals.)
But because self-restraint contradicts entitlement, BLM has actively jettisoned its centrality in the role of men. Rather than arguing that men need to support their families, the organization argues that “patriarchal” arrangements are to be “dismantled.” Before being shamed into removing it from the central tenets enumerated on their website, BLM asserted: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” Fatherly support is not even on the list.
Not only doesn’t BLM celebrate duty-bound fatherhood, it pillories the very men—police officers—with the sanctioned duty to protect. The group describes itself as a “collective of liberators” and “an embrace…of the resistance…of black people.” BLM’s sense of heroic virtue is so tied up in entitled aggression that its affiliates unabashedly applauded Hamas’s unthinkably base and bloodthirsty violence. Immediately after the October 7 massacre, BLM Los Angeles’s statement insisted: “In the face of decades of apartheid and unimaginable violence, we should not condemn their resistance but view it as a desperate act of self-defense.” BLM Chicago tweeted a valorizing image of a Hamas terrorist dropping down from a paraglider to rape Israeli teenagers and torture Israeli babies.
As norms of self-restraint shrivel, the groups most affected by the loss have chosen in recent months to vilify Jews in particular. Places such as New York City have registered more than four times the hate crimes against Jews as against blacks. But this crisis has not inspired among elites any analogous shielding of Jews. Can you imagine upscale bookstores displaying kids’ board books called Anti-Antisemitic Baby? Among an important minority of black Americans, the rejection of Jews has swelled in direct proportion to this growing gap between the two communities’ expectations of self-restraint as a part of manhood and adulthood.
A concerned black Hollywood executive recently observed to me that among young black men, liking Jews is considered not manly. “Maybe it feels acceptable for me to admire Jews because I’m gay,” he mused. “The pressures for masculinity are different.” This Jew-scorn tracks to an undercurrent among black men in which the rejection of restraint is seen as thrillingly macho. Resurgent arch-anti-Semite Kanye West revealed this insecurity about how exerting self-control can be emasculating when he suggested that blacks endured centuries of slavery because they didn’t stand up for themselves: “For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.”
As the Hollywood exec pointed out, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., with his tidy Sunday suits and colorblind ideals, has receded as a black male role model compared with the pugnacious Malcolm X. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline,” King annunciated. “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.” King dreamed of a day when men of every color and faith would sing together: “Thank God almighty, we are free at last.” Malcolm X’s black nationalism insisted, to the contrary: “You can’t sing up on freedom. But you can swing up on some freedom.”
With this pugilistic conception of virtue, no wonder peaceful and song-filled pro-Israel rallies, like the one the Hillcrest teacher was hounded for attending, fuel contempt for Jews.
In May, at a New York summit to combat hate, the Reverend Mark Blue, president of NAACP Buffalo, referenced the horrific 2022 targeted killing of 10 blacks by a white teenager. Blue announced proudly that despite anger over the attack, “one thing that you did not read in the news. You did not read one looting, or riot. You did not read about a car being flipped over. You did not read about anybody getting beat up.”
The comment, while praiseworthy in its rejection of violence, highlighted a jarringly un-self-aware difference when it comes to expectations. Certainly, when a white supremacist murdered eleven Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, no one expected to read in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Jewish mobs looting stores and flipping over cars.
Anti-racism’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts throughout the academic and professional worlds have just as keenly highlighted growing differences in expectations for blacks and Jews. At a recent New York City Bar Association DEI event, I was informed that waking up each day as a black person in America is so demoralizing that black firm lawyers need special time during their workday to blow off steam. One featured speaker, Leah Goodridge, built her career on her UCLA Law Review essay “Professionalism as a Racist Construct,” for which she was profiled in Forbes. She sees a manifestation of racism in the traditional, restrained norms of office life. “Endemic to the American workplace,” she claims, “is this very archaic idea about civility and workplace civility.”
It is hard not to be struck by the gaping divide between maturity expectations for Jewish lawyers combatting bigotry in the 1950s and the current demands of DEI advocates. Nobody demanded that when law firms finally opened up positions to Jews, it would also have to set aside special work time for them to gripe about Gentiles.
Campus DEI defines student virtue now as tearing down “the man” and insisting that students are owed. Uncomfortable with decency, personal achievement, and the taking of constructive risks, students prove themselves instead by canceling actual men. Simply clobbering accomplished speakers, from Charles Murray to Judge Kyle Duncan, both thinkers who challenge conventional ideas, obviates the self-mastery demanded for civil debate. Stanford Associate Dean of DEI Tirien Steinbach facilitated a student mob working to silence Duncan by chastising the judge as follows: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” By which Steinbach meant: We do not want the juice, and so we are entitled to assure it is not squeezed.
These student resisters, too, are left groping for something aggressive that feels brutishly validating. And so Columbia University’s Palestine Solidarity groups conjured Hamas baby murderers as noble natives: “Occupied peoples have the right to resist the occupation of their land.” Northwestern University’s Middle Eastern and North African Student Association “grieves” for terrorists who are its “lost” “martyrs.” And a new poll in December found that a majority of Americans ages 18 to 24 believe Israel “should be ended and given to Hamas.”
The widening chasm between self-restraint expectations was also very much in evidence in the December 5 congressional hearing on campus anti-Semitism. The presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT agreed: Jews are expected to brush off open calls for their total annihilation. But just go ahead and “deadname” someone, and you will be thrown off campus.
Beyond progressive campuses, entitlement framing also fuels unrestrained behavior and anti-Semitism on the right. Robert Bowers, the white nationalist who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue, believed Jews were trying to undermine the right of whites to control America. This idea is prevalent among far-right groups, manifesting in the chant, “Jews will not replace us” at the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. President Trump, although not anti-Semitic, has also served as a model of the idea that entitlement is a virtue. His insistence that the 2020 election was stolen from him and his earlier anti-chivalrous boasts that he can “grab ’em by the pussy” represent a kind of manliness that dismisses decency.
With a generation that sees entitlement as virtue, the act of Jews pushing back—“actually, Hamas is not entitled to rape Israelis”—makes us easy targets of snowballing entitlement rage. This manifests in a blistering desire to tear down Jewish lives and communities, painting restraint itself as an insidious trick to usurp others’ lands and rights, to run institutions, and to mask mythical bloodlust. Doubling down on non-restraint, protesters shout, “By any means necessary!”
And truly, Jews would have to be annihilated to purge the supreme value of self-restraint that is the hallmark of Jewish survival: the endurance against all odds of a culture in which, say, self-restraint about mixing meat and milk is actually prized above existential faith. Pirkei Avot, or “Ethics of Our Fathers,” part of the larger Jewish oral tradition compiled in the Talmud, famously declares: “Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination…he who masters his passions is better than one who conquers a city.” And even the ubiquitous Jewish exhortation to be a mensch is a reminder that the ultimate way to be a “man,” to be a person, is just to behave considerately.
While these ideas are obviously not achieved by any single person all the time, the expectation of self-restraint that fundamentally defines the Jews has helped keep alive and thriving traditional definitions of what it means to be an accomplished adult. This is certainly not unique to Jews, as Max Weber and his theory of the Protestant ethic would remind us. But it has helped this tiny minority become disproportionately successful; dedicated to maintaining family and community through involvement and philanthropy; and willing to take the kind of constructive risks that yield large dividends.
The Jewish state itself reaps these benefits of traditional virtue. Israelis excel in business, in particular by embracing smart risks that rank it number three worldwide for start-ups. Israelis prioritize duty: Military service is obligatory, while Israeli families average three children and have only a 7 percent birthrate outside of wedlock (“keeping it in your pants” being among the most ancient obligations of male self-restraint). Perhaps the most extreme example: The Israel Defense Forces, at a clear cost to its own aims and soldiers’ lives, circulates maps to Gazans of where they will be fighting to prioritize the escape of enemy noncombatants.
There is no time to lose. America has gone critically off course. We need to restructure our educational, criminal-justice, and mental-health systems to center on advancing the ideals of self-restraint. If we don’t, not only will anti-Semitism flourish, but American adulthood as a whole will wither. Hillcrest High students indulging in a violent tantrum don’t need lectures on rejecting hate. They need to be told what BLM’s Hamas apologists were reminded of by former NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire: “On my mama, we don’t respect none of y’all for that. Peace.”
Photo: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
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