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Klainerman: Thinking Like a Dissident
Mathematician Sergiu Klainerman is the greatest dissident at Princeton - and probably the whole Ivy League. A refugee from Communist Romania, he is horrified to see Western universities slowly transform into the sort of left-wing indoctrination centers he fled in his youth. Unlike many dissenting professors, he isn’t complaining about his own mistreatment. He’s standing up for the principles of academic freedom and intellectual meritocracy.
Sergiu has written about “systemic racism” for Newsweek, Marxism and cultural Marxism for Bari Weiss, and how to fix universities for Tablet. He famously spent months arguing over email with Princeton’s President Eisgruber. And I’ll also give him credit for writing the most thoughtful defense of Trump I’ve read.
Last week, Sergiu and I had a wide-ranging conversation about academia, Marxism, Orwell, and much more. Plausibly the best interview I’ve ever run. A few of the questions I ask:
Like you, my wife is a refugee from Communist Romania. But when asked about Communism, most Romanians I’ve met give a version of, “A noble idea in theory, but due to human hypocrisy it worked poorly in practice.” To what extent do you agree or disagree?
Jews and Asians have a history of exceptional academic performance. What can less successful groups learn from their success?
“Color-blindness” has practically been classified as “hate speech” on modern university campuses. But you seem to find great value in this norm. If Princeton let you address incoming freshman on the value of color-blindness, what would you say?
Blogger Scott Alexander has joked, “I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” …If Princeton really cared about diversity, shouldn’t it replace current demographic preferences with strong affirmative action for moderates, conservatives, libertarians, and adherents of traditional religion? Or is this a bad idea too?
Would you say that it is unfair to call wokism “cultural Marxism”? Or are the underlying similarities bigger than the differences?
Based on your interactions, where would you put Eisgruber on the fanatic-opportunist continuum? Why?
Suppose Princeton’s Board of Trustee’s came to you and said, “You’re 100% right. We’ll do whatever you say. Just give the word.” Would you ramp up your suggested reforms? If so, how?
You can hear the audio here. (Update: Broken link fixed!)
Or, since he’s an animated fellow, watch the full video: