Antonin Scalia’s Prophetic Speech on the Crisis of Higher Education

December 15, 2023 | Meir Soloveichik
About the author: Meir Soloveichik is the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel and the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University. His website, containing all of his media appearances, podcasts, and writing, can be found at

 The current crisis on college campuses, as Mosaic readers know, has been a long time in coming. In a 1997 speech marking Holocaust Memorial Day, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to predict it, as Rabbi Meir Soloveichik observes:

Scalia stressed that it was not enough to remember the Holocaust. Rather, he said, one must mark the sort of society in which it occurred: “The one message I want to convey today is that you will have missed the most frightening aspect of it all, if you do not appreciate that it happened in one of the most educated, most progressive, most cultured countries in the world.” The Germany of the early 20th century, he noted, “was a world leader in most fields of art, science, and intellect.” Its universities were some of the most celebrated on earth. Yet this did not prevent Nazism from suffusing society; in fact, German education and Nazism went hand in hand. . . .

American parents, Scalia reflected, place so much value today on what is taught in academic institutions, yet the opportunities afforded there, he argued, are “of only secondary importance—to our children, and to the society that their generation will create.” The Holocaust, Scalia argued, is a reminder of the importance of imparting moral wisdom above all else, and it is this, he was implicitly saying, that parents must bear in mind as they ponder the intellectual future of their progeny.

The goal of stopping something like the Holocaust from happening again, Scalia went on, “can be achieved only by acknowledging, and passing on to our children, the existence of absolute, uncompromisable standards of human conduct. Mankind has traditionally derived such standards from religion; and the West has derived them from and through the Jews.”

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