It has become acceptable, if not entirely fashionable, for major institutions — such as universities, churches and governments — to not only tolerate but to encourage discrimination based on skin color, ethnicity, religion. It is a long way from a colorblind society where, as Martin Luther King put it, people would not be judged on color of their skin but on their character. The discrimination is justified by the belief that certain groups are or at least were historically “oppressors,” and so as a matter of “social justice,” it is proper to discriminate or worse against alleged members of the alleged oppressor group.

American slavery was unambiguously evil and largely practiced by White European men against Black Africans. Still, relatively few Whites and their descendants were slaveholders, and many ancestors of Black Americans came to the country well after the last American slave had been freed. The new oppressors argue that the sins of the fathers, and those who may have merely looked like them, justify the punishment of White people. But as absurd and unjust as that may be, the new oppressors go even further. All “people of color,” no matter of what color or how wealthy or successful, as long as they identify as a “person of color,” are fully justified in taking liberty and property from others. A sizable number of Muslims and their allies go so far as justifying the murder of Jews based on some alleged historical grievance.

At the moment, the new oppressors, whether they are college administrators or professors or government officials, feel justified in discriminating against some citizens. They take the income and wealth of some, most often in the form of taxes or inflation, and spend it on their own preferences, as the royals, lesser nobility and church leaders did in times past.

Other than in the case of absolute monarchs or dictators, the oppressors use institutions to carry out their repression and plunder. In the past, it was done by royal families, the lesser nobility and church leaders. In modern times, it has most often been governments and their allies. These days, the most important allies of government are the universities and some elements of the media — which attempt to suppress inconvenient knowledge and diversity of thought.

Universities have become a protection racket. Professors who toe the party line — by making financial contributions to only one political party and saying politically correct things, no matter how false or absurd — have total job security (called tenure) and less and less real work. Students and faculty who are brave enough to express contrary thought are punished or banished in a variety of ways. The politicians reward the universities with “research” grants and other taxpayer funds. Leaders of an elite school such as Harvard, with an over $50 billion endowment, must feel they are invulnerable, or they would have never hired an academic lightweight and alleged plagiarist as president. They may consider themselves the smartest kids on the block, but they have forgotten history. Institutions can lose their reputation and influence very quickly.

The socialist-communist leaders of the Soviet Union and their satellites, like those who run the leading universities, also thought they were invulnerable. By controlling the press and other sources of information, they sought a monopoly on what the public could know. They also controlled most of the financial resources and could buy anyone they wished. The nomenklatura and their allies, like university faculties and administrators, took a disproportionate share of the wealth. As a great surprise to almost all who were on the inside, the entire fortress collapsed in a matter of months, country by country, almost without bloodshed. New structures with new people, without the relative wealth, power and influence replaced the old very quickly. Watch for the same domino effect with U.S. universities.

The London-based legal writer and historian Helen Dale published a provocative essay last week, in Law and Liberty, titled “Dissolve the Universities?” Ms. Dale wrote: “I live in a country that once had institutions many times richer (in relative terms) than Harvard, Penn, or MIT. And in four short years — 1536 to 1540 — all of them had passed into history. … I speak, of course, of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. As with the monasteries, if Harvard annoys the people of your country enough — especially your wealthy elites — then its 50-billion-dollar endowment will not save it.”

By the standards of the time, the Monks and Nuns lived relatively well, despite vows of poverty. For the most part, they were well housed and well fed and avoided heavy physical work. Ms. Dale noted, “With only a handful of exceptions, England’s best-educated and brightest women were all nuns.” The Protestant Reformation succeeded in part because the people implicitly were realizing that the old social orders were no longer serving the needs of the evolving society. As Ms. Dale observed, “Wealthy people were already directing moneys towards Oxford and Cambridge, grammar schools for pupils of all ages, and the Inns of Court.” In the same way the new universities and schools replaced the great religious houses, the internet and other freedom-enhancing new technologies will replace the old repressive schools, despite their vast endowments.

• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.

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