Totalitarianism on Campus

On the Middlebury College campus (Photo via Facebook) Two recent incidents at Harvard and Middlebury show the growing intolerance of the woke.American liberals once prided themselves on their fidelity to the First Amendment. Indeed, they had an expansive understanding of it. They defended unpopular speech and even the most provocative examples of “freedom of expression.” One could question their hesitation to set limits in these areas, but there was something admirable about their principled defense of the free exchange of ideas. Advertisement This kind of liberalism, however, is in massive retreat today and is barely present on our colleges and university campuses. Instead, the forces of ideological correctness demand intellectual and even political conformity and seek out dissenting voices to humiliate and silence. Two recent examples from Harvard University and Middlebury College illustrate the illiberalism that has become ascendant on many campuses and in many of our cultural institutions. The responses to these incidents, however, provide some grounds for hope. Last week, Harvard student Joshua M. Conde, an “editorial editor” for the Harvard Crimson, wrote an op-ed demanding that two instructors be fired for offenses against the new racial norms animating the woke left. The case of one of them, Diana J. Schaub, is best known to me. I have admired her writings and thoughtful presence in the conservative intellectual community going on 35 years now. She is also a friend. Dr. Schaub is a political theorist who has written gracefully and profoundly on the political thought of Montesquieu, the liberal French philosopher who was an inspiration for the federalism and separation of powers championed by the authors of the Federalist Papers. Her work also includes deeply thoughtful expositions of African American political thinkers. In a number of well-crafted essays and reviews, she has assessed the writings of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X with the sympathy and critical respect they deserve. Schaub sees African American thought as integral to the larger American experience. This crucial set of voices contributing to the ongoing civic reflection on what it means to be an American is far from monolithic. For example, Frederick Douglass provides a model of freedom and character “wrested and won,” in Schaub’s words, not merely received at the sufferance of a dominant white race. Douglass embodied a self-respect that was as far from grievance as it was from subservience. He famously wrote that “if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!” Advertisement He was also opposed to excessive race-consciousness, to a false “racial pride,” and, in Schaub’s words from an essay in The Public Interest, he “had faith in the capacity of blacks and whites alike to defeat prejudice, thereby becoming indifferent to the difference of race.” No one believed more than Douglass in the agency of free men and women, black and white, to make something of themselves in a free political order. This is a model that deserves a hearing today. Neither Douglass nor those who study him should be silenced for expressing such views. Alas, the censorious new Jacobins castigate Douglass’s position as racist and supportive of white supremacy. Their hubris is appalling. Advertisement Schaub’s writings on race and America convey, very much in the spirit of the figures she writes about, a message of hope, responsibility, civic and moral equality, and openness to human excellence in all its forms. In contrast, the new totalitarians offer resentment, grievance, hate, and the demonization of anyone who might have something to teach them. The difference could not be more striking. One is the path of common humanity and common citizenship, the other of perpetual enmity and denunciation. Advertisement So where does Professor Schaub’s fault lie, according to her accuser, government major Joshua Conde? Cherry-picking passages from Schaub’s acute and sensitive analyses and offering them as though they revealed a tainted mind and soul, Conde calls her words “ignorant, and deeply concerning” if not “outright bigoted.” His principal “evidence” is a snippet from a splendid article, “America at Bat” from National Affairs (Winter 2010), which in passing laments the decline of black interest and participation in baseball, our once national sport. Writing from personal as well as common experience, Schaub notes that “the experience of things baseball is a legacy from fathers to sons (and sometimes daughters).” She then offers, in an admittedly speculative aside, her “strong hunch” that “the declining interest and involvement in baseball is a consequence of the absence of fathers in the black community,” since “80% of African-American children are raised without a father in the home.” There is nothing intrinsically “ignorant” or racist about this documented fact, nor in bringing it into the discussion, which she does with manifest regret. If it is verboten to mention such disturbing realities, then our civic and intellectual life will suffer terribly. Ignoring such facts and silencing those who bring them to bear in a relevant manner upon problems of common concern is the antithesis of healthy intellectual and civic life. Fortunately, Harvard University has made no move to act upon Mr. Conde’s demand. Mr. Conde, a very young man (class of ’22), further demanded that Harvard abstain from hiring others “with similar unacceptable views.” This is not the voice of genuine liberalism or the search for truth. It is peremptory, coercive, and committed to closing off discussions before they begin. Mr. Conde tells us that he doesn’t want to feel “uncomfortable.” But the disinterested pursuit of truth, liberal inquiry, and civic debate itself will at times make us feel uncomfortable. That is all to the good. Advertisement Advertisement This incident at Harvard is not the only recent attack on these core liberal values. At Middlebury College, over 600 students signed an “Open Letter” opposing an event sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Forum in which two distinguished scholars, Leslie Harris and Lucas Morel, were to debate whether slavery was the core of the American Founding, as the advocates of the New York Times’s “1619 Project” insist. The protesting students declared that such a question “should not be up for debate,” and Professor Morel, himself a Hispanic of black Dominican descent, was denounced by some as a “white supremacist,” of all things. This despite an exemplary scholarly record of defending racial justice and the principle of human equality articulated so eloquently by Lincoln and embedded in the Declaration of Independence, that “great promissory note” of which Martin Luther King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. We are in dangerous times when the Great Emancipator is conflated by today’s “know-nothings” with the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Fortunately, the debate proceeded as scheduled on Oct. 1, with more than 250 students attending by Zoom (including 40 protesters). These appalling incidents join many others of the same ilk. Together, they are portents of an illiberal future that will inexorably come if we do nothing to stop it. The results of these two recent cases suggest, however, that the new totalitarianism will abate only when it meets principled and firm resistance. This column originally ran in RealClearPolitics. Daniel J. Mahoney — Mr. Mahoney holds the Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. He is the author, most recently, of The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity. 

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Cancel Culture Comes to Cronkite

Walter Cronkite during a forum at the Kennedy Library in Boston, Mass., in 2005. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)The journalism school at Arizona State University caves to student activists. Walter Cronkite said on receiving a global-governance award in 1999: “I am in a position to speak my mind. And that is what I propose to do.” Today, those who attend the journalism school named after the famed broadcaster are not so lucky. The spread of “cancel culture” in newsrooms — declaring people henceforth “canceled” from society owing to ideological disagreements — is nothing new. Look no further than the hysterical reaction to Senator Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed urging government to use its authorities under the Insurrection Act to “restore order to our streets” amid riots and looting. Newsroom activists flooded Twitter, objecting to its publication. The opinion editor was forced out. And the Times attached a note at the top of the op-ed (nearly 40 percent as long as the piece itself) apologizing for daring to publish the opinion of a sitting U.S. senator. Advertisement It was entertaining that Cotton’s tame commentary provoked such a disproportionate meltdown from those who consider themselves serious journalists. But that this scourge is seeping into local campus newsrooms is deeply worrisome — and seep it has. The first sign of cancel culture bubbling up at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication involved Sonya Duhé, whom the university named dean this spring. Her tenure was cut short almost instantly after she published a tweet praying for “the good police officers who keep us safe.” Advertisement The protest-allied campus revolted against the incoming dean’s “racist” tweet and provoked a former student to accuse Duhé of committing “four years of microaggressions” against her. Other students would come forward to allege that she had made similar “microaggressive comments” to them. Advertisement It wasn’t one week before the Cronkite School revoked its offer and pledged to be more “inclusive” moving forward. Things have only gotten worse — and, now that administrators have gotten used to the sweet taste of cancel culture, it appears that student journalists themselves are on the dinner plate. When Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, published a poll following a May looting spree in Scottsdale, progressive students complained that the poll’s language was too friendly toward police officers — so Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It deleted the poll and apologized for causing “divisiveness”: “It was not our intention to downplay the actions of law enforcement.” When a second young journalist published a Q&A with a former police officer in June, students complained that this exchange also was too friendly. Once again, Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It wiped the Q&A offline and replaced it with an apologetic note pledging to “better serve and represent our communities, especially the black community and other communities of color.” Advertisement Advertisement The list goes on. The most recent “cancel” target is Rae’Lee Klein, a young journalist at the Cronkite School’s Blaze Radio. After the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Klein, on her personal Twitter account, linked to a New York Post investigation and wrote: “Please read this article to get the background of Jacob Blake’s warrant. You’ll be quite disgusted.” Progressive students were apoplectic. The board voted to remove her as station manager, threatened to resign if she did not, and released a statement from “Blaze Radio alumni” condemning her for trying to “dehumanize and insinuate blame on the victims of police violence.” Luckily, Klein has refused to resign or succumb to this cancel culture flare-up, explaining on-air her decision to push back against “a situation where our opinions and our beliefs are held against us or [are] characteristic of our ability to lead.” Advertisement While she plants her feet, other young journalists at ASU understandably are reaching for the escape hatch. In August, two such undergraduates founded The Western Tribune, an “independent student journalism” website, as a home to “the oft unheard voices of our generation.” They won’t be the last. These campus newsrooms are a means for tomorrow’s leaders to write down, or say out loud, the opinions they’ve been keeping in their minds and to see if those ideas stand up to the scrutiny of the real world. These young ideas rarely do — and the invaluable lesson that students glean from that realization will be lost forever if administrators cut them off at the knees by continuing to appease oversensitive cry-bullies whose antics threaten these vital sandboxes. If things continue as they do, soon there will be no conservatives left to cancel, and progressive journalists will only be left to cancel themselves like a scorpion stinging itself to death. And that’s the way it will be. Brian Anderson is founder of the Saguaro Group, an Arizona-based political research firm.

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