Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Closing of the Liberal Mind

When I was working my way through my undergraduate years universities were considered the one place you could go in our society where you could be sure debate was free and open and all ideas were appropriate topics for consideration. That, however, was then and this is now and now universities are rapidly earning a reputation as the most closed-minded citadels of bigotry in our culture.

Harvard professor Ruth Wisse elaborates in a column in the Wall Street Journal:
There was a time when people looking for intellectual debate turned away from politics to the university. Political backrooms bred slogans and bagmen; universities fostered educated discussion. But when students in the 1960s began occupying university property like the thugs of regimes America was fighting abroad, the venues gradually reversed. Open debate is now protected only in the polity: In universities, muggers prevail.

Assaults on intellectual and political freedom have been making headlines. Pressure from faculty egged on by Muslim groups induced Brandeis University last month not to grant Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the proponent of women's rights under Islam, an intended honorary degree at its convocation. This was a replay of 1994, when Brandeis faculty demanded that trustees rescind their decision to award an honorary degree to Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In each case, a faculty cabal joined by (let us charitably say) ignorant students promoted the value of repression over the values of America's liberal democracy.

Opponents of free speech have lately chalked up many such victories: New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly prevented from speaking at Brown University in November; a lecture by Charles Murray canceled by Azusa Pacific University in April; Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and national-security adviser under the George W. Bush administration, harassed earlier this month into declining the invitation by Rutgers University to address this year's convocation.

Most painful to me was the Harvard scene several years ago when the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, celebrating its 50th anniversary, accepted a donation in honor of its former head tutor Martin Peretz, whose contributions to the university include the chair in Yiddish I have been privileged to hold. His enemies on campus generated a "party against Marty" that forced him to walk a gauntlet of jeering students for having allegedly offended Islam, while putting others on notice that they had best not be perceived guilty of association with him.

Universities have not only failed to stand up to those who limit debate, they have played a part in encouraging them. The modish commitment to so-called diversity replaces the ideal of guaranteed equal treatment of individuals with guaranteed group preferences in hiring and curricular offerings.
There's much more at the link. The left uses the American commitment to free speech and the first amendment like the Greeks used the wooden horse at Troy. Free speech is nothing more than a tool to be used as long as it's useful, but as soon as the left has acquired sufficient power they discard the tool and deny it to everyone else. It's a classically fascist tactic and it's rampant on the left.

It'll strike some as strange, perhaps, that one place you can go today and advance almost any idea, as long as it's done respectfully and tastefully, is almost any Christian church. Generally speaking churches are among the most open venues for the free exchange of ideas in our culture, and the reason is not hard to discern. When one believes that those with whom one disagrees are nevertheless people loved and created by God in his image, one is duty-bound to treat them and their ideas with respect.

Moreover, when one has been inculcated with the ideals of humility and kindness, when one believes that God expects this of them in their dealings with others, one is less likely to be arrogant and insulting.

As the modern university drifts further and further from these ideals we might expect that it will become more and more intolerant while, ironically enough, defending its intolerance in the name of tolerance.