|Burn the Witch!
I hugely admire Nick Cohen, a journalist and author of fearless integrity. He is one of those people almost impossible to classify politically. On the face of it he belongs to the left, but that has not stopped him from voicing the most trenchant criticism of his fellow travellers. His book What’s Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way is a brilliant polemic, exposing the shallow opportunism, intellectual barrenness and moral vacuity of so much contemporary ‘progressive’ opinion. He might be said to occupy the same position once held by George Orwell, for whom honesty came well before party loyalty.
A recent blog of his drew my attention to a scandalous episode of heresy hunting that might even have shocked the witch hunters of
Salem. It concerns the illiberalism of liberal academics in the States. It concerns a hysterical onslaught against one Naomi Schafer Riley, an education correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Rather she was a correspondent for this publication. She was fired for daring to question an unquestionable orthodoxy.
What was her offence? She raised doubts over – horror of horrors – the academic rigour of black studies departments in US colleges. She wrote a response to a laudatory piece previously published by the Chronicle. Going to source, she examined a number of graduate dissertations, concluding that they were, to use her words, “purveyors of left-wing victimisation claptrap”. Her punches were not spared:
Topping the list in terms of sheer political partisanship and liberal hackery is La TaSha B. Levy. According to the Chronicle, “Ms. Levy is interested in examining the long tradition of black Republicanism, especially the rightward ideological shift it took in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan. Ms. Levy’s dissertation argues that conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, John McWhorter, and others have ‘played one of the most-significant roles in the assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them.’” The assault on civil rights? Because they don’t favor affirmative action they are assaulting civil rights? Because they believe there are some fundamental problems in black culture that cannot be blamed on white people they are assaulting civil rights?’
All at once the thunder rolled – racist! racist!, racist!, burn the witch. What price freedom of speech in the land of the free? Very little, it would seem, when it challenges the shibboleths of the academic left. They demanded a sacrifice. The editor of the Chronicle tried to make it an issue of free debate. But that was not enough. Shamefully 6500 people, mostly academics, signed a petition demanding that Riley be sacked. Shamefully the editor gave way to the pressure.
Cohen’s observation is telling;
Now suppose that the
US government said that universities should fire academics who excused the Iranian regime. Or right-wing Christians demanded that the Chronicle fire a writer who insulted teachers at theological colleges. Or universities had acted on Riley’s argument that black studies departments were a waste of space and closed them. Cries of ‘McCarthyism’ would rend the air. Earnest professors would remind us that academic tenure was an essential protection of free inquiry.
But when the blood hounds start baying there is little room for reason. The dog who barked loudest was one Stanley Fish, a law professor who writes for the New York Times. His argument was, as Cohen says, both sinister and clownish. He told American liberals that it was OK to abandon liberalism. They must deny conservatives free speech and enforce censorship. There is no shame here; no, for we are the righteous hypocrites; we demand free speech for ourselves while denying it to all those we disapprove of.
In defending herself Riley pointed to the black American scholars who have been saying exactly the same thing about black studies department, namely that they reinforce stereotypes and encourage victimhood. But that’s alright; they are black. For her to make the same point is akin to a white person using the n word. You see, by their double standards shall ye know them.
There are no limits to the sea of hypocrisy in which Fish swims. Oh, but let me be fair: there is no dissimulation here; for he is an honest hypocrite, defending hypocrisy as hypocrisy. In a recent Times piece he wrote that it was quite in order for liberals to condemn Rush Limburgh for making sexist remarks while excusing Bill Mahler for making equally sexist remarks. The thing is, you see, the former is one of the good guys while the latter is “on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy”.
One has to wonder about the nature of American democracy, the partial nature that would favour freedom for some and silence for others. Yes, one does indeed wonder when one reads this piece of idiocy:
I know the objections to what I have said here. It amounts to an apology for identity politics. It elevates tribal obligations over the universal obligations we owe to each other as citizens. It licenses differential and discriminatory treatment on the basis of contested points of view. It substitutes for the rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.
Such is the degeneracy of liberalism. People like Fish want to cast democracy in their own image. This is a pond where the little fishes can be untroubled by countervailing thoughts; where, if they disapprove of what you say they will fight to the death to prevent you saying it. How Voltaire would have laughed. That’s all one can do in the face of absurdity – laugh.