Rod Dreher reports on a fascinating (and depressing) exchange posted on the wall of Princeton professor Robert P. George, between Professor George and a closeted conservative colleague.
The recounted exchange is worth posting in full:
Closeted conservative colleague: “I don’t feel I can say what I think, at least not at this stage. I have a family to care for and other responsibilities, you know.”
Me: “Sure. I’m not criticizing you.”
CCC: “I’ve seen people’s careers ruined for saying what they think.”
Me: “I have, too. I’m really not criticizing you. I assume you’re following your conscience.”
CCC: “You say what you think and you’ve survived. But your the exception.”
Me: “I’ve been very fortunate. That’s true. But there are plenty of others. I’m not unique. There’s Harvey Mansfield, Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Jim Ceaser, and others. Even some people they’ve tried hard to destroy have survived. Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas, Austin,” for example. They threw everything they could find at him, every calumny imaginable. They tried to get him formally investigated and fired. But he has beaten them. I predict he’ll be promoted to full professor this year.”
CCC: “Yes, but there have been lots of victims, too.”
Me: “Yes. Alas. Lots of victims.”
CCC: “You think I should say what I think.”
Me: “I think you should follow your conscience.”
CCC: “That’s just your way of saying I should say what I think.”
Me:; “Look, as I said, I’m not criticizing you. Only you can discern the demands of your own conscience. I didn’t even bring this whole subject up, you did.”
CCC: “I know what you tell your graduate students to do. You tell them not to hide their politically incorrect views.”
Me: “Well, yes, I hardly hide my advice to them. They initially find it counterintuitive. Their natural instinct is to hide their dissenting beliefs or downplay them. I think that’s risky from a character point of view and also not the best strategy for success.”
CCC: “You ARE judging those of us who keep our opinions to ourselves, then.”
Me: “For heaven’s sake, I’m just saying that there is a certain moral hazard in not speaking your mind. As scholars, we’ve got a special obligation to truth and a vocation to truth-telling. Of course, everybody has a basic obligation to honor the truth, as best they grasp it, but our obligation is even more central to who we are. So, speaking for myself, I don’t see what the point of being a scholar is if we’re not willing to speak the truth as best we understand it. I mean, there are lots of other fields we could go into. We could be lawyers, or doctors, operate hedge funds. There’s the insurance business. Wendy’s franchises. Anyway, again speaking for myself, if I felt I couldn’t speak the truth out loud, I would abandon academic life and go do something else.”
CCC: “You’re not afraid to say what you think because you’ve been able to get away with it without your academic career being ruined.”
Me: “That’s exactly backwards. I’ve been able to get away with it because I’m not afraid to say what I think. Fear empowers the bullies. They’re far less bold and aggressive when they know you’re not afraid of them.”
CCC: “Well, I am afraid of them.”
What emotion do you suppose is primarily motivating CCC? I think that the answer is quite clear: terror. Sheer, unbridled terror at the thought of being purged not only from one’s current job but from one’s profession field altogether if one so much as questions the progressive, social justice/identity politics dogma which has descended on academia like a suffocating blanket.
Where else in history have we seen such terror, such fear of having one’s heretical personal beliefs exposed and punished by the state or the mob? It’s hard not to give way to hyperbole, but this is literally the stuff of Orwell’s 1984, or (back in the real world) Soviet Russia during the purges.
And for what? To bring about forced adherence to the new orthodoxy on gender identity, racial politics, climate change, immigration and any other left wing cause du jour. Left-wing academics and students have abandoned any glancing interest in persuasion as a tool, and have jumped straight to brutal enforcement. Some academic fields will take longer than others to fall under the jackboots of this new authoritarianism – the STEM subjects are still relatively free, the humanities dangle over the precipice while the social sciences have long since fallen – but all are heading in the same direction.
And this is why Robert P. George’s own stance matters, and is correct. Just as there can be no equitable accommodation with people who want to establish a fundamentalist Islamist caliphate across the West, neither can conservative academics and other defenders of free speech split the difference with the authoritarian, petty tyrants who are busy consolidating their control over the university campus. One either has academic freedom and the right to free speech, or one does not. There is either censorship and an ideological test for working in certain professions, or there is not.
The time for keeping one’s head down and trying to avoid trouble is over. Those of us who believe in free speech and unrestricted academic enquiry have an obligation to speak out in defence of those being persecuted or intimidated for their beliefs, today and in the future, whether we agree with the particular speech in question or not.
They can’t arrest us all and they can’t fire everyone simultaneously. Conservatism needs to make a stand, to boldly assert that it will not be intimidated and purged from academia without a fight, or without exposing the progressive, social justice cultists as the modern day tyrants that they are.
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