Universities as a Bulwark Against (and Target of) Fascism


“Fascist politics seeks to undermine the credibility of institutions that harbor independent voices of dissent,” says Jason Stanley (Yale), and chief among such institutions are universities, which for the past 50 years have been “the epicenter of protest against injustice and authoritarian overreach.”

In an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education that is adapted from his new book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, Professor Stanley looks at a few different kinds of fascist attack on universities. One is attempting to portray universities as hostile to free speech.

Right now, a contemporary right-wing campaign is charging universities with hypocrisy on the issue of free speech. Universities, it says, claim to hold free speech in the highest regard but suppress any voices that don’t lean left. Critics of campus social-justice movements have found an effective method of turning themselves into the victims of protest. They contend that protesters mean to deny them their own free speech…

Some will argue that a university must have representatives of all positions. Such an argument suggests that being justified in our own positions requires regularly grappling with opposing ones (and that there was no room for those views in the first place). Anyone who has taught philosophy knows that it is often useful to confront cogent defenses of opposing positions, and universities unquestionably benefit from intelligent and sophisticated proponents of positions along the political spectrum. Nevertheless, the general principle, upon reflection, is not particularly plausible.

No one thinks that the demands of free inquiry require adding researchers to university faculties who seek to demonstrate that the earth is flat. Similarly, I can safely and justifiably reject ISIS ideology without having to confront its advocates in the classroom or faculty lounge. I do not need to have a colleague who defends the view that Jewish people are genetically predisposed to greed in order to justifiably reject such anti-Semitic nonsense. Nor is it even remotely plausible that bringing such voices to campus would aid arguments against such toxic ideologies. More likely, it would undermine intelligent debate by leading to breakdowns of communication and shouting matches.

Universities should supply the intellectual tools to allow an understanding of all perspectives. But the best way to achieve that is to hire the most academically qualified professors. No method of adjudicating academic quality will be free from controversy. But trying to evade that difficulty by forcing universities to hire representatives of every ideological position is a particularly implausible fix, one that can perhaps be justified only by a widespread conspiracy theory about academic standards being hijacked by, say, a supposed epidemic of “political correctness.”

Professor Stanley discusses politicians’ attacks on gender studies and attempts to fight efforts at diversifying university curricula. He also draws striking parallels between expressed desires of some U.S. politicians and the widely condemned authoritarian attacks on academia that took place in Turkey and Hungary.

These ideas are also developed in a related piece by Professor Stanley at Boston Reviewwhich focuses on how the benefits of a Millian “marketplace in ideas” can be undermined through conspiracy mongering and other forms of sowing distrust among citizens and distrust of academia and the press:

Allowing every opinion into the public sphere and giving it serious time for consideration, far from resulting in a process that is conducive to knowledge formation via deliberation, destroys its very possibility. Responsible media in a liberal democracy must, in the face of this threat, try to report the truth, and resist the temptation to report on every possible theory, no matter how fantastical, just because someone, somewhere, advances it. 

Models of free speech that allow “conspiracy theories to have a platform on par with reasonable, fact-based positions” are dangerous:

When conspiracy theories become the coin of politics citizens no longer have a common reality that can serve as background for democratic deliberation. In such a situation, citizens have no choice but to look for markers to follow other than truth or reliability; as we see across the world, they look to politics for tribal identifications, for addressing personal grievances, and for entertainment. When news becomes sports, the strongman achieves a certain measure of popularity. Fascist politics transforms the news from a conduit of information and reasoned debate into a spectacle with the strongman as the star. 

Fascist politics seeks to undermine trust in the press and universities. But the information sphere of a healthy democratic society does not include just democratic institutions. Spreading general suspicion and doubt undermines the bonds of mutual respect between fellow citizens, leaving them with deep wells of mistrust not just toward institutions but also toward one another. Fascist politics seeks to destroy the relations of mutual respect between citizens that are the foundation of a healthy liberal democracy, replacing them ultimately with trust in one figure alone, the leader. When fascist politics is at its most successful, the leader is regarded by the followers as singularly trustworthy.

You read more of these pieces in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Boston Review.

Arnold Böcklin, “Isle of the Dead” (fifth version)

guest
97 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
ajkreider
ajkreider
2 years ago

I’m generally sympathetic to Stanley’s views about the university here – clearly it’s not possible for all views to get full hearing, even if that were desirable. But I’ve also little confidence that the term “fascist” will be applied appropriately. I rather suspect it will be, as it has been, used to exclude simply unpleasant views. Examples like ISIS ideology or supposed Jewish genetic predisposition to greed are too easy. If only the “shouting matches” took place only over these. For, “fascist” is also used to describe, say, the idea that Israel should be, de jure, a Jewish state. Liberal (in the classic sense) economic policies too, as with rules of engagement for police, restrictive abortion policies, and restricting trans women’s access to some female-bodied spaces, etc.

There there, I think, very reasonable disagreements about such things (and many, many others). Labeling them (not that Stanley himself is doing that) “fascist”, is simply trying to poison the well. If we err, it should be on the side of too much discussion of what many believe to be unreasonable views. Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  ajkreider
2 years ago

Exactly.

Everyone will agree that fascism shouldn’t be tolerated. Everyone will not agree what should be classified as fascism.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  ajkreider
2 years ago

Indeed. It’s also important to note that the right-wing forces that pose the biggest threat to the university at present are not fascist. There is a danger that if we focus on “fascists”, we’ll miss the broader threat. I can’ think of little positive to say about the president but he’s not a fascist.Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
2 years ago

I find Prof. Stanley’s analysis of the present university to be lacking and/or misleading in many respects, but I was struck by the glaring irony of using “conspiracy theories” as an example of what universities should feel free to bar from discussion. It is not that I disagree, exactly. Rather, it is that Prof. Stanley, himself, in testifying to a “right-wing campaign” to discredit universities on the issue of free speech, is promoting a conspiracy theory.

By “campaign,” perhaps he means “reporting.” Or perhaps he’s not aware of the events that transpired at Evergreen, with Bret Weinstein, or at Wilfred Laurier, with Lindsay Shepherd, or Jordan Peterson, or Ben Shapiro at Berkeley, or Charles Murray at Middlebury or the treatment of Trump supporters by liberals on campuses during the 2016 election, or many many other instances of increased attempts by universities to shut down speech that contravenes leftist ideology (and which too often leads to violence, perpetrating by the left).

I, personally, went to grad school at a “high-powered” Continental philosophy dept, and you wouldn’t believe the levels of censorship and the overall chilling effect on speech about matters having to do with race, gender, Islam, immigration and the other sacred victim groups of the current left (many faculty and grad students from that dept signed that deplorable and fascistic letter to Hypatia demanding the censorship of Tuvel’s article). I’ve been to mandatory microaggression workshops.

So…I don’t see a “campaign” or a “conspiracy theory” but, rather, reality. And anyone can see this reality for themselves, without having to rely on their media echo-chamber (it’s called YouTube). Prof. Stanley, it seems that you, in fact, are the one peddling in conspiracy theories–about the evil right-wing fascists out to trample on the universities and the press.

Please go watch the videos of Evergreen’s uprising in Spring 2017, and tell me where the fascism is–with the bat-wielding social justice warrior students who were hunting there political opponents on campus (yes, that really happened) or with Fox News’ reporting on those events?Report

IGS
IGS
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

”Ben Shapiro at Berkeley” is not a good example for your position. Berkeley spent $600,000 setting up barricades and security to make a single event happen. That was part of the $4 million that Berkeley spent on such events in 2017. Here is an article from Fox News with Ben Shapiro thanking Berkeley for “restoring order,” as he put it.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/09/15/9-arrested-in-berkeley-protests-relating-to-speech-by-conservative-ben-shapiro.htmlReport

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

Very well stated. One side’s “conspiracy theory” is the other side’s “rational description.” I also have to add that given my own state universities have consistently cancelled or refused a forum to conservatives and, especially, self-described “white nationalists” – usually on the grounds that such speakers would be likely to incite violence from the audience. This, I think, is a cop-out. Are far left speakers likely to incite violence? I have never seen, again, in my state universities, any leftist speaker being cancelled or denied a forum for that reason.

And, to be clear, I consider myself a leftist liberal.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  DocFEmeritus
2 years ago

If the leftists haven’t been denied a forum, then surely you can answer the question of whether they incite violence. (A fan of Milo Ynpls shot someone outside Ynpls’s speech at the University of Washington, so we do at least have that case of violence at a far-right speech on campus.)

Similarly, if one side’s “conspiracy theory” is another side’s “rational description,” that doesn’t mean each side is equally right. Report

Michel
Michel
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

You don’t think it’s part of a campaign when Peterson advocates for the wholesale elimination of departments which he dislikes and inanely characterizes as “culturally marxist” (viz. anthropology, sociology, and all of the “area studies,” among others)? When he personally advised the new government of Ontario to take similar steps, and they have? When he took his own steps to draw up a list of courses containing what he branded “neo-Marxist content,” with the intent of decreasing their enrollment and funding? When he continues to gleefully and vocally misrepresent the content of Canadian law, despite having been amply instructed otherwise?

I dunno. That’s a pattern of behaviour on the part of a single individual (and his acolytes) that I think qualifies as a right-wing campaign to discredit universities (especially on the issue of free speech) and control speech on campuses. Especially once you start looking at the content of the claims.Report

Elfin Grey
Elfin Grey
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

A recent report by the Niskanen Center* shows that considerably more professors lose their jobs for espousing liberal views than for espousing conservative views. If you have trouble believing this is true, congratulations! The right-wing propaganda campaign you’re sure doesn’t exist has worked on you.

*https://niskanencenter.org/blog/there-is-no-campus-free-speech-crisis-a-close-look-at-the-evidence/Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Elfin Grey
2 years ago

Setting aside the paucity of data, what data you did link to doesn’t even show what you seem to think it does.

Let’s assume that the professoriate as a whole is 4.5:1 left:right, the ratio it is thought to be in econ depts, one of the most right-friendly areas of the academy (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/02/27/research-confirms-professors-lean-left-questions-assumptions-about-what-means). According to your own link, the disparity in # of fired profs is virtually nonexistent in 2016 and about 4:1 in 2017. Let’s be favorable to you and take the 4:1 number. So for every four left-leaning profs fired for their political expression, there’s one right-leaning one who is. But for every 4.5 left-leaning profs in the academy, there’s one right-leaning prof. That actually means right-leaning profs are disproportionately fired due to their political beliefs relative to left-leaning profs.

Notice that we get this result even if we make the *batty* assumption that the academy as a whole has the same left:right ratio as economics. It is surely higher, and by a lot.Report

Elfin Grey
Elfin Grey
Reply to  sahpa
2 years ago

“what data you did link to doesn’t even show what you seem to think it does.”

Sure it does. I claimed that considerably more professors lose their jobs for espousing liberal views than for espousing conservative views. This is true: the Niskanen Center data shows that 19 professors lost their jobs for left-wing speech in 2017, versus 6 for right-wing speech. And — I hope you will agree –19 is considerably more than 6.

I take it the point you were trying to make here is this: “The only figures we should care about are the probability that any given left-wing professor will lose her job as a result of her political views, compared to the probability that any given right-wing professor will lose her job for her political views. And, because there are many more leftists than rightists in academia to begin with, despite the fact that more total professors lose their jobs for liberal speech, right-wing professors are still *more likely* to lose their jobs as a result of their political views.”

But the first of these claims, that these are the only figures we should care about, is false. If we wish to answer the question, “Who is more hostile to academic freedom and/or has more power to enforce their will in academia, the left or the right?”, it is the gross number of professors on each side who lose their jobs that we should be looking at. Since 19 professors were fired for left-wing speech last year, and 6 for right-wing speech, it looks like the right is more hostile to academic freedom and/or has more power to enforce their will in academia.

***

“Notice that we get this result even if we make the *batty* assumption that the academy as a whole has the same left:right ratio as economics. It is surely higher, and by a lot.”

The study you’re citing was a study of economics departments at *40 top universities*. I don’t know why you would assume that economics professors *at top universities* are more conservative than academics in general. I agree that economics professors are probably more conservative than non-economics professors, but I would also expect the faculty of top universities to be more liberal than, say, professors at small state schools and community colleges. If we look through all of the studies summarized in your IHE article, rather than cherry-picking and distorting one, it looks like the most we can say is that the academia-wide liberal:conservative ratio is somewhere between 3:1 and 6:1.Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Elfin Grey
2 years ago

I never said the *only* figures we should care about are those. Take issue with that claim if you want, but I didn’t say that outright and hereby cancel any implicature I may have made.

‘If we wish to answer the question, “Who is more hostile to academic freedom and/or has more power to enforce their will in academia, the left or the right?”, it is the gross number of professors on each side who lose their jobs that we should be looking at.’

I simply have no idea why we should accept this. I don’t see why gross numbers of terminations, denuded of context (which is what you’re doing when you insist we not talk about overall proportions in academia by ideological orientation), are supposed to even be a measure of those things.

Take hostility first. Suppose there’s only 100 men and 10 women who are academic philosophers, and that the careers of all 10 women but only 20 men will ultimately end with termination (rather than retirement or quitting or death or whatever). Gross numbers do not measure “hostility” at all: the profession as a whole is clearly more hostile to the women *because every single woman gets fired*, but only one in five of the men does.

Now take power. Gross numbers of terminations do not, on their own, measure the power of left vs. right in academia. This is because there are a lot of other ways to exercise power–such as to deny the other side jobs in the first place. If you’re *really* good at that, you don’t have to fire anyone at all! In fact *near-zero* firings of rightists for their political beliefs is compatible with leftists having nearly complete power if there are also vanishingly few rightist professors at all. Gross numbers just obscure these possibilities. It’s a hard question whether the disproportionate number of leftist profs (vis-a-vis rightist ones) is partly, wholly, or not at all the result of this kind of exercise of power rather than something less troubling; that’s not my point. My point is that gross numbers of termination do not straightforwardly measure institutional power on the part of one ideological group or the other.

So, like I said, the numbers you’re pointing to don’t show what you seem to think they do.Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  sahpa
2 years ago

And I’m not going to quibble with you over what the right ratio is. The ratio of left:right firings is 19:6 ~= 3.2:1. For that to be disproportionate against leftists, the ratio of left:right professors overall has to be less than ~3.2:1. Even the range you gave me–3:1 to 6:1–doesn’t look promising for that.Report

Elfin Grey
Elfin Grey
Reply to  sahpa
2 years ago

“Take hostility first. Suppose there’s only 100 men and 10 women who are academic philosophers, and that the careers of all 10 women but only 20 men will ultimately end with termination (rather than retirement or quitting or death or whatever). Gross numbers do not measure “hostility” at all: the profession as a whole is clearly more hostile to the women *because every single woman gets fired*, but only one in five of the men does.”

It may be true that, in some outlandish hypotheticals, it makes more sense to look at the chance that members of different groups will lose their jobs rather than the gross numbers. But this really is an outlandish situation — you have 100% of women and 20% of men getting forced out of academia, while we are actually talking about ~0% of conservative professors and ~0% of liberal professors losing their jobs.

Here’s what’s really going on: illiberal elements on the left, in the media, in university administrations, and so on, try to get as many professors who express extreme right-wing views fired as they can, while illiberal elements on the right do the same for professors who express extreme left-wing views. The Niskanen Center report shows that the right have been far more successful in this endeavor. There are a number of reasons why this might be so; I suggest:

1. Alumni donors, who hold the real power in academia, tend to be wealthy, older white men, and hence fairly conservative.
2. The right-wing media is a well-oiled smear machine, unrivaled in its ability to whip up hate mobs to attack liberal targets.
3. Rightists are generally more hostile to academic freedom than leftists.

As it happens, we know independently that the third hypothesis is true (see the GSS data reported in https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/12/17100496/political-correctness-data). Liberals are stronger supporters of free expression than conservatives.

Whatever the case, the fact that considerably more liberals than conservatives are fired for their political views spells doom for the narrative that there is a crisis of free speech in academia caused by liberals persecuting conservatives. This is indeed a fiction created by the right-wing media and Koch-sponsored advocacy groups, one that has succeeded in duping folks like Philosophy? and his 46 upvoters.
Report

Avalonian
2 years ago

This argumentative gambit is becoming depressingly familiar. Someone says we should try to include more voices in a conversation. Then someone else swoops in with the oh-so-clever “but you shouldn’t include NAZIS!” Not only is this deeply uncharitable to concerns about viewpoint diversity (no one thinks literally every position should be included), much worse is that it straightforwardly suggests that those who don’t tow the political party line in the humanities are equivalent to ISIS or to flat-Earthers. Since we’ve been talking about harmful speech and chilling effects, why is it OK for a prominent philosopher to insinuate that their Conservative students or colleagues are even roughly equivalent to an organization with thousands of rapes and murders on its hands? So far as I can tell, that needs to be true for Stanley’s argument to go through, here.
I’m certainly no conservative, but I’m gobsmacked that we think it’s morally OK to continue to make this move.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that it would be preposterous to say that various familiar conservative ideologies are analogous to ISIS ideology. However, my argument does not require any such analogy. The target of my argument is a general principle. That general principle is “To understand a perspective, you need to be taught it (or it needs to be researched by) by a proponent of that perspective.” This is a general principle required by the argument for Viewpoint Diversity. The case of ISIS ideology is a clean counterexample to the general principle. The clean counterexample to the general principle does not require any analogy between ISIS ideology and any democratically legitimate viewpoints, such as various positions regarded in our politics as conservative. The case of ISIS ideology simply functions as a counterexample to a general principle required for an argument I am critiquing (an argument that has, as a conclusion, that one must have something like Affirmative Action for conversations). Again, thank you for the opportunity to clarify the structure of my argument.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Jason Stanley
2 years ago

”The target of my argument is a general principle. That general principle is “To understand a perspective, you need to be taught it (or it needs to be researched by) by a proponent of that perspective.” This is a general principle required by the argument for Viewpoint Diversity.”

But if you’re simply arguing against that principle, that’s a painfully trivial argument to make. Basically no one, from all sides of the ideological spectrum, subscribes to that principle.

The interesting issue in 2018 is which viewpoints should be allowed on the campus? How big of a disagreement needs to be in order to make dialogue impossible?

I’m afraid that very little of general value can be said about it.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

Perhaps you would prefer to replace the general principle that occurs in the argument for viewpoint diversity that I consider by a less general principle, perhaps something along the lines of:

““To understand a perspective *that is democratically legitimate*, you need to be taught it (or it needs to be researched by) by a proponent of that perspective.”

If this were a premise in an argument for Affirmative Action for conservative, I would certainly not employ the riposte in my book, using ISIS ideology. Rather, I would simply query the more restrictive principle. It certainly isn’t very intuitive. Why believe it at all? Why are democratically legitimate perspectives special in this way? I think what is doing the argumentative work is rather an appeal to a more general epistemological principle that none of us, upon reflection, in fact accepts.Report

Avalonian
Reply to  Jason Stanley
2 years ago

Ah, I’m sorry, Jason, if you were critiquing THAT argument then ISIS and Anti-Semitic positions are indeed counterexamples! And of course obviously I withdraw my original complaint…. but now I have a new one: this argument is not representative of the arguments coming from the “contemporary right wing campaign” you cite.

I would have thought that a more charitable interpretation of the general social-epistemological principle looks like this: In order for an institution to properly *evaluate* a democratically legitimate idea, both the idea itself and the best reasons for potentially accepting it must be openly voiced or shared among members of the institution. Where “openly” here means, at least, that no-one should think that articulating these reasons will result in serious harm to their career or scholarly reputation.

Naturally, if we were perfect reasoners, we could trust that actual believers wouldn’t be needed here. But for the same reasons that anti-black racism probably won’t be fairly debated in a department full of suburban whites, conservative ideas probably won’t be fairly debated without a few conservatives around. So the lack of such people in our departments is potentially quite problematic. Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

Thank you for the comment. Yes, that’s a different argument, one relying on the premise that “serious harm to someone’s career or scholarly reputation: would result from articulating reasons for libertarianism or social conservatism. There are huge funding sources available for philosophers to promote these views. Check out Templeton’s funding areas:

https://www.templeton.org/funding-areas

You can get a multi-million dollar grant as a philosopher to study “individual freedom and free markets”. No such grants are available to study massive economic inequality (to philosophers at least). In my research for the book, I came up with a long list of funding sources available to anyone who promotes conservative principles, of varying sorts, from religious ideologies to libertarianism. There is, in addition, large institutional pressure to hire conservatives (frankly, I’d welcome excellent conservative colleagues myself, in addition to the classical liberal colleagues I already have). Robert P. George’s career seems to be going fine. So we have an empirical disagreement here. I think there is a bit of a right wing victim complex. When I look at funding opportunities, things seem remarkably good e.g. for libertarians. We have excellent libertarian scholars like Jason Brennan, whose work is getting large amounts of attention (and rightly so). Philosophy of religion is thriving, thanks to Templeton, a development that pleases me as a philosopher.

This is not to deny that there is a terrible social media environment for everyone that just magnifies outrage in admittedly deeply problematic ways. Which is worse – the outrage or the outrage about the outrage? Both are bad in my view. There is something toxic about social media that makes academic life harder for everyone, left or right.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

More generally, my article is not specifically about the arguments for viewpoint diversity. It’s about the international attack on universities. I just didn’t have the time to handle the whole topic in that article. I could quickly defang one argument for the view, but not every argument. Report

Invisiblessed
Invisiblessed
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

“Not only is this deeply uncharitable to concerns about viewpoint diversity (no one thinks literally every position should be included)”

I’ve met a number of people on university campuses who have explicitly stated that white supremacist viewpoints should be included in discourse, so it is not true that saying nazis ought to be excluded is an uncharitable representation of what some proponents of the viewpoint diversity assert.

And as has already been pointed out, Stanely is not making the move you think is beig made. You must not have read the post very carefully.Report

Avalonian
Reply to  Invisiblessed
2 years ago

Fair enough. So now we all agree that we shouldn’t be hiring Nazis and that those people you’ve met are wrong. Where do you think this gets us? Are concerns about speech on campus put to rest by this observation?Report

Invisiblessed
Invisiblessed
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

As Stanley has already pointed out in earlier comments, the point is to address a principle of the viewpoint diversity position, arguing by counterexample that principle is implausible.

Where this gets us is the point where dismising indefensible views without including proponents of those views into the serious academic discourse is not some radical injustice.

No, the concerns about free speech on campus are not put to rest because of my observation. But why think that was my intention? I was pointing out that there are proponents of viewpoint diversity who do believe indefensible views such as Nazism and whit supremecy deserve an audience on university campuses. Because of this, resisting the viewpoint diversity position on the grounds that Nazism and white supremecy can be safely dismissed as serious academic positions is not a challenge which admits a lack of charity.

“So now we all agree that we shouldn’t be hiring Nazis and that those people you’ve met are wrong.”

No, not everyone agrees, as evidenced by some proponents of viewpoint diversity.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Invisiblessed
2 years ago

At this very moment there are New York Times op-ed writers complaining about The New Yorker disinviting the white supremacist Steve Bannon from their Ideas Festival. And the second post in this comment thread cites Charles Murray, who is a racist who literally burned a cross (see link for more of an argument that if anyone is a racist Murray is, and note that it does not primarily rely on The Bell Curve…also that link has a graphic and almost entirely gratuitous photograph of a brutally murdered black child, so one might want to block images before clicking through).
This isn’t to say that what happened around Murray’s talk was necessarily justified (or that it wasn’t); the fact that a speaker shouldn’t be invited to campus doesn’t tell us what you should do once he is. But it seems like the operative principle is “Yeah, no one thinks we should be admitting Nazis into the discourse. But other kinds of white supremacists are OK, as are people who support internment camps for ethnic minorities.” Report

Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

A lot of respect for Stanley as a public intellectual, in the tradition of Du Bois, Dewey and Arendt. Raising these points for discussion in a reasonable way, in our current climate, is itself a great achievement.

Re content, seems to me Stanley is conflating two different threats to academia: 1) those on the right who want to dismantle academia because they see it as their enemy, and 2) majority of people, including many minorities, who just don’t have an in built attachment to academia, and don’t look to it as the foundation of democracy.

I can see how Putin, Trump and the post-modern right’s relativizing all knowledge claims are a part of (1). It’s a crucial issue, which is essential to resisting fascism. But it’s a big mistake to tie resisting fascism with valorizing academia in its current form. Because there is a whole other sociological current, distinct from fascism, which is leading to a deep restructuring of knowledge production in a diverse, internet world, and from the perspective of which, academic structures of the last 200 years look horribly out of date and out of touch. This is not to deny the importance of truth or global warming or philosophy, but that for many, academia seems a luxury they can’t partake in.

Fascism gains power by conflating (1) and (2), as if every threat to academia has the same source. In a way, Stanley is aiding this by conflating (1) and (2) as well. An alternative would be separating (1) and (2) by publicly being self-critical of academia and where it needs to improve.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Thank you for your kind words, Bharath, as well as the work that you do. I agree with your points, and in fact I end the final chapter I think by endorsing them – I conclude the final chapter by arguing that US universities in particular risk being employed as demonized pawns in fascist politics by becoming excessively elitist and removed.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Jason Stanley
2 years ago

Jason, Thanks, and I look forward to reading your book. I am not sure though what I am saying is covered by your description of your last chapter. My point, similar to what some others are saying on this thread, is that there are very real issues of free speech on campus. Universities shouldn’t be elitist financially, but also not in terms of content. But what counts as open, inclusive academic dialogue in a pluralistic society is a very big open question, which current academia is very far from properly realizing. Academics should own up to this problem, rather than dismissing it as conspiracies spun by the far right. Just as fascists project a fantasy past, so too some academics project a fantasy academia and that is unhelpful, and even dangerous. If that is what you say in your last paragraph, great.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

I think this point is valid, Bharath. However, in the last few years my concerns and my connections have been largely international, and the specificities of the American context have seemed less vivid. Universities across the world are being targeted for being bastions of Marxism and liberalism. Gender studies is, weirdly, a particular locus and target – witness Bulgaria and Hungary:

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/bulgaria-s-constitutional-court-says-istanbul-convention-not-in-line-with-basic-law-07-27-2018

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2018/08/10/the-orban-regime-feels-threatened-by-gender-studies/

My book concerns an international far right movement, and within that context some local concerns seem a bit parochial. Sure, there can be terrible mistakes made by student movements, but in a larger context, both within this country, when leftists were fired en masse from universities, and across the world, where universities are being shuttered because they are supposed liberal indoctrination centers, those concerns just seem less important to me.

The university should always be criticized – critique is healthy. But I am concerned about the current political moment, when ordinarily healthy critiques intersect with a worldwide nationalist movement targeting liberalism (that focuses on “Marxism”, gender studies, and anything that runs counter to nationalist ideology). My book is about that movement. It’s not about universities. Each chapter of the book is about a different facet of that international movement. There is only half of one chapter on the universities. I’m concerned right now that perfectly healthy and legitimate critiques can be misused for larger problematic political purposes.

That said, on the local and very specific issue of US universities (which is not the focus of my book and enters into the dialectic only insofar as fascist politics often targets universities in this way) without denying what you are saying, I think there is a far larger problem facing US universities, which is a tidal wave of cash and the attendant pressure from very wealthy donors to affect the ideological structure of universities. Others, such as Nancy Maclean, have written about that issue much more compellingly and at vastly greater length than I do in my book. Again, my book is about a confluence of things, of which the attack on universities for promoting dangerous, unpatriotic “leftist ideology” is just one aspect. Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Jason Stanley
2 years ago

These are big issues and I get you are dealing on a global scale. I will just mark my difference, without debating here.

You say: “Sure, there can be terrible mistakes made by student movements, but in a larger context… where universities are being shuttered because they are supposed liberal indoctrination centers, those concerns just seem less important to me.” First, I don’t think the free speech issues on campuses boil down to mistakes by student movement; it is much bigger and more structural. Second, because it is structural, it is not “less important” than fascists shutting down universities as indoctrination centers. In fact, they seem to me exactly proportional in importance – because they are two sides of the same coin.

You seem to think fascists gain control by fabricating (or vastly exaggerating) problems with academia (and media, etc.), and so the issue is how to get people to look past the falsehoods. I see it rather as: fascists gain control by taking advantage of the very deep structural problems with academia ( and media, etc.), and by claiming that the only way to deal with the depth of the problems is to purge those institutions. Hence any analysis of fascism which focuses mainly on how fascists act, and not on the structural problems in society which fascists take advantage of, is bound to miss big parts of the appeal of fascism and how to combat it.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Yep I fully agree with you Bharath. Report

Paul Taborsky
2 years ago

Have “universities … for the past 50 years … been “the epicenter of protest against injustice and authoritarian overreach.”?

I suppose. But universities, or at least the academics who work there, have also played their part in promulagating injustice and authoritarian overeach. I can’t ever seem to forget the fact that the begining of Chinese Cultural Revolution is usually pegged to a banner put up at Beijing university by Prof. Nie Yuanzi – a philosophy professor no less! – in 1966. But that was 52 years ago, so it would seem that Prof. Stanely’s dating is correct!Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
2 years ago

Are FIRE and Heterodox Academy right-wing organizations? Is Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution is True a ring-winger?

It’s ironic Stanley insists we have no reason to permit conspiracy theories on college campuses in the name of free speech, while simultaneously peddling what seems to be a conspiracy theory of right-wing fascists making up bogus claims about a campus free speech crisis in order to push a fascist agenda.

There is a free speech issue on campus. I say this as an atheist, as someone sympathetic to socialism, and as someone who has identified with the left my entire life, and who has always viewed right-wingers with contempt. There are many people like me, and we come from all across the political spectrum. Report

Elfin Grey
Elfin Grey
Reply to  GradStudent
2 years ago

“Are FIRE and Heterodox Academy right-wing organizations?”

Yes. FIRE is effectively an arm of the Koch Foundation, as you can see from their funding details on SourceWatch. The Koch brothers have spent decades trying to undermine academic freedom and seed academia with right-wing ideologues, and FIRE is one of their tools for accomplishing this goal. It has been very successful at manipulating well-meaning academics who aren’t savvy enough to ask where the money is coming from.

The same goes for the Heterodox Academy — it’s funded by right-wing megadonors whose only interest in academic freedom is to use it as a pretext to push their ideology into colleges and universities. If you have any doubts about this, check out how many of Heterodox Academy’s funders are also bankrolling Turning Point USA and its McCarthyist “Professor Watchlist”. Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Elfin Grey
2 years ago

Yes, these points about funding are absolutely correct, and concerning. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Elfin Grey
2 years ago

So if X receives funding from politically motivated organization Y, then X, too, is a partisan political organization and can be treated or ignored as such?

If so, does the same go for organizations that receive funding from progressive organizations? Is it all that easy?Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Funding sources raise concerns, but they can be alleviated by the behavior of organizations and individuals IMO. I have no small amount of trust in the individuals associated with FIRE and Heterodox Academy, hence these organizations are not discussed in my book. Report

Elfin Grey
Elfin Grey
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

FIRE, while publicly promoting academic freedom, has also taken millions of dollars in dark money from the enemies of academic freedom. I am not quite sure how to describe this arrangement, but the words “corrupt” and “hypocritical” spring to mind. And it is surely relevant to FIRE’s credibility that they participate in corruption and hypocrisy. At best, the people working at FIRE are allowing themselves to be exploited by right-wing plutocrats with purposes contrary to their own, and hiding this information from the public. It’s not a good look.

Has the influx of dark money from the Koch brothers and their allies influenced FIRE’s work? I don’t think it affects their selection of cases. From what I’ve seen, FIRE has been admirably even-handed in defending both leftists and rightists whose rights have been trampled on. On the other hand, FIRE seldom contemplates unionization, strengthening the protections of tenure, or shared governance as ways of protecting academic freedom. (Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that an organization devoted to academic freedom refuses to promote time-tested and effective methods for defending it?) On the rare occasions FIRE does discuss these things, they are always careful to add disclaimers indicating that they take no official position on whether unions and shared governance are good things. Their modus operandi is instead to bring bad press to misbehaving university administrations, while filing the occasional lawsuit.

I don’t think this is a coincidence. If FIRE promoted tenure and unionization, the anti-tenure, union-busting Kochs would never have poured money into the organization, and FIRE would have languished in poverty and obscurity. Generating bad press for academia, on the other hand, suits the Koch brothers’ agenda just fine. In other words, the Kochs have used their immense wealth to select an academic freedom organization that uses right-wing methods to promote right-wing goals.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
2 years ago

Thanks to the commentators for weighing in and allowing me to correct some misreadings. Much of my discussion is internationally focused – about Eastern Europe, not the United States, though I do emphasize the uniform nature of attacks – on Labor Studies departments (e.g. the Breitbart attack on UMKC’s labor studies program in 2011), on Gender Studies, and on “Marxists”. I do not mention FIRE or Heterodox Academy anywhere in my book. Rather I discuss David Horowitz, the Trump Administration, attacks on public universities in the US in Missouri, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, and right wing websites that target academics to try to get them fired for their speech (given the James Livingston situation at Rutgers, with which FIRE is helping, it’s hard for me to see a case that such websites aren’t a problem). Nowhere do I endorse (or even discuss) salient examples of what I regard as problematic behavior of undergraduate movements, and I don’t know why anyone would think I endorse all such actions or movements. I do endorse the actions of ConcernedStudents1950 of Missouri; but this is hardly an endorsement of all actions by student movements (why would it be?). I do find it problematic how certain cases are given outsized prominence as if they are representative of what is happening in universities tout court, or even in all student movements in all universities tout court. That I don’t see a systematic special problem now with free speech on campus due to “leftist ideology” doesn’t mean that I don’t think that there aren’t such problems in particular situations or even particular disciplines (or right wing ideology, for that matter). My goal in Chapter 3 of my book is to warn about general patterns that one finds in fascist politics – and in fascist politics one does find general hysteria about leftists taking over universities. I don’t find such hysteria warranted in the United States. Again, that doesn’t mean that individual departments can’t be problematic in this way, or even individual disciplines. Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  Jason Stanley
2 years ago

But maybe sometimes “general hysteria about leftists taking over universities” is not a sign of fascism but, as I said in my post above, a genuine reality. To see fascism where there is none seems to be part and parcel of this leftist conspiracy that you continue to peddle.
To reduce the myriad incidents of leftist ideology shutting down speech on campus, and/or resorting to violence against its political opponents to a series of individual, isolated peculiarities is either 1) to be grossly misinformed or 2) to be totally ideologically possessed oneself. Go watch the Evergreen videos. Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

I am not in support of what occurred at Evergreen from what I know about it, but I am skeptical that that is representative. The evidence I have tells me that it is not. I am more concerned with the 100 million dollars spent by the Koch Foundation on college campuses in 2017, the corporatization of the university, and the targeting of professors by well funded right wing web sites, as has occurred now on too many campuses to count. That my general concern is tilted towards these issues does not diminish my condemnation of students or movements who employ problematic methods in the service of values I support – as seems to be the case at Evergreen, which is a case to which you repeatedly return. Evergreen type situations are not the most serious problem facing universities in the United States. I can say that, consistently with thinking that the behavior witnessed there is, if the public narrative is correct, very problematic. I do confess to thinking that if you are whipped up into a frenzy by repeated watchings of the Evergreen video, yeah, you are being a bit played, in a similar way to the manner in which lurid examples of crimes committed by immigrants make people think that immigrants are more prone to crime. Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  Jason Stanley
2 years ago

Thanks for addressing my criticisms directly. I really appreciate that.

I understand that you object to hysteria, and I agree hysteria is unwarranted. However, the problems of left-leaning ideology on campus strike me – someone who is on such a campus – as very real. They mirror a broader issue in our culture related to political correctness and left/right polarization. These issues are having a significant impact on social media like Twitter and Facebook, on YouTube, in the gaming world, comic book world, etc. Indeed, there is for instance an issue with far-left ideology influencing games (The recent Baldur’s Gate expansion, Siege of Dragonspear), and card games, like Magic: The Gathering.

These seem like legitimate matters of concern, and they really do center on the problem of an especially pushy, ideological, and vicious far-left ideology. This isn’t a “conspiracy.” One doesn’t need to imagine nefarious plots by secret cabals of Marxists to recognize that efforts to push a political agenda in Magic: The Gathering, the firing of James Damore, various MTV videos, censorship on Twitter, and college protests all stem from a similar ideological foundation, and that foundation happens to be far-left. If that is something you or anyone reading this would deny, then I would encourage you to check into these issues. The shared ideological foundations are not exactly secret or hard to spot.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  GradStudent
2 years ago

there is for instance an issue with far-left ideology influencing games (The recent Baldur’s Gate expansion, Siege of Dragonspear),

What specifically do you mean by this?Report

Michel
Michel
Reply to  Matt Weiner
2 years ago

Or, indeed, with respect to Magic. The only thing I can think of in that connection is that WOTC banned their pro tour champion from competitive play for 30 years when they discovered that he had been convicted of aggravated sexual battery. When he was banned, WOTC cited their desire to ensure that their players–which include many children and teens–feel safe in their sanctioned gaming environments.

Not much of a political agenda being pushed as far as I can see. It’s certainly not a free speech issue, and doesn’t exactly map onto “far-left” ideology or politics very well.

From what I can tell from Google, the “problems” with the Baldur’s Gate expansion are (1) it’s really buggy, (2) there’s a trans NPC (some complaints concern her mere existence, while others claim that their problem is that she’s not fully realized), (3) some ret-conny storylines were given to female characters from the original, (4) one character makes a joke about ethics, and, crucially, (5) one of the writers is vocal about her beliefs and stands by her attempts to make the game more inclusive and diverse.

If that’s what passes for “far-left ideology”…

Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Michel
2 years ago

There’s an issue here about the marketplace of ideas, and of some people demanding to be shielded from ideas they don’t like, and it’s not “far-left ideology” that’s demanding the shielding.Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  Matt Weiner
2 years ago

Gamers are not demanding they be “shielded from ideas” in general. They’re demanding that their *games* not be politicized. Suppose I am a gamer and someone who loves engaging with far-left, far-right, and every other ideology. That doesn’t mean I want my video games to be full of Milo Yiannopoulos and Laci Green. Saying “I don’t want my games to be politicized” is simply not the same thing as saying “please protect me from being exposed to ideas I don’t like.”

Imagine you are really into swimming, but the only way to go swimming required you wear swimming gear with alt-right messages on it. I think you would have a reasonable basis for griping that you’d rather not have alt-right slogans on your swimming gear, without this implying you need to be “shielded from ideas.”

Likewise, gamers have every right to demand that their games not be politicized without this implying they’re afraid of ideas. Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Matt Weiner
2 years ago

Saying “I don’t want my games to be politicized” is simply not the same thing as saying “please protect me from being exposed to ideas I don’t like.”

It literally is.

Imagine you are really into swimming, but the only way to go swimming required you wear swimming gear with alt-right messages on it.

If Baldur’s Gate: Dragonspear were the only game in existence, you might have a point. (Not a great point, though, since wearing a slogan in public is a lot different from being exposed to an idea in private.)

If you don’t like “politicized” games–even if we suppose that Dragonspear is politicized, which from Michel’s description it doesn’t seem like it is–then you can play games that aren’t politicized. When you say that there is “an issue with far-left ideology influencing games” you are saying that the very existence of a game that has something that can be seen as political content (“far-left,” lol) is something you object to.

And this is, again, a demand that you not be exposed to ideas that you don’t like when you’re playing games. Between the people who try to express themselves in games and the people who demand that they not do so, it’s obvious which one is “pushy, ideological, and vicious.” Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  Michel
2 years ago

Hi Michel. If that’s the only thing you can think of, then you’re probably out of the loop about MTG.

Regarding Baldur’s Gate, the features included in the game that prompted outrage were motivated by far-left ideology. Pointing out that, in this particular case, they are rather trivial and unimportant is irrelevant. Sure. They are. I think the gamers are a bit silly to get worked over these minor issues. But that’s completely irrelevant to my point. My point is, there is a unifying set of beliefs, attitudes, and principles that are spreading across the West, and they go far beyond college campuses. They are influencing television, social media, HR departments, tech companies, and gaming subcultures. That you find the specific infusion of social justice in Baldur’s Gate trivial is irrelevant – I happen to agree it’s trivial. I don’t care. I bought the expansion and am perfectly happy with it. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a conscious effort to push a political agenda in the content of the game.

“If that’s what passes for “far-left ideology”…

What is included in the game isn’t itself “far left ideology,” it’s content motivated by far-left ideology. Report

Michel
Michel
Reply to  GradStudent
2 years ago

Vaguely gesturing at stuff doesn’t help. What, specifically, are you referring to? Is it the Kyle Jesse decision? Is it the backstory behind a single recent card, Alesha, whom we can identify as trans (but only if you read the MTG novels)? (Oh yeah, that’s so weird! I accept that my game contains elves and orcs and Lhurgoyfs, but a character who’s born male but says she’s Alesha like her grandmother! Oh nose! Heaven forfend!) Is it WOTC’s crackdown on bullying and harassment at sanctioned events? If it’s not these small potatoes, what is it?

As for politics in gaming… I get it now. You want politically *neutral* games, right? Games like… the Final Fantasy series! Oh wait, no… Diablo? No… Medal of Honor, or Halo? No… Skyrim? Crusader Kings? No, no… Star Wars universe stuff? Nope… Pretty much anything featuring war, rebellion, religion, explicit political machinations, etc. is out. Actually, pretty much anything with a storyline is “political” in one way or another. I guess that maybe leaves Tetris, Mario Kart, and Smash Brothers? Although probably not once we start paying attention to their backstories (yes, even Tetris has a political history!).

Most of the games we play and love feature all kinds of political content, and even push certain ethical lines (do you even remember the Super Nintendo RPGs?). It’s telling that some people only notice this fact when it concerns something they don’t like. It’s a lot like religious neutrality laws which conveniently ignore the fact that wedding bands and necklaces with crosses on them are religious symbols, too.Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  Matt Weiner
2 years ago

You can Google “Social justice warrior” with Baldur’s Gate or Magic and you’ll find extensive discussion of both. Likewise for other games. There’s been an encroachment of social justice ideology in the gaming world, and the fans don’t like it. This is true of comics, MTG, and Baldur’s Gate. Here’s one article about it:

https://steamed.kotaku.com/the-social-justice-controversy-surrounding-baldurs-gate-1769176581

I’m not a fan of many of the fan reactions. Many seem unreasonably angry or even hysterical. I don’t have any personal objection to making games “more diverse” in principle. My point isn’t a value judgment of whether this is good or bad, but a descriptive one: this is happening in many different subcultures. Not just college campuses. This isn’t a “conspiracy.” It’s a fairly obvious reality.Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  GradStudent
2 years ago

Including trans characters need not be motivated by social justice ideology. Trans people exist. Why shouldn’t they exist in virtual populations? It is telling that erasing them from these fictions (an obviously political effort) engenders such passion.Report

Invisiblessed
Invisiblessed
Reply to  GradStudent
2 years ago

You have not explained what tis ‘far-left ideology’ is, or why it is a problem. What is ‘far-left ideology’ and why is it a problem?Report

GradStudent
GradStudent
Reply to  Invisiblessed
2 years ago

You are right. I haven’t.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
2 years ago

Fascinating conversation everyone! Please keep it up.

Restricting myself to just the concern about universities, it’s an interesting feature of the evolution of the conversation about open debate on college campuses, and the putative stifling of political dissent over the last few years, that it seems to have shifted from one where those who have been denying that there’s a free-speech crisis on American campuses now frame their concerns in terms of a worry about fascism, whether at home or abroad. Having weighed in on the former (https://heterodoxacademy.org/on-the-role-of-the-public-intellectual-in-the-united-states/), I think it’s productive that we now see a more focused effort to identify and accurately label the latter. Toward that end I hope social scientists will begin using new media to catalogue and study the sorts of events that both sides appear to be cherry-picking to make their cases:

https://heterodoxacademy.org/student-hostility-free-expression-behaviors-surveys/

As I indicate in that essay, my guess is that the so-called ‘anti-fascists’ and their compatriots on the left will be proportionally more represented as the source of violence than the people they label fascists and those on the right. But I could be wrong, and at any rate it’s high time we start pulling together some data.
Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
2 years ago

I’m thrilled that philosophers are taking public interest in things like this. I’m also continually struck by the suspicion that we are so far away from agreement on most of these issues that we do not yet even have mutual understanding. And that’s an obstacle we must overcome before agreement can be realized (unless we resort to coercion, of course).

I don’t think anyone can doubt that the academy on the whole, and the humanities in particular, has shifted far more toward the left than the rest of the population since the late ’80s, at least in the U.S. (https://heterodoxacademy.org/the-problem/). There is also a growing tit-for-tat conflict between the right and the left in response to the perception that this is or is not a problem. On one side there are the Koch brothers and their ilk, on the other George Soros and his. I’m actually not convinced that the left/right distinction is carving at the joints (https://quillette.com/2017/01/13/reassessing-cultural-divisions-in-the-united-states/) but set that aside.

The attacks on gender studies and related programs look motivated by a perception (I use the term non-factively) that the leftward shift in academia over the last few decades is now having a distorting effect on public discourse in virtue of the way the scions of elite education have begun to exert influence over new and old media (including both news agencies and what is offered for consumption in popular culture). I suppose there’s a broadly Marxist interpretation of the nature and origin of the incentive structures that support ever-more extreme calls for social revolution from some of these disciplines. When an intellectual program interested in upending the social order becomes institutionalized as a discipline of study that delivers ever-more graduates into a system with ever-fewer jobs, we should not be surprised that one result is an increase in the variety and stringency of the proposals for social reform.

That seems like the kind of thing that conservatives, almost by definition, would resist. At the same time, reforms of the sort germinating in these disciplines have been some of the most important for ameliorating social injustices over the last century. One way of minimizing these conflicts might be to help those on the right understand how progress toward the realization of individual liberty has been fostered by these disciplines. One might also hope for a day when senior philosophers are not labelling those who do not share their politics as “harmful people with no moral compass” on the blog of the American Philosophical Association.

At any rate, I think we’d all be doing a lot better for ourselves and our societies if we spent more time trying to sympathetically convey to (those we label) our in-groups the concerns that motivate (those we label) our out-groups. To do that we’d have to spend more time sympathetically attending to what our out-groups have to say, but that itself is a step toward the mutual understanding that we seem to so desperately need.
Report

Samuel Duncan
Samuel Duncan
2 years ago

I’ve two related thoughts here, or rather a question and a thought. 1. Why use the term fascism beyond its emotional punch? It doesn’t seem like a precise term at all. Even historically fascism is notoriously hard to define. There are huge differences between say Mussolini’s brand, Nazism, and Austrofascism. It’s always been much less precise than say “communist” where for all their differences in say Mao’s China or Kadar’s Hungary one can at least say that the government in question claims some sort of explicit allegiance to Marx’s thought. In the historical context of the 30s and 40s we can get a decently clear idea of what fascism means, but I’m not sure that goes for any historical period after that. If we just mean that fascism is a form of authoritarian ultranationalism where an authoritarian leader claims to speak on behalf of the people then Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and present day North Korea are all fascist regimes as is Maduro’s Venezuela. But it seems pretty definite to me that if fascism means anything it means right wing and anti-Marxist. I guess we could tack the right wing and anti-Marxist bits on here, but that’s ad hoc. And if every nasty government whether left or right gets classed as fascist then the term seems lose any meaning it might have beyond “bad government.” Why not use a more precise, if less rhetorically satisfying, term like “authoritarian”? The use of fascist here seems to veer dangerously close to the way people on the right use “socialist.” That is just a term that expresses disapproval for ideas they find bad. 2. Let me echo a point by Paul Taborsky here and make it a little more pointedly: If we look at the governments that actually called themselves fascist then the universities have a pretty sorry track record. As far as I know in neither Mussolini’s Italy nor Hitler’s Germany were universities much of a source of resistance to the government. From what I know professors and students were often quite supportive of Nazism. I’ve yet to read of any real resistance to Hitler in the university system; Heidegger seems pretty typical here. (I’d love to be wrong about this and if I am let me know!) I know the “last 50 years” qualifier here is key, but the question is what regimes in the past 50 years have actually been fascist? Answering that question requires that we have a reasonably precise and defensible definition of the term “fascism” which I don’t see that we do. (Also, for the record Germany’s far right party the AfD drew a disproportionate amount of its early support from academia, so much so that it’s often described as “the professor’s party.”)Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Samuel Duncan
2 years ago

Let me note that I wrote an entire book answering this question, precisely defining what I mean by “fascism” and “fascist politics”, of which this piece is an excerpt. If you want a book length definition of “fascism”, I give a ten part definition in the book.

Secondly – on the universities – I have tried to be clear that universities historically have either operated as fascist think tanks, or have been sites of resistance. So we are in agreement there.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Jason Stanley
2 years ago

My issue is whether the politics you dislike really merits the term fascism or if there’s any reason to use that particular term beyond its power as an insult. The fact you have a detailed definition isn’t enough to meet that worry. It has to be a definition that picks out what “fascist” actually means. If we’re going to use the term then it seems it out to describe something in common with some paradigm cases like National Socialism and Italian fascism and that it ought to give us a way to distinguish those cases from other forms of nasty government like say Tsarist absolute monarchy or Maoism. There’s an empirical side to this in that any good definition has to hew close to the empirical historical facts in its formulation. It’s not enough to have a detailed definition of fascism what one needs to do is to show how that actually fits with the historical movements that we can all agree were fascist. Maybe you do that in the book, but since my own quick search shows that Trump is mentioned more times in the book than Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco combined I’m extremely dubious on that front. Liberals risk making ourselves into the sorts of caricatures conservatives have of us when we bandy about terms like that. It’s a really nasty term, and we’d better have good reason for applying it to an opponent beyond its emotional punch. If we don’t it’s just name calling. And I’ve no problem with calling Trump names or Orban or Modi names, but I’m just not sure how productive it is.Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

I wrote a 45,000 word book giving a definition of “fascism” and justifying the definition with historical examples. You have read the index, on the basis of which you are critiquing the book?Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

My characterization clearly distinguishes Mussolini and Hitler from Mao and Stalin. I’m a tad appalled by the methodology of criticizing without reading.Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

If we are going to do this thing of criticizing without reading, it is perhaps legitimate for me to appeal to authority – various people who are themselves quite fluent with the history of fascism, such as Jan Gross, have carefully read the book and even blurbed it. That’s not to say you won’t still have disagreements. But scholars of fascism have worked through the book. Gross isn’t the only one. I’m happy for criticism, but it needs to be informed.Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

The charges you make aren’t even close to accurate given the definition I give. The original motivation for the book was precisely to give a definition of fascism that distinguished it qua authoritarian movement from other authoritarian movements, with Stalin and Mao being particular examples. The original book was 65,000 words long, because I did include more material about the importance of theorizing fascism apart from other totalitarian politics that were equally problematic (I ended up shortening it, because this additional material was just of interest to scholars). There is no way someone could read my book and think my description applies to Stalin or Mao, because my motivation in writing the book was to distinguish fascist politics from other kinds of totalitarian politics. Maybe after reading the book you will think I failed in this project. That’s fine. But read the book first. I think you will find it interesting because I’m precisely attempting to be sensitive to your concerns.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  jason stanley
2 years ago

To be honest I’m extremely dubious that it’s productive for philosophers to write books on fascism rather than leaving it to historians. What’s the point? To change anyone’s mind? I doubt getting called a fascist has yet changed anyone’s political views in any sense beyond making them dig their heels in. So that we know that Trump, Orban, Modi and the like are bad dudes and their ascent to power is very worrying? Surely we already knew that. So that we can better understand historical fascism? I don’t see that any grand definitions of fascism are going to help us understand wildly disparate historical phenomena. In fact, even grouping say Austrofascism, Italian fascism, the Falangists, and National Socialism together seems to obscure more than it illuminates in that those regimes were all wildly different. I very much doubt that they “worked” in ways that were more than superficially similar. And it doesn’t bring any moral clarity either. In fact just the opposite. The Austrofascists weren’t a nice bunch but they weren’t the Falangists or Mussolini’s fascists either and none of them were the Nazis. I’m even more worried on this front as far as contemporary politics goes. If we can we need to be able to draw fine moral distinctions among politicians and their policies. Applying the label fascist doesn’t help us do that. In fact, it just feeds into this tendency to dismiss those we disagree with as so utterly depraved that they’re all ultimately the same. Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

Maybe read the book before pronouncing such firm judgment? It’s kinda what I do. Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

I do not make the mistakes you think I make. I suggest reading the book before pronouncing on it so firmly.Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

It’s not that I don’t find your concerns compelling; I do. They are precisely the right concerns to have. But I wrote the book with exactly these concerns in mind – how to distinguish fascist politics from Stalin’s rhetoric and Mao’s rhetoric, how to distinguish the badness of Hungary from the badness of Venezuela, how to respect the fact that Italian fascism as a system of government was distinct from German fascism as a system of government. These are precisely the concerns that run through and animate the discussion in the book. So I’m entirely sympathetic to them. I’ve written the book to address them. Perhaps I failed, but you can tell me after having read the book…Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

Sam: For what it’s worth, I find your critique here sound and compelling and share your skepticism, the replies thus far to which I have found unsatisfying, as I did the Chronicle piece itself.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

I find Sam’s concerns valid as well. The Chronicle piece is half of one chapter of a ten chapter book. I tried to address Sam’s (valid) concerns in the book. I say in my replies “I address these concerns in my book”, so I’m not sure why you find that unsatisfying. Is it unsatisfying that I address them in my book? I’m confused here. If Sam’s concerns are valid (which they are), isn’t it good that I addressed them in my book?Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

I’m sorry if my tone was testy. I’m entirely sympathetic to Sam’s concerns. I wrote my book with these concerns in mind, and some of Sam’s points occur as part of the book – e.g. the difficulty of generalizing about fascist *governments* (which is why the book is about fascist rhetoric, not fascist government). I’m not here answering those concerns, because I did at length in the book. I’m very happy to be critiqued on the basis of a failure to have responded to these concerns in the book, and perhaps it’s best to delay a response to such critique until that point. Thank you, Sam, for raising what I regard to be exactly the right challenges to writing a book of this sort.Report

jason stanley
jason stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

Also, it’s worth mentioning that my book (and my attempts at definition) are not about *fascism* – the comment you make about the differences between Germany and Italy is virtually a quote from the introduction of my book – but rather about *fascist politics*. My expertise is on propaganda and rhetoric, and I’m looking at the kind of ideological structure employed in certain kinds of political campaigns, not what happens after such people come to power. And such rhetoric/propaganda is, needless to say, completely different than the rhetoric/propaganda employed by Maoists and Stalinists (to take such one example, fascist politics involves nostalgia for a mythic great past, whereas communist propaganda involves yearning for an as yet never released future).Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  jason stanley
2 years ago

Well I think my own replies were a little testy so I guess we’re even. My fundamental worry here is a division of labor one. To me it seems that what happened with the fascist movements is really complicated and pretty unique to that time in Europe. Are we going to understand what’s going on now better by conceptual analysis or coming up with definitions or by looking at all the historical details much more closely? Which is going to be more conducive to drawing the right lessons from the events. It seems to me that some cases of fascism like Italy or Spain don’t really fit our own situation whereas when you look at Germany or Austria there are more worrying similarities. But those are the kinds of details that get lost when talking about fascism full stop.
I also have a very general worry about big classifications of things like ideological systems and political movements since they’ve a tendency to obscure both differences and similarities between the things they lump together. I don’t even like the liberal versus communitarian distinction for that very reason. And outside of some really hardcore Rawlsians I know those words aren’t even as emotionally loaded as fascism.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

These are exactly the right concerns, Sam. From the very initial stages of writing and trying to find a home for the book, these were the concerns voiced by people. I was repeatedly asked, “why would anyone want to hear a philosopher’s voice on this, rather than a historian’s?” So these concerns haunted me during its writing – one part of dealing with them was explicitly writing about the rhetoric and propaganda rather than the government. They didn’t deter me from writing the book, because actually historically some of the best work on the topic has been done by philosophers (Arendt and Adorno come to mind). But yeah, the differences between fascist movements are important – I use some of your points in talks, for example when people accuse me of making an equivalence between Orban and Hitler, I point out that many fascist leaders in the past weren’t genocidal maniacs. On the other hand, I argue that there were a lot more links between US far right movements and European fascist movements than your comment suggests – Nancy MacLean’s Behind the Mask of Chivalry covers some of these points, but I did a bunch of other research as well – that’s going to be both of interest and somewhat controversial historically. Anyway, I’d like to send you a free copy of the book, because you are thinking deeply about these concerns, so please email me your address…Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

It is part of my project to challenge the European uniqueness thesis. In addition to the influence of US ideas on European fascism, as covered in my colleague Jim Whitman’s book, *Hitler’s American Model*, the 1920s and 1930s in the US were a time when many fascist ideas gained resonance:

https://vimeo.com/237489146

In addition, some of the best historians of fascism are using the term “fascism” to describe these developments – check out Tim Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom….

Anyway, much more to discuss – email me an address to send a copy of the book…Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
2 years ago

With respect, Jason, I really think you’ve misunderstood what those of us arguing for viewpoint diversity are saying. At best, what you attack here is a less plausible version of the argument, even if you can find people who have espoused it.

You say, “The target of my argument is a general principle. That general principle is “To understand a perspective, you need to be taught it (or it needs to be researched by) by a proponent of that perspective.” This is a general principle required by the argument for Viewpoint Diversity.”

That soft target is obviously a silly view: to use one of your examples, there is clearly no obligation for every physics and astronomy department to hire on a flat-Earther in order to teach their students effectively, and there is no need for astronomy journals to give equal space to proponents of a flat earth. For one thing, how many flat-Earther scientists are out there to be hired?

But it _would_ be pretty appalling, and contrary to the practices that gave us physics and astronomy in the first place, if those prepared to argue for a flat Earth were barred from speaking or debating on campus, and if astronomers refused on principle to address their arguments on the grounds that doing so might legitimize them.

One major problem with going your way, as others have mentioned here already, is that it puts us on a slippery slope. Where does one draw the line dividing views too ‘out there’ to discuss from those worthy of debate? Without clear, objective guidelines — and it’s hard to see what those could be if we don’t want to drift quickly into severe disciplinary conservatism — it will be all too easy (and all too human) for us to slip into a growing arrogance and complacency about our views and allow unwarranted confidence to overtake our disciplines. The history of science is chock full of lessons on this topic, and we have learned them the hard way on our way here.

If people just trot out tired old arguments for a flat Earth or for young Earth creationism, it would be good to direct them or their followers to their refutations: during the Creation Science and Intelligent Design campaigns, many scientists put the effort in to compile such refutations, as they understood the professional duty of doing so.

However, if anyone comes up with a _new_ case for a flat or 6,000-year-old Earth, and the old refutations don’t work on it, then I think scientists ought to investigate and comment on it. This is particularly so if the proponent of the view has a genuine background in those fields and the argument shows some sophistication. If the case is a complete failure, then we should find out why it is. And if it really is a new kind of argument, we just might learn something from making the effort.

What if a trained biologist or psychologist makes, as you suggest, a new case for a genetic predisposition for greed among Jews? As an ethnic Jew myself, I’d be interested in finding out what qualified critics say after considering it seriously. Even if (as I suspect would be the case) there’s nothing to it, it would be useful for me to know where it goes wrong.

Here’s what I take to be a stronger version of the viewpoint diversity idea, to replace the one you attack. First, an academic discipline, department or organization will, ceteris paribus, be made better, not worse, by adding in members who are prepared _and motivated_ to argue cogently for views that existing members cannot effectively argue for. Second, if a discipline, department or organization is very largely in agreement on some set of views, particularly trendy, hot-button sociopolitical ones, and its members tend to have few if any respectful, sincere conversations with otherwise intelligent people who disagree on these issues, there is a serious risk of the group getting caught in very unhealthy tunnel vision on those issues. Third, it is intellectually inexcusable for an academic organization, discipline, subdiscipline, or organization to exclude or marginalize otherwise qualified people on the grounds of their views. And fourth, a philosophical education received from teachers who are unanimous in their sociopolitical views, or who disagree only on what to most people would be minute points, would be (again, ceteris paribus) much inferior to a philosophical education received from teachers of diverse viewpoints, even (maybe especially) if some of those viewpoints are clearly incorrect.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Justin – thanks for your comment. I want again to emphasize that my piece is not about viewpoint diversity, but about an international far right movement that, among other things, targets universities for being hotbeds of Marxism, feminism, and leftist ideology. The European University of St. Petersburg has already been closed, and CEU has been extremely negatively impacted, and has moved a large part of their operations to Vienna. Closer to home, we find multiple state universities targets of such attacks, motivating the elimination of tenure. I simply on an empirical basis do not share the view that universities are hotbeds of leftist indoctrination – I have given some empirical evidence above. There is a strong feeling of victimization by those with conservative views, and oddly it’s even intensified during this time of largely complete conservative domination of US political institutions. I am concerned that critiques of departments that are legitimate might be coopted by a larger political purpose – and indeed I think we have already been seeing that for quite some time in the United States.

I should say that I did offer to the Chronicle the opportunity to add a larger critique of Viewpoint Diversity arguments in my piece, but they rightly responded that it was a deviation from my general message. The one line I left in that went proxy for the response to the kinds of arguments you are considered was kind of a throw-away line about conspiracies about “political correctness”. That said, without spending the rest of the day or year on this (because I’m not entirely unsympathetic to viewpoint diversity), here is my view on why it’s conspiracy thinking that the paucity of Republicans in many departments means that leftists have taken over universities.

Again, this is not the place to give a full critique of the view that an epidemic of “political correctness” is the explanation for the relative lack of Republicans in academia. But here is a sketch. First, there are clearly brilliant conservatives, ones devoted, for example, to furthering free market principles. Most of them presumably are no doubt to be found engaged in the free market project, which is, one would think, a cause best advanced outside the academy (for example, in the business world). Entering the academy rather than starting a business thus already involves a political selection process. Secondly, the academic disciplines that skew most left are those that have presuppositions inconsistent with some central right wing doctrines. Margaret Thatcher may have believed that there is no such thing as society, but this is a difficult view to take on board in Sociology or Anthropology (such disciplines fruitfully co-exist in universities alongside disciplines that make very different sets of assumptions, such as Economics, which tend to be, needless to say, much better funded). Third, such a conspiracy theory must also explain why even Physics, Mathematics, and Computer Science departments have memberships that lean heavily to the political left. Fourth, given that the United States just had an election where even Bill Kristol expressed a preference for Hillary Clinton over Trump, the assumption that support, say, for Hillary Clinton in 2016 means a repudiation of central tenants of conservative ideology is suspect. As the Democratic Party has become more centrist over the last twenty years, and the Republican Party more ideologically extreme (for example more nationalist) there are fewer self-described Republicans. One may naturally expect this effect to be even more pronounced in the US university system (which, as the leading university system in the world, is by its nature committed to a “globalist” perspective, and open to “immigrants”). In short, there are multiple explanations for substantially fewer Republican voters on the faculty of universities, explanations that do not appeal to a conspiracy of political correctness to shut down free debate.
Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Jason Stanley
2 years ago

Thanks for responding, Jason.

In your long final paragraph, you argue (if I read you correctly) that the cultures of universities and their humanities and social science departments are fully committed to the principle of viewpoint diversity, and that Republicans and their ideas would be only too welcome as colleagues and interlocutors, but
a) many Republican intellectuals prefer to start businesses than to join academia;
b) Republicans strongly tend to select themselves out of academia because they deny the presuppositions of many core disciplines like anthropology and sociology;
c) if there really were a bias against Republicans in humanities and social sciences departments, then we wouldn’t see (as we do) a leftward skew even in computer science departments;
d) there are just fewer self-described Republicans now, anywhere because the Democratic party is now very centrist and the Republican party is extremist, and those who do identify as Republican are apt to be uncomfortable in a multicultural, open environment like a university, so again there’s no evidence here of some people being uncomfortable of arguing for their views while others are not; and
e) those of us who fear that we’re losing viewpoint diversity must “appeal to a conspiracy of political correctness to shut down free debate.”

While I’m certainly no Republican (my political views are much closer to Sanders’ than to Trump’s or Clinton’s), I have a few responses.

1. Those who are on the political right, together with many on the left who don’t toe the party line, have plausibly reported ideological bias. One prominent up-and-coming philosopher with a more right-wing view, for instance, reports that he was advised (reasonably, I think) to conceal his publications in the National Review because their _addition_ to his CV might well doom his prospects, while it is almost inconceivable that, say, a strongly left-leaning academic who publishes on feminist issues in Jezebel would be well advised to follow similar advice. Do you deny this? Do you think that someone with publications in the National Review would be looked on just as favorably by a typical search committee than someone with Jezebel publications?

2. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that your claims a) and b) are both true. Would you reach the same verdict if the situation were reversed? Do you think most vocal and influential leftists in academia today would? Suppose (as may have been the case not too long ago, and as may also be the case in the not-too-distant future) that we were to find ourselves in a world in which a) those on the right are overrepresented in academia because those on the left are more driven to devote their lives to social causes outside of the ivory tower, and b) the bedrock assumptions of many social sciences and humanities disciplines are deeply incompatible with views leftists are committed to. Would that then be grounds for complacency with the lack of viewpoint diversity? Or a basis for intervention? When the question was whether Black Studies and Women’s Studies departments needed to be created and supported, very similar factors were given as grounds for intervention.

3. I don’t understand why it follows from the claim that (inter alia) right-of-center viewpoints tend to be excluded or marginalized in the social sciences and humanities that physics, math and computer science departments will not also have more left-leaning members. Could you please explain?

4. Many, and I think even most, attacks on free inquiry and viewpoint diversity aren’t against Republicans at all: they’re attacks against people with the wrong left-of-center views. Look at Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying being attacked at Evergreen and driven out of their jobs. Look at the attack on the Christakises at Yale. Look at the attack on Rebecca Tuvel. Look at the many radical feminists in academia who depart from the party line on transgender issues, and how they are treated by many as a result. In no plausible sense of the word are these, and many others, on the right. Nor are these sorts of cases rare enough to be written off as a mere coincidence. How do they fit in to your account?

5. Finally, this no more requires an “appeal to a conspiracy of political correctness to shut down free debate” than the cases for affirmative action and implicit bias training rest on an appeal to a conspiracy of racism to exclude people of color from academia. There is no such _conspiracy_ either way: no secret committee is meeting in a dark room to draw up plans to exclude people from academia on the basis of their skin color _or_ on the basis of their political ideology. But we all know that no such conspiracy is needed: it suffices if enough people have even a small personal bias, even an unconscious one, in a certain direction. Do you deny this? If so, then you’ll see that the ‘conspiracy theory’ claim is a straw man.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Sorry: that last sentence should read “If not,…”Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

“Look at the attack on the Christakises at Yale.”

Without meaning to address the rest of your thoughtful comment, let’s not be revisionary about what happened with the Christakises. In addition to their academic positions, they were in a position where they oversaw student life (heads of a residential college, effectively a large dorm). The Intercultural Affairs Council wrote a letter in advance of Halloween suggesting that students be aware that blackface, redface, and similar costumes, while within students’ rights of free expression, were insensitive; and encouraging students to put some thought into their choice of costume.
Erika Christakis, in her capacity as associate master of the residential college, wrote a letter to the college residents objecting to the IAC letter. Again, the IAC letter did not attempt to curtail students’ freedom of speech–it just encouraged students to be thoughtful about their costumes. In the course of this letter, she talked about white children dressing up as Asian and black characters and explicitly suggested that this shouldn’t be discouraged even for eighteen-year-olds, said “I’ve always been a good mimic and I enjoy accents” which suggests in this context that she likes to imitate the accents of people of other races, and equated the offense discussed in the IAC letter to the offense religious conservatives (she says) take at skin-revealing costumes.
This was, again, in her capacity as a residential administrator rather than in her academic work. I feel confident in saying that in sending this letter (and supporting it, on Nicholas Christakis’s part) the Christakises were being bad at their residential administration job. And I don’t see the idea that it is wrong to suggest that students avoid blackface and redface and be sensitive in their costume choices as any sort of left-of-center idea, even if the Christakises are left-of-center in other respects. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Matt Weiner
2 years ago

Thanks for your reply, Matt. You’ve made me go back now and reread the Yale letter (thanks for the link) and the reply that generated the outrage ( https://www.thefire.org/email-from-erika-christakis-dressing-yourselves-email-to-silliman-college-yale-students-on-halloween-costumes/ ). I also reread her account of the outrage that followed ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/my-halloween-email-led-to-a-campus-firestorm–and-a-troubling-lesson-about-self-censorship/2016/10/28/70e55732-9b97-11e6-a0ed-ab0774c1eaa5_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.eedb3311c90c )

You read her claim that she’s always been a good mimic and enjoys accents as suggesting that she “likes to imitate the accents of other races.” I didn’t read it that way at all — maybe because, as a west-coast Canadian living and working in the northeastern US, I always get questions about my accent, and amusement from students about the way I say things. The English-speaking world is rife with regional accents, and most of them have nothing to do with race. The main point of Christakis’ letter is that Halloween is, nowadays, primarily an occasion for playing at being someone or something else and, that the borderline of what’s appropriate Halloween-related impersonation and caricature would be better negotiated by conversations between members of the Yale community than by a policy from on high. The relevance of accents to this issue seems clear: it’s another interesting difference between us and, sometimes, a way we impersonate one another. I personally am a west-coast Canadian living and working in the northeastern US, and I often have people spontaneously try to guess where my accent is from or point out words that give me away as a non-local (I never mind, incidentally). It never dawned on me to interpret Christakis as saying that the accents she’s interested in have a specifically racial dimension.

But this is a relatively minor point. More central to this discussion is what happened to her and her husband and how well this fits in with the account Jason is giving. As she explains, there was not only the well-viewed explosion of outrage not only against her husband for not denouncing his wife’s email, but also a much larger campaign, which involved a letter against them signed by over a thousand members of the Yale community, calls for the two of them to be removed from their positions, and even an insistence that students be warned when Erika was about to enter the dining hall. The administration of Yale seems at best to have been cowed into complicit silence by the outrage machine, and (as Erika notes in her follow-up letter) many faculty members privately told them that they supported them but were terrified of doing so in public for fear of being targeted next. As has happened so many times over the past few years at so many colleges and universities, what could have been an opportunity for a reasoned and respectful discussion about a matter of policy became instead a kind of social mobbing that led people who didn’t fall in line with the dominant viewpoint to be pitilessly attacked while the administrators sat on their hands or worse.

Jason, in his reply to me and his comment to someone else about the Evergreen fiasco, presents the view (if I have this right) that the hounding of Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying out of their jobs at Evergreen by an angry and violent mob is just an isolated incident, and that the widespread decline in viewpoint diversity on campuses really has to do more with Republicans tending to select themselves out of higher education for unrelated reasons. Do you deny that the Christakis affair puts pressure on Jason’s model? Erika Christa is a Democrat, does not deny any of the key presuppositions of the social sciences, etc. But she and her husband were targeted by another manifestation of what is now a quite familiar rage machine, and one result of this is that what could (and I think should) have been a discussion about policy was turned instead into a mobbing.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Ah, now it appears.

Also: Leiter just posted a link to this https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/trans-goldsmiths-lecturer-natacha-kennedy-behind-smear-campaign-against-academics-f2zqbl222?shareToken=ad269dcf48e26b3b9dbb8ce55269c15a

It seems to give evidence of a large-scale, organized campaign by a group of activists on the political left against other academics on the political left, and the aim is the silencing of dissenting views. That appears to put more pressure on the position that viewpoint diversity is in no trouble at universities, or that the only significant threat to academic freedom comes from right-wing think tanks (though I don’t deny that they, too, are a problem).Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

You read her claim that she’s always been a good mimic and enjoys accents as suggesting that she “likes to imitate the accents of other races.” I didn’t read it that way at all — maybe because, as a west-coast Canadian living and working in the northeastern US, I always get questions about my accent, and amusement from students about the way I say things. The English-speaking world is rife with regional accents, and most of them have nothing to do with race.

There are definitely contexts in which the line about accents could mean regional English accents. But that seems less likely to me given the context. Here’s the full paragraph containing the line in the letter:

Which is my point. I don’t, actually, trust myself to foist my Halloweenish standards and motives on others. I can’t defend them anymore than you could defend yours. Why do we dress up on Halloween, anyway? Should we start explaining that too? I’ve always been a good mimic and I enjoy accents. I love to travel, too, and have been to every continent but Antarctica. When I lived in Bangladesh, I bought a sari because it was beautiful, even though I looked stupid in it and never wore it once. Am I fetishizing and appropriating others’ cultural experiences? Probably. But I really, really like them too.

The lines after the line about accents refer to being to every continent but Africa, and specifically Bangladesh. The people who live on most of those continents and in Bangladesh are not white people, so it seems like in context she’s talking about imitating accents of people of color, which in some cases may be accents of English speakers. (I probably shouldn’t have said “of other races” because a “race” doesn’t have an accent.) And the paragraph before that was the one in which she spoke about people wanting to dress up as Asian or African-American characters, and the original IAC letter focused on blackface and redface etc., so the transition from costumes to accents also seems like it’s about accents that people of color rather than Western Canadian accents. The letter didn’t warn against dressing as a BC hippie!

To be more nuanced, I don’t think she’s specifically saying that she only imitates accents of people of color, but it sounds like those are among the accents she imitates, and she’s not showing any recognition of why that might be problematic.

The main point of Christakis’ letter is that Halloween is, nowadays, primarily an occasion for playing at being someone or something else and, that the borderline of what’s appropriate Halloween-related impersonation and caricature would be better negotiated by conversations between members of the Yale community than by a policy from on high.

But the original letter wasn’t a policy from on high! (This is a point that Christakis distorts in her followup when she describes it as “an official set of guidelines on costumes to avoid at Halloween.”) It encourages students to question their own choices–to, as it were, think critically about them. When Christakis said, in her followup, that she meant to ask “In what circumstances should we allow — or punish — youthful transgression?”, it’s a distraction, because the original letter didn’t talk about allowing or punishing anything, and was very clear that costumes fall under students’ rights to free expression.

To the main point–I don’t think that the letter condemning this email and the calls for the Christakises’ removal from their college master post prove anything about a rage machine unless you think that it was inappropriate for them to have to leave their position over that issue, and I don’t think it was. The IAC sent a letter saying that blackface costumes were bad; some students complained to Erika Christakis about the letter; and the Christakises decided to publicly (and from on high, in their official capacity as college masters) side with the anti-anti-blackface students. That sends a message to students of color that their legitimate concerns are, in their place of residence, valued less than the concerns of white students that they might be criticized for wearing racist costumes. That makes it hard for them to be good house masters representing the concerns of students in their dorm. So yeah, I think it was fine to call for them to step down as college masters.

Which is the criticism that the woman in the infamous video of Nicholas Christakis in the courtyard raises, that as a dorm master he’s supposed to help create a home for the students, and he’s doing a bad job of it. As another student said, “His responsibility is to make [Silliman] a place where your experiences are a valid concern to the administration and where you can feel free to talk with them about your pain without worrying that the conversation will turn into an argument every single time.” Note that she’s not saying that she never wants to debate her concerns, she just wants to be able to have someone in the administration listen to her without arguing with her. That’s not an unreasonable thing to ask from the head of your dorm. (And that student was subjected to an international outrage machine and didn’t get a Washington Post op-ed to tell her side of the story.)

(About that video of students confronting Nicholas Christakis. Christakis is in the middle of a lot of students because he walked out into the middle of a demonstration; the students are keeping a respectful physical distance from him; the ones who decide they don’t want to engage with him are silently leaving; one person is talking to him at a time. Yeah, she’s upset and raising her voice, but this is about the least mob-like behavior I’ve seen from a large group of people that wasn’t actively lining up for something.)

So… no, I don’t think this puts pressure on Jason’s model. It wasn’t a rage machine, it wasn’t a violent mob, it was some administrators messing up at their administrating job and catching heavy criticism for it. (I’ve also seen some alternative accounts of the Weinstein saga, but I haven’t looked into that enough to judge.)

(Though I don’t actually believe Jason’s apparent contention that Republicans are underrepresented in universities because they select themselves out. I think Republicans are underrepresented because a lot of their core commitments–for instance, that Donald Trump is qualified or temperamentally and morally suited to be President–don’t stand up to rigorous examination outside dedicated conservative institutions. But that’s another story.)Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Indeed, Daniel, I am going to point out that the lead claims that the lecturer was organizing a smear campaign to accuse people of hate crimes, and the evidence provided in the article concerning “hate crimes” appears to consist of one post by someone else on a Facebook group.

There are certainly concerns that can be raised about making lists of academics they consider transphobic and reporting them for hate speech, but hate speech isn’t hate crimes (if it was, the author could’ve just said “hate speech” in the lead). But when the only evidence we have of the content of the Facebook group is a description by an author who’s shown herself to be dishonest, I’m reluctant to take this at face value. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Hooliganism has always been a part of extremist activism, but it really is shocking to see it in these rarefied environments, engaged in by such privileged people (i.e. students and faculty at universities and colleges). Students roaming campus with baseball bats and locking people into rooms. Faculty forming online groups to organize and incite people to file spurious harassment and “harm” accusations, in order to get their political opponents disciplined or fired. I just cannot believe what a portion of the academy has devolved into. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Hi again, Matt. Thanks for your reply.

1) I still don’t see a basis for assuming that Erika Christakis means she likes to speak in accents associated with people of a particular race. The broader context, I think, is supplied by this sentence in her letter: “As a former preschool teacher, for example, it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde-haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it.”

And so on. I took it, and still take it, that her general point has to do with the fact that Halloween is an occasion when adults engage in pretend play, and that there’s something valuable about that. Her mention of an interest in accents (which is common and perfectly innocent among, say, those in the theatrical world) just seems to me like one instance of this, and her account of purchasing a foreign article of clothing on her travels is another, I think.

Perhaps you still dispute this, but in that case I think the more charitable interpretation is the better one to assume, if either.

2) You characterize the issue as one between students who are “anti-blackface” and those who are “anti-anti-blackface.” This makes it seem as though there were some students at Yale who wished to wear blackface on Halloween and complained about not being able to do so, and that Christakis had taken up their cause. As far as I can see, this is a very gross distortion. If you have any evidence that shows that the students did indeed wish to wear blackface, please point me in the right direction.

What the email from the Yale Intercultural Affairs Committee actually discusses is not just blackface and redface, but also “wearing feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’”, and then it makes clear that all these things together are merely “examples of cultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation”, all of which seem to be frowned upon by the Intetrcultural Affairs Committee. Moreover, the email continues,

“The culturally unaware or insensitive choices made by some members of our community in the past, have not just been directed toward a cultural group, but have impacted religious beliefs, Native American/Indigenous people, Socio-economic strata, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims, etc. In many cases the student wearing the costume has not intended to offend, but their actions or lack of forethought have sent a far greater message than any apology could after the fact…”

And it goes on from there. Clearly, a very wide range of costumes could plausibly be implicated here. What sort of costumes, for instance, might wrongly represent members of certain socio-economic strata? A construction worker costume? Who knows? And this, I think, is the point of the students’ concern. The email is quite vague about what counts as a violation of the principle, but it portrays all such violations as quite serious even if they are unintentional (even an apology after the fact can’t ‘send a message’ of remorse strong enough to atone for the wrongdoing of wearing the wrong costume, the email seems to suggest). Nor is any prohibition clearly made or any punishment indicated. But those who might wear the wrong costume, whatever it happens to be, will know that, in doing so, they will run afoul of the ominous-sounding Intercultural Affairs Committee, etc.

Did Christakis commit some argumentative fallacies in her email, as you suggest? I’m not convinced; but even if she did commit them, I think it’s very chilling for her (and her husband, who didn’t even write the email!) to be treated as they were treated and pressured by over a thousand people into stepping down. Even if you think the pressure was legitimate, though, I don’t think it can be denied that this is a case of a campaign of marginalization (whether you think it was warranted or not) and demonization, brought about by some leftist factions rather than right-wing ones. And again, I say this as a member of the left myself.

3) Finally, you characterize the confrontation with Christakis’ husband as one in which “Christakis is in the middle of a lot of students because he walked out into the middle of a demonstration; the students are keeping a respectful physical distance from him.”

Really? The demonstrators were not just minding their own business: they had gathered to denounce Christakis and his wife. And when he went to address them — as anyone at all can see, because it’s in the video — he stood calmly, keeping collected with his hands folded, being in no way aggressive, while a woman jabbed her finger in his face, shrieked at him, unloaded nasty invective against him, shouted at him from just inches away, called him disgusting, and angrily insisted that he was not even qualified to do his job and wondering who hired him.

That, to you, is “keeping a respectful physical distance”? If you were accosted by a group of right-wing students who treated you that way, you wouldn’t complain that they were being disrespectful or overly confrontational, or even threatening?Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Nor is any prohibition clearly made or any punishment indicated. But those who might wear the wrong costume, whatever it happens to be, will know that, in doing so, they will run afoul of the ominous-sounding Intercultural Affairs Committee, etc.

Oh come on. Why is the “Intercultural Affairs Committee” ominous-sounding? What is it to “run afoul” of it? Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Hi, Matt.

If I were a student at Yale and received this email from something called the Intercultural Affairs Committee, I would surmise that that body had some sort of role and power within the university, and that if someone were to feel offended by a costume I might wear, even for reasons I couldn’t quite fathom, I might be hauled into some sort of hearing, or maybe something would be put on my record without my knowing it or told to someone who would later determine something important to my earning a degree, and then the fact that I had in some way violated the often vague suggestions in the email would make the thing much more serious.

It also gives the impression that the email, and the Intercultural Affairs Committee’s decisions, are not to be questioned.

What exactly all this involves is unclear, but it certainly serves to make one nervous and second-guess oneself at all times. Or, at least it would have that effect on some people. If you were a student at Yale, it’s quite possible that you wouldn’t have felt uneasy after reading the email. But I think that’s largely because your own viewpoints make you much less likely to be a target.

To make the sense of unease more vivid, perhaps it would be useful to imagine the tables being reversed. Suppose that, over the next decade, the United States undergoes a great conservative religious revival. Your university let’s imagine, comes to have a Religious Affairs Committee, which releases a document warning faculty and students against making a bad decision that cannot be adequately atoned for with an apology by committing blasphemy, publicly destroying religious symbols, or otherwise acting or living in a manner that might cause offense to the devout.

Someone like you or me would, I think, quite reasonably be concerned about this: what, exactly, counts as ‘causing offense to the devout’? Since I’m not religious, there are all kinds of things I might do, and aspects of my life, that a devout person might subjectively find offensive. And what about LGBTQ people? Wouldn’t this create a worrying climate for them? Suddenly, I’d feel very insecure, as I suspect you would also. But to the religiously devout, this wouldn’t seem ominous at all. After all, they’d never be _inclined_ to do something against the spirit of the document. They might also fixate on the ‘destroying religious symbols’ clause, just as you fixated on the ‘blackface’ clause. But that wouldn’t at all get to the heart of what’s troubling.

Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Matt Weiner
2 years ago

Hm… I sent a reply to this an hour ago, but it seems not to have registered.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

I saw that astonishing Times article as well. I have no doubt that the “nothing to see here” crowd will find some way to spin it.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

I’ve posted any number of times and the comments never appear. I don’t know whether it’s a problem with Disqus or something else.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

@Matt Weiner:

You and I must have read very different London Times articles. The author clearly states that the Times gained access to the Group and refers to “members,” not a single person.

You can suggest “Fake news” if you like, but I doubt you’ll get much traction. There has been far too much of this sort of thing already exposed to the public, and people are wise to these sorts of efforts at deflection and misdirection. And when the source is a paper of the repute of London Times, it’s much less credible than if it had appeared in the Mail or the New York Post.

Those of us who see ourselves as part of the civil rights coalition have a serious problem on our hands, here, and we’d better do something about it, before the entire civil rights movement is discredited. Trump and his gang couldn’t hope for a better opposition than this.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

I read the article, Prof. Kaufman. If your point is that it is the references to multiple “members” concocting “hate crimes” allegations in both the first and third paragraphs that are unsubstantiated by the one concrete reference to “hate crimes” in the article (paragraph seven), that is true. Still, if the author had actual evidence to back up the accusation that multiple members of the group were orchestrating “hate crimes” accusations, it was very careless of her not to include it in the article!

Have a good day.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
2 years ago

The idea that conspiracy theories AS SUCH are somehow suspect or unbelievable is not only false but dangerous and has been compendiously refuted in the last two decades. There is now an extensive literature on this, starting with my ‘Popper Revisited: What’s Wrong With Conspiracy Theories ‘ (1995) and continuing with the work of Lee Basham, David Coady. Kurtis Hagen and Matthew Dentith among others. .One might also cite in this connection the work of the historian Kathryn Z Olmsted, the communications theorist, Lance deHaven Smith and the sociologist Ginna Husting. At present the the public discourse in the USA is dominated by two conspiracy theories: one is that the Trump Campaign colluded in various ways with the Russians to win he 2016 election campaign. The second is that the first theory is a hoax put about by a left-wing media conspiracy. One is true the other false, one is plausible the other silly; but the silly theory is not silly because it is a conspiracy theory – it is silly because it is silly. The use of the term ‘conspiracy theory ‘ as a blanket term of political abuse allows politicians quite literally to get away with murder of which war crimes are a species. Google the above names for details. Report

Mark Alfano
2 years ago

I’m sympathetic to what Stanley has to say here, but I think that there’s an important way in which right-wing and fascist movements *build* rather than simply destroy trust. It’s true that Fox, Breitbart, QAnoners, Trump, et al. are in the business of fire-bombing people’s trust in institutions, compatriots, and so on. However, they aren’t aiming at a trustless world. They’re aiming at a world in which trust is systematically misplaced (less than is warranted in some sources, more than is warranted in other sources). They benefit from and aim to establish societies in which sources they control are trusted implicitly by a large-enough following for them to maintain power while sources that used to (or, at least, that we used to assume) were the basis for common knowledge and public discourse are relegated to “partisan” status. Rupert Murdoch doesn’t want his audience to distrust Fox. He wants them to distrust anything other than Fox (and a few other outlets). Bannon doesn’t want his audience to distrust Breitbart. He wants them to distrust anything other than Breitbart (and a few other outlets).

This is the main reason why I think the “post-truth” framing of our current problems is misguided. The biggest problem is not with truth, but with trust. And it’s not that trust is all gone, but that it is systematically misplaced.Report

Joao C.
Joao C.
2 years ago

If Plato were alive today, would he too be refused a platform for his fascist ideas? I very much suspect he would. Did he not, after all, argue for an elitist society, and in favour of slavery? Was he not an old man from a rich family? And if one of the undisputed founding figures of Western philosophy were refused the right to speak, what would that say about freedom of thought in today’s universities?Report

J.T.
J.T.
Reply to  Joao C.
2 years ago

If Plato were alive today, I’m sure he’d have somewhat different ideas than he did in Ancient Greece. Also, what exactly is your suggestion? Plato was a great philosopher who had fascist ideas, so fascist ideas must be given a platform? I honestly can’t take this profession seriously anymore.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Joao C.
2 years ago

In The Republic, the position of fascism is advocated by Thrasymachus. Plato wrote the Republic to refute it.Report