What the Campus 'Free Speech' Crusade Won't Say

Roundup
tags: political correctness



Whenever American civil society has been under great stress, if not, indeed, falling apart, self-appointed champions of the conventional wisdom and traditional values have ginned up public paroxysms of alarm and rage at selected internal enemies to blame for the crisis.

In the 1690s, it was the witches, hysterical women and girls whom Puritans said had been taken by Satan. In the 1840s, it was Catholic immigrants, who were said by a presidential candidate to be besotted with “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” In every decade before and since then, it has been feral Negroes. In the 1920s, it was anarchists, Reds, and pushy Hebrews. In the 1950s, it was American Communist spies for Stalin, the Satan of that time. In the 1960s, it was hippies, riotous blacks, and traitorous opponents of the Vietnam War. Since 2001, it has been American Muslims and, in 2003, it was critics of the Iraq War.

Now a new cohort of crusaders has found a new internal enemy: coddled, petulant college students and some of their professors, who, we’re being told, are forcing university administrators to silence and punish others who exercise freedoms of inquiry and expression in ways that offend and hurt the complainers.

We’re also being told that these “cry-bullies” of “political correctness” are winning such protections by perpetrating what one of their supposed, much-ballyhooed, victims, former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, calls a “creeping totalitarianism” on our nation’s campuses. They’re destroying the freedoms of expression and open inquiry that a liberal education should cultivate in students, not protect them against.

If this new paroxysm has a manifesto, it’s “The Coddling of the American Mind,” with a scarifying subtitle: “In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.”

It was written by Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (the FIRE), and Jonathan Haidt, a business psychologist at New York University and, like Lukianoff, an itinerant preacher of their jeremiad against over-protective parenting and pedagogy that, although neither man likes to say it explicitly, is “liberal” in the colloquial and pejorative sense of that term.

Literally millions of American college alumni have fallen for this account of where the threat to liberal education is coming from. The Atlantic rode the tidal wave of the 500k-plus shares that “The Coddling” yielded, following up with a videotaped conversation between Lukianoff and the magazine’s then-editor James Bennet (now the New York Times’ editorial-page editor); with brief accounts by Lukianoff and Haidt of how they’d come to write the essay; with an essay by Yale Child Psychologist Erika Christakis, who had become one of the FIRE’s supposed martyrs, silenced by rampaging hordes of the politically correct on the altar of free speech.

The more closely I’ve looked at this new “enemy” of free speech on campus, the more I’ve been drawn -- and invite you to come along with me – to look at the self-professed defenders of individual rights in education who’ve been warning us about this scourge. Lukianoff has been a tactically brilliant point man for a larger, conservative campus campaign of which the FIRE is decidedly a part by virtue of its funding, many of its personnel, and, most importantly, its strategy and tactics.

I’ve begun this examination briefly today (Sept. 3, 2016) in the New York Times, but there’s only so much one can report in 900 words. So, here goes....





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