February 10, 2020 Reading Time: 11 minutes

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The defeat of Nazism in Europe was seen as not only a victory over tyranny, terror, and mass murder, but a triumph for the preservation of many of the most cherished human freedoms, including freedom of speech and the press, and free association. Such freedoms seem to be under attack again, and often on American college and university campuses.

A new tyranny over the mind has arisen at some institutions of higher learning where open, diverse, and competing ideas across the spectrum of human interest is supposed to be the ideal. The last several years have been filled with numerous instances in which mobs of students and groups of professors have pressured university administrators to either prevent or revoke an invitation for an outside speaker to come to that campus because the vocal critics oppose the proposed speaker’s social, political or economic views. 

When such an outside speaker has still appeared on such a campus, they have been greeted with crowds condemning their viewpoint even before the visitor has had the opportunity to express it, or has been drowned out by derogatory chants and slogans, or in a few cases they have been physically threatened and even assaulted. 

Identity Politics and the Closing of the Academic Mind

Virtually all of these attempts to prevent, harass, or violently respond to the visitor’s words have been made by those on the political “left.” A new spirit of intellectual intolerance has emerged and congealed in American academia. Their proponents are the new totalitarians who brook neither dissent, debate, nor disagreement. (See my articles, “The Tyranny of Trigger Words and College Safe Spaces” and “Campus Collectivism and the Counter-Revolution Against Liberty.”)

Theirs is a collectivism of social class, race, and gender. They are the ideological offspring of the communists and fascists of the 20th century. They blend together a synthesis of Marxism and Nazism into the new world of political correctness and identity politics. They view themselves as radical “progressives,” determined to overthrow and abolish the capitalist, racist and sexist sins of the past, and put in its place an amorphous “democratic socialism” that is premised on a new tribalism of group identity and belonging. (See my articles, “Tyrants of the Mind and the New Collectivism” and “Collectivism’s Progress: From Marxism to Race and Gender Intersectionality” and “An ‘Identity Politics’ Victory Would Mean the End to Liberty.”)

Like their Marxian and Nazi forbearers, these new totalitarians look at the world with a fanatical self-righteousness that they have the clear and correct vision of the “true” bases of society’s ills and the only answer for its healing. The Marxists saw nothing but a two-dimensional world of exploiting capitalists who were abusing the “workers of the world.” The Nazis were certain that all the evil in human history was due to a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to dominate and defile mankind’s purer “races.” 

Our modern-day identity politics warriors are absolutely certain that all of history is the story of white, male domination of women and “people of color” through the institutional means of private property and capitalist methods of production and control. Everything else is a “false consciousness” created by white men determined to maintain their power over all others on the planet. 

All the talk about individual liberty, free enterprise, freedom of speech and the press, or freedom of association are ruses and rationales, they say, to hide from view the underlying “real” relationships of domination and oppression that cover over what actually binds people together and represents their “objective” identities. 

Submerging the Individual in the Politics of Race and Gender

Submerged in this latest tidal wave of collectivist fanaticism is that smallest of all minorities, the individual human being. How the individual views and thinks of himself; what goals and purposes he or she considers possibly best for the peaceful improvement of their own life; the forms of voluntary and mutually beneficial associations and relationships that the individual might consider most desirable for happiness, fulfillment, and betterment. 

These are all shunted aside under the presumption and hubris that the politically correct, identity politics warriors know the “true” connections that define and bind people together. This is determined by your race and ethnicity, by your gender and sexual orientation. You are “white,” or you are “black,” or you are “Hispanic,” or you are “Asian,” or you are . . . Plus, you are any one or more of the Heinz 57 ketchup-like categories and classifications of gender and intersectionality. 

They talk about “social justice,” but it really means the injustice of force through coercively determining what for and how individual human beings may go about thinking, acting and interacting with others. They refer to dignity and diversity, but in their lexicon of meaning this really means demeaning anyone who thinks and acts differently than their tribal ideologies dictate, and homogenizing human uniqueness and difference into political group pigeonholes for purposes of paternalism and power-lusting. 

The new totalitarian tribalists, like their Marxist and Nazi intellectual ancestors, reject the ideas and achievements of the 18th and 19th centuries, achievements that cultivated and created a social, economic and political climate and institutional setting respectful for individual human beings, compared to the degradations and indignities and cruelties for most of human history before then. 

The Western Ideals of Freedom and Reason

The classical liberal historian, Hans Kohn (1891-1971), summarized some of these achievements in his insightful work, The Twentieth Century, A Mid-Way Account of the Western World (1949):

“The one world which the 18th century in its intellectual curiosity visualized seemed assured in the 19th century through the magic of universal commerce and free trade. The benevolent merchant offering goods and happiness replaced the warrior hero carrying glory and death . . .

“For the first time mankind became an open society . . . More important, however, was the spread of the new humane attitude based upon the growing recognition of the value and dignity of each individual life: the end of slavery and serfdom, the unprecedented feeling of social responsibility, the reform of penal laws . . .

“At the end of the 19th century, in practically all civilized countries, the legal equality of all men was established, and in the backward countries the fight for civilization included the fight for the equality of all. This has never been known in history before.

“Constitutional safeguards protected the rights of individuals against the state – arbitrariness by the powerful or by the police and censorship of beliefs seemed to belong to a dead past . . .

“The 19th century movement has its shortcomings, its hypocrisies, its absurdities; but it was a great and serious effort to make life more humane and more reasonable. It brought to the countries of modern middle-class civilization such an increase in liberty, welfare, and happiness as no century before had done.”

All of this arose, Hans Kohn argued, from man’s renewed confidence in and understanding of the relevance of human reason and freedom of thought. This was emphasized by him in his earlier work, Force or Reason: Issues of the Twentieth Century (1937), a response to the totalitarian threats of that time:

“A new self-confidence was awakened in man, a new dignity given to him. On the strength of his reason man rose to the position from which he was able to understand the world . . . Reason, natural light in man, made superfluous all supernatural and superhuman light. Natural law, law founded upon reason, which is the same for all men, and not law founded upon divine authority, guided man’s steps from philosophical rationalism to political and social rationalism, which found its expression in the American and French Revolutions . . .

Out of the right and duty of man to think for himself grew a new toleration, a feeling of respect for the rights and opinions of one’s fellow men, for his freedom of thought, an effort to arrive at a mutually satisfactory settlement of disputes and discrepancies by discussion and compromise. . . 

We are sometimes inclined today to forget what the 19th century really meant in human history . . . A greater progress was achieved than in all the centuries before. This progress did not express itself solely or mainly in the domain of science and technology . . . The essential progress of the last one hundred and fifty years lies, in my opinion in three other directions – toward the equality of man, towards a more general participation of everybody in the fullness and opportunities of life, and towards a refinement and humanization of our mores.” 

Identity Politics in the Footsteps of Marxism and Nazism

All of this is ridiculed and rejected by our new tribal collectivists, just as it had been by their Marxist and Nazi predecessors. Marxism spoke of your raised “class consciousness.” Nazism urged you to discover yourself in your “blood” and primitive racial emotions. The Identity Politics Warriors insist that you self-identify based on the color of your skin, the cultural roots expressed in your ancestor’s clothing, customs, and cuisine, and how you “feel” about your self-designating gender today that might be different tomorrow and which no one else may judge or fail to recognize.

Doctrinaire Marxists often asserted that capitalist and proletarian interests were so inescapably in conflict with each other that no common ground could be found through attempts to “reason together.” Your social class molded the way you thought. “Reason,” therefore, was a servant of class interests. Nazis insisted that each race possessed its own “logic,” and even insisted that there was a distinct German science from Jewish science; no common ground for reasoning together existed between German and Jew, the Nazis said. These different logics were tools in the battle between races for survival and domination. 

Our Identity Politics Warriors declare that any disagreement or dissent from their conceptions of human beings in terms of declared group definitions and designations are to be discounted and condemned as “proof” of racism, sexism and power for the white one percent. Even trying to understand another ethnicity’s experiences of life are instances of condemnable “cultural appropriation.” Each ethnic and racial group, and one presumes every one of the dozens of different genders as well, lives in its own unique hermetically sealed world, with no common humanity of shared knowledge and experience. 

Finally, just as any real world events could be twisted and turned to be made to fit within the Marxist and Nazi interpretive templates to assure that nothing could challenge or refute their a priori world views, so too nothing is to be allowed to undermine or question the illusive premises behind any and all positions declared to be “politically correct” and part of the prevailing elements of current Identity Politics. 

Freeing Young Minds by Prohibiting Open Discussion

When you know you know the “truth” and the liberation of humanity depends upon the triumph of that truth throughout society, then it becomes self-evident that “evil,” falsehoods, and lies cannot be allowed to undermine the crusade for the better world that is just ahead of us. 

Restricting and prohibiting false speech, therefore, is essential for success of  “the truth.” Otherwise, utopia may be delayed or even derailed, as well as being “harmful” and “hurtful” to the oppressed victims of white, male, capitalist exploitation. 

Thus, closing colleges and universities to those disagreeing or questioning Identity Politics and “progressive” social and economic policies is in fact the way to set young minds free from the dangerous and degenerate and still dominating Enlightenment ideas of individual liberty, private property and enterprise, and limited government under rule of law. After all, they are merely intellectual tools for white male domination. 

The Conservative Response: Mandated Speaker Diversity

So, what is to be done? Last year a “conservative” answer was proposed to end the academic tyranny of the politically correct. Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D. C., proposed that institutions of higher learning be required by state legislatures to have an Office of Public Policy Events (OPPE) to assure a more fair and balanced representation of views during public debates and discussions on campus by arranging invitations and participation of those offering alternative perspectives. 

Kurtz’s Campus Intellectual Diversity Act (CIDA) was endorsed by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which monitors the degree to which political correctness narrows the knowledge offered at colleges and universities, and challenges instances of denials of freedom of speech. 

In Mr. Kurtz’s template for such an Act, university administrators are tasked and commanded: 

“Inviting speakers who hold a wide diversity of perspectives, from within and outside the campus community, to participate in debates, group forums, and individual lectures, with particular attention to inviting participants from outside the institution who hold perspectives on widely debated public policy issues otherwise poorly represented on campus. 

“Providing, where necessary, honoraria, travel, and lodging expenses to participants in debates, group forums, and individual lectures organized by the Office of Public Policy Events, from outside the campus community.” 

If the state legislature does not specify how many and what types of public debates, forums and lectures the academic institutions will have during an academic year, then the respective Offices of Public Policy will:

“Organize a substantial number of all three event-types: debates, group forums, and individual lectures. Obtain the participation of speakers who represent widely held views on opposing sides of the most widely discussed public policy issues of the day. Invite and host speakers who can ably articulate widely held perspectives on public policy issues otherwise poorly represented on campus.” 

In addition, these campus Offices for Public Policy Events would be required to keep public records of upcoming and past programs and make available an archive of video recordings of all such public events. 

Conservative Speakers’ Planning and Unintended Consequences

Recently, Mr. Kurtz wrote in National Review (February 3, 2020) that Arizona State Representative, Anthony Kern, has introduced a bill in the Arizona legislature to implement the CIDA, with its mandates on university and colleges funded by taxpayers. 

Mr. Kurtz responded to critics who had expressed concerns that weird or extreme speakers might be required to be brought to a campus, such as a Holocaust denier. He argued that that would not be expected or mandated, but merely a “spectrum” of reasonable and public perspectives should be offered to students and others attending such events. 

From a classical liberal perspective, may I suggest, Mr. Kurtz’s proposal is another too frequent instance of conservatives searching for responses to the “leftward” drift in American society by merely offering their own version of the planning mentality with all of its intended and possibly unintended consequences. 

Or, stated even more bluntly, here is an instance of a conservative GOSPLAN for academia. Either the legislature or a built-in mandate into the Act directs a certain number of targeted events. The appointed managers of the campus programs, the Office of Public Policy Events, will determine the content, the format, the number of programs, and the alternative points-of-view to be offered by the participants. 

Who will decide the relevant topics or issues? Once such an Office of Public Policy Events is in place and up and running, political cover for the campus administration will be to see to it that little or no such public events operate outside of the legislated framework. Otherwise, before you know it, all hell breaks loose with critics from either “the left” or “the right” complaining and threatening legal action due to some “underrepresentation” at a debate, discussion or forum outside of or not directed by the university’s OPPE. 

Once the OPPE becomes the gatekeeper and the monitor for all such campus events, there would soon be campus pressure group jockeying to see that every political and ideological viewpoint that has any clout has participation in or a voice heard on the committee. It would likely evolve into a hothouse of political power-playing in an attempt to influence what gets publicly discussed on campus and who gets offered the outsider invitations to speak. 

The Act’s proponents are hoping that it will see to it that “conservative” voices are regularly heard on campus. Just wait until every variation of gender intersectionality, race identity, and radical revolutionary niche clique and “cause” insists on being put on the program, otherwise it will not be “fair and balanced.” A conservative or even libertarian voice will soon be drowned out in the torrent of mandated and tax-funded leftist “diversity” points-of-view. 

Campus debates, forums and lectures will become a bedlam of the very types of things people like Stanley Kurtz are frustrated and angry about. A conservative version of central planning for diversity discourse on America’s colleges and universities will not, I fear, solve the problem of intellectual closed mindedness in modern-day higher education. 

The Answer Lies in the Privatization of Higher Education

At the end of the day, in my view, the only long-term answer is an end to educational socialism, which is what government-mandated and/or funded schooling is really all about. Higher education in America has become taxpayer- funded islands of collectivist thought in too many fields of study, especially in the humanities and the social sciences. The “progressives,” socialists, and Marxists who comprise the ideological foundations for political correctness and Identity Politics in colleges and universities, and who set the tone and culture for those attending these institutions, can only be unseated by withdrawing their secure source of funds. 

The privatization of colleges and universities that are state-owned and operated, and the ending of various types of tax-based support for other nominally “private” institutions of higher learning, would do more to change the form and content of what is taught at these places over time than anything else imaginable. (See my article, “Educational Socialism versus the Free Market.”)  

Anything else, in my view, is either merely reinforcing what is already the problem in colleges and universities or simply adds another layer of planning bureaucracy that fails to solve the problem. 

Make colleges and universities completely answerable to students, parents, and charitable benefactors, with no financial support, subsidies or guarantees from government. In other words, make those offering higher education answerable to the buying public, the consumers, for what they are offering in terms of content and pedagogy. 

It will soon become clear whether there really is a market for all the “politically correct” subjects and course offerings currently filling up the college and university catalogues in terms of what many students and parents actually want, without the financial underpinnings of compulsory tax dollars to make it presently possible.

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling, an AIER Senior Fellow, is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ebeling lived on AIER’s campus from 2008 to 2009.

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