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Professor criticizes ‘liberal totalitarianism’ on college campuses

An Assumption College political science professor criticized what he sees as “liberal totalitarianism on campus” in an essay for RealClearPolitics.

Professor Daniel Mahoney, who teaches at the Catholic college in Massachusetts, criticized a shift among liberals away from free expression and toward cancelling dissenting views. He is a signer of RealClearFoundation‘s “Liberty and Justice for All Statement” which “offers an intellectual defense of those necessary ideals and institutions on which a free society depends.”

It’s those ideals that are under attack on college campuses, Mahoney wrote on October 16:

American liberals once prided themselves on their fidelity to the First Amendment. Indeed, they had an expansive understanding of it. They defended unpopular speech and even the most provocative examples of ‘freedom of expression.’ One could question their hesitation to set limits in these areas, but there was something admirable about their principled defense of the free exchange of ideas.

This kind of liberalism, however, is in massive retreat today and is barely present on our colleges and university campuses. Instead, the forces of ideological correctness demand intellectual and even political conformity and seek out dissenting voices to humiliate and silence. Two recent examples from Harvard University and Middlebury College illustrate the illiberalism that has become ascendant on many campuses and in many of our cultural institutions. The responses to these incidents, however, provide some grounds for hope.

Mahoney criticized an editor for Harvard’s campus paper The Harvard Crimson for asking the university to fire two professors. Joshua Conde urged the Ivy League Institution to fire David Kane for asking Charles Murray to speak on campus and making insensitive comments under a pseudonym.

Conde also asked for the school to fire another professor, Diana Schaub, for speculating that interest in baseball among African-Americans could be tied to a a decline in the involvement of black fathers in their kids lives. He also took her to task for a series of scholarly essays she wrote about the ideas of black leaders across a spectrum, including Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X.

Mahoney explained further:

Schaub’s writings on race and America convey, very much in the spirit of the figures she writes about, a message of hope, responsibility, civic and moral equality, and openness to human excellence in all its forms. In contrast, the new totalitarians offer resentment, grievance, hate, and the demonization of anyone who might have something to teach them. The difference could not be more striking. One is the path of common humanity and common citizenship, the other of perpetual enmity and denunciation.

This totalitarianism is seen in Conde’s response, Mahoney said:

Cherry-picking passages from Schaub’s acute and sensitive analyses and offering them as though they revealed a tainted mind and soul, Conde calls her words “ignorant, and deeply concerning” if not “outright bigoted.” His principal “evidence” is a snippet from a splendid article, “America at Bat” from National Affairs (Winter 2010), which in passing laments the decline of black interest and participation in baseball, our once national sport.

But it’s not just Harvard:

This incident at Harvard is not the only recent attack on these core liberal values. At Middlebury College, over 600 students signed an “Open Letter” opposing an event sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Forum in which two distinguished scholars, Leslie Harris and Lucas Morel, were to debate whether slavery was the core of the American Founding, as the advocates of the New York Times’s “1619 Project” insist. The protesting students declared that such a question “should not be up for debate,” and Professor Morel, himself a Hispanic of black Dominican descent, was denounced by some as a “white supremacist,” of all things.

Read the essay and the “Liberty and Justice for All” statement.

IMAGE: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

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