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Historian: Colleges will only respect intellectual diversity when it’s profitable for them

Conservatives and liberals are both wrong about progressivism’s roots

The left has evolved in the past 40 years to usher in “a new breed of intolerance” that underlies today’s rampant censorship on campus, according to a recent book.

Historian Kim Holmes told The College Fix he wrote The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left “to point to the unique nature of the postmodern left, which I felt was insufficiently understood.”

And there’s only one way to address this problem in higher education, he claims: Starve the beast.

closing-of-the-liberal-mindThe former assistant secretary of state and distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation said in an email interview that both conservatives and liberals misunderstand the roots of what’s called progressivism.

“Conservatives have a tendency to shadow box with the ghosts of Woodrow Wilson or even Karl Marx, who although historically important to progressivism, are not the main drivers today of the left,” Holmes said. “Missed is the impact of the New Left, deconstructionism and postmodern intellectual movements of the past 40 or so years.”

Meanwhile, liberals “mistakenly believe they are merely extending the ideas of early 20th century progressives and the civil rights movement of the Sixties,” but they are ignoring “the illiberal, radically individualistic (i.e. selfish) and even anarchistic nature of the postmodern left,” Holmes said.

Liberals have strayed from their original precepts – open-mindedness, tolerance, and reluctance to coerce through power – and in the process undermined “individual rights of speech, conscience and property,” he said.

The ideas of this New Left, Holmes continued, have predominantly invaded the modern university, creating “hotbeds of intolerance and illiberalism.”

“People with illiberal values are intolerant, closed-minded, and authoritarian,” he said. “They want to use government power and the law to shut down debate; to force their views on people; and to deny them their constitutional rights.”

Educational institutions are imposing “a mind-numbing conformity on students,” Holmes said. “The intolerance occurring everyday on American campuses is the avant-garde of postmodern illiberalism. It is both the place where it is cultivated intellectually and practiced in its most extreme forms.”

kim-holmes-heritageHolmes’ solution to collegiate authoritarian silencing? Stop subsidizing the insanity.

“The only way to stop it is to limit the federal government’s role in shaping academic policies, and for people to stop sending their children and their donor dollars to educational institutions that are killing liberal education as we once knew it,” he told The Fix.

Parents should favor colleges “that don’t use speech codes and ‘safe spaces’ to suppress freedom of speech,” and that offer “a truly diverse curriculum to better prepare our children for life,” Holmes said.

“We should be sending our donor dollars and children to them, and not to the billion dollar endowed elite schools that routinely deny intellectual diversity, crush freedom of thought and deny students the benefit of a first-class education.”

As for what actions students can take, Holmes counsels the study of American history and civics to better understand the origins of our political system removed from the demagoguery that it has become.

Don’t be afraid to be unpopular, he exhorts students. Avoid “trendy topics on identity in classes” and scrutinize “the fraud of ‘critical theory,’” which Holmes says inhibits the development of critical thinking skills.

“Realize that today the true counter-culture is conservative, since the ‘establishment’ … is bent on excluding any alternative point of view,” he said. “Be brave and stand up for yourself; don’t let the progressive crowd force you to self-censor.”

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IMAGES: Shutterstock, Encounter Books

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About the Author
Kate Hardiman -- University of Notre Dame