Occasionally there appears an essay that sums up the full measure of a complex phenomenon in few words with large ramifications. We commend to all readers the short essay by Ruth Wisse in today’s Wall Street Journal. The title alludes to the justly celebrated book by the late Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. Harvard Professor Wisse is the author of many humane and insightful articles for Commentary, which enlightened and delighted us years ago. (See note below.)
The subtitle, “Opponents of free speech have chalked up many campus victories lately as ideological conformity marches on,” gives the thrust of her article. By quoting a few excerpts below we hope to encourage our readers to read the entire piece. The decadent, poisonous state of our universities is a much bigger problem than is commonly known. Of a piece with this is the subversion of our K-12 schools, via Common Core and other depredations. But all that is another story.
There was a time when people looking for intellectual debate turned away from politics to the university. Political backrooms bred slogans and bagmen; universities fostered educated discussion. … Open debate is now protected only in the polity: In universities, muggers prevail.
Assaults on intellectual and political freedom have been making headlines. Pressure from faculty egged on by Muslim groups induced Brandeis University last month not to grant Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the proponent of women’s rights under Islam, an intended honorary degree at its convocation. … [A] faculty cabal joined by (let us charitably say) ignorant students promoted the value of repression over the values of America’s liberal democracy. Opponents of free speech have lately chalked up many such victories:
Universities have not only failed to stand up to those who limit debate, they have played a part in encouraging them. The modish commitment to so-called diversity replaces the ideal of guaranteed equal treatment of individuals with guaranteed group preferences in hiring and curricular offerings.
So far the university culture has not been able to destroy the two-party system, but its influence on the current administration in Washington gives some sense of what may lie ahead unless small “d” democrats—which these days means mostly conservatives—begin to take back the campus. … In short, let the university become as contentious as Congress. …The struggle for freedom is universal; would that our universities were on its side.
To this we would simply add that this proto-fascist or –communist stifling of free intellectual debate is not new –witness the state of German and Russian universities under Nazism and Communism in the last century. Nor is it limited to universities. We need only cite among thousands of examples the recent mob-like denunciations of those in the NBA or NFL guilty unwholesome or non-PC remarks, however slight. As with the Red Guards in Communist China in the 1960s, punishment was swift and self-condemnation required.