The object of political correctness is to make the obvious unsayable, or at least sayable only under the threat of a torrent of criticism or abuse. This does violence to the mind and spirit: those who refrain from objecting to the false pieties of political correctness (which are intoned within organizations as regularly as in public) come to despise themselves.
Identity and political power have allied themselves in the modern academy in troubling ways. Exemplifying this is the new “personal pronoun” overture. I recently had to attend a seminar, as a part of my doctoral studies, on “microaggressions and diversity,” and a discussion leader greeted us with: “Hello, my name is Simon, and my personal pronouns are ‘He, Him, His.’”
This strange, preemptive declaration of one’s preferred gender identity is apparently intended to ward off “microaggressions” from potentially confused colleagues.
Liberals mystified by the election of Donald Trump might look to the Middlebury assault—in which Charles Murray was shouted down and physically pursued as he left campus while the professor escorting him was attacked and put in a neck brace—for a slice of the explanation. The answer may lie less in the grotesque conduct of college students awash in—wait for it, wait for it—privilege than in what the impassioned youth never said.
When I asked my young patients what their best qualities were, they would almost invariably reply: “I am tolerant and non-judgmental.”
“If you don’t judge people,” I would ask, “how can you be tolerant?”
Donald Trump has happily announced that his administration will be dedicated to deregulation. And one very important place to deregulate is higher education. Not only will discarding regulations make education less expensive but it will help temper political correctness. Higher educational bureaucrats, not professors, are the worst offenders when it comes to forging the manacles for impressionable minds. And bureaucrats are hired and empowered in so no small part by federal regulations.
The volume of regulation in higher education is truly astonishing. It is not only conservatives who object. Here is a 2015 summary by the bipartisan task force on higher education:
Focusing solely on requirements involving the Department of Education, the HEA contains roughly 1,000 pages of statutory language; the associated rules in the Code of Federal Regulations add another 1,000 pages. Institutions are also subject to thousands of pages of additional requirements in the form of sub-regulatory guidance issued by the Department. . . . In 2012 alone, the Department released approximately 270 “Dear Colleague” letters and other electronic announcements—this means that more than one new directive or clarification was issued every working day of the year.
But classical liberal and conservatives have particular reason to object to these regulations.
The recent violence at Trump rallies has been the work of protesters, not of his supporters. I am no fan of Trump, but he has as much right to speak without disruption as any citizen. Indeed, it is even more important to afford him that right than ordinary citizens, because he is the presumptive nominee of one of our two major parties. Violence distracts from the debating his ideas, such as they are, and will create greater political polarization at the expense of deliberation.
Sadly, there is a connection between this violence and the enforcement of political correctness in our educational institutions today. The disruptive protesters at Trump rallies are almost all young—recent products of our educational system. They are thus steeped in the unreformed religion that dominates our schools—one where error has no rights.
Indeed, when Trump 2016 was chalked on the sidewalk of Emory University, the administration began an investigation into who wrote it. More generally, college administrators have permitted events to be cancelled because of the threat of disorder without speaking out against such cancellations.
This article in the Atlantic discusses the current situation at Yale regarding the Halloween costume controversy. The main event, of course, was the verbal assault of then Master of Silliman College, Nicholas Christakis, by student Jerelyn Luther. The entire article is well worth reading. The ultimate result of the incident is that Nicholas Christakis is no long serving as Master. His wife, Erika Christakis, who shared in the job’s duties and whose email sparked the controversy, resigned her position teaching at Yale. (Ms. Chistakais has recently published a significant book on child-rearing.) It is not entirely clear from the article why the Christakis couple are no longer occupying their positions. It may be due to pressure from Yale or the Yale community or it may be their own decision. But whatever the cause, the message is clear: Don’t mess with the Political Correctness Mob. By contrast, the student, Jerelyn Luther, appears to have graduated without any type of reprimand.
This is a sad story, and one that has been written about at length. Here I just want to note that this type of issue is hardly new, at Yale or in other places. I remember my time at Yale Law School, which exhibited the 1980s version of this intolerance. It was known as hissing. When people voiced comments that the liberal mob disliked, they would collectively hiss.
I can still remember a Federalist Society member, whose has since gone on to become an important academic, announcing an event prior to my tax class taught by Michael Graetz. The mob hissed him.
On a movie set many years ago, actress Geraldine Page found herself seated between actor Ward Bond, an enforcer of the blacklist of communists then raging in Hollywood, and his friend, the conservative actor John Wayne. Page was only accustomed to being around her fellow show business liberals, so she listened to the two men’s conservative views with a sense of “horror.” But as the conversation went on, she developed a marginally more favorable view of Wayne, whom she called a “reactionary for all sorts of non-reactionary reasons.”
This next edition of Liberty Law Talk is a conversation with Joshua Dunn on a new book that he has co-authored with Jon Shields entitled Passing on the Right. Dunn and Shields interviewed 153 professors across a range of disciplines who consider themselves conservatives and libertarians. Their findings paint a more moderate position on the types of challenges conservative academics face compared to much conventional thinking on this subject. Evidence that they are the victims of a systematic campaign of exclusion and persecution doesn't seem to exist. What does seem to exist is a host of other problems that must be carefully…
“The cause is in my will.”—Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II
We ought to have known it would come to this. Still, the latest assertion of presidential authority assumes a new and ominous form: the power not merely to assert authority outside the law—which can at least masquerade under the banner of Lockean prerogative—but rather to redefine words and, with them, the institution of law itself.