Scruton: “The Threat of Free Speech in the University”

As I’ve noted recently, I’m particularly interested in the parallels between current P.C. soft totalitarianism and the experience of Soviet era dissidents. From Roger Scruton’s “The Threat of Free Speech in the University”:

The fear of heresy arises whenever groups are defined by a doctrine. No matter how absurd the doctrine may be, if it is a test of membership then it must be protected from criticism. And the more absurd it is, the more vehement the protection. Most of us can live with false accusations, but when a criticism is true we hasten to silence the one who utters it. In just that way, it is the most vulnerable religious doctrines that are the most violently protected. If you mock the claim of Muslims that theirs is a “religion of peace,” you run the greatest of risks: the Islamist proves his devotion to peace by killing those who question it…

We should recall that, when the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century began their wars and genocides, the universities were first among their targets—the places where discussion was most urgently to be controlled. The behavior of the communist and anarchist student cells in Russia, and the Brown Shirts in Germany, was repeated by the student revolutionaries of May 1968 in France and by many student activists today.

Scruton adds:

The left-liberal worldview is not, on the whole, concerned with the wider situation of the world, for all its global pretensions. It is concerned with us, with the Western inheritance. It is an exercise in self-castigation, designed to show in all matters—history, literature, art, religion—the glaring moral faults of a civilization that has depended on distinctions of sex, race, class, orientation, and the rest in order to manufacture a false image of its superiority. At the same time, the current orthodoxy carefully refrains from any comparative judgments: gender studies will give you an earful of spite about the treatment of women and homosexuals in Western societies, but carefully pass over the treatment of women and homosexuals in Islam. After all, it is important not to incur the charge of Islamophobia. The university must become a “safe space” for Muslims, as well as for other vulnerable and marginalized groups—hence the successful campaign to force Brandeis University to withdraw the honorary degree offered to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She had spoken truths about Islam and was therefore a threat to Muslim students and an invasion of the “safe space” that the university was obliged to offer them.

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