“Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions,” noted German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was no traditionalist or conservative; in fact, he was perhaps history’s chief poster boy for atheism and a devout relativist. Yet that 19th-century iconoclast observed something old that, even today, some regard as new: liberal intolerance.
Comedian and inveterate cynic George Carlin remarked toward the end of his life that while he expected censorship from the Right, “censorship from the Left took me by surprise.” But, of course, everything is new to those who forget history.
Whether or not this can be said of journalist Edward Luce, the title of his Financial Times Sunday editorial, “The Rise of Liberal Intolerance in America,” can certainly lead one to believe he’s describing a new phenomenon. Luce says that liberalism in the United States has registered great social victories in recent times, but then writes, “Yet the revival of political correctness on US campuses — and the increasingly shrill tone of much of the intellectual left — tells another story. Instead of championing free speech, the left is trying to shut it down. In the name of diversity, it demands conformity. At stake is the character of US democracy. If elite Ivy League schools cannot stand the heat, what kind of kitchen will it be?”
Answer: The kind we’ve long been baking in. There is no “revival” of political correctness because that phenomenon — rightly defined as the “suppression of truth in order to promote a left-wing agenda” — never died. Search news from any year during the last few decades and you’ll find no dearth of stories about this or that person or public figure fired or flayed for voicing even the mildest politically incorrect sentiment.
So it’s not that liberal “intolerance” is just now rearing its head; it’s that now its new vanguard is quite visibly targeting its old guard. Just consider the protest-inspired resignations of University of Missouri’s president, Tim Wolfe, and the chancellor of its flagship campus, R. Bowen Loftin; they’re both liberal men — but not liberal enough for the new purists. And Luce does describe this next devolution well. He writes of how Princeton University protesters are demanding that “racist” Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s name be purged from campus, even though the 28th president was once the university’s head. And while Wilson’s legacy is checkered to say the least (he signed the income tax into law), Luce correctly points out that no historical figure, from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to James Madison to Winston Churchill, could survive the purge of the self-proclaimed paragons of political virtue.
Luce also reports on how campus libraries treat certain works of fiction like cigarette packets: they place warnings on them. These works include, he writes, “Ovid’s Metamorphoses because it depicts rape, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (anti-semitism), F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (misogyny), and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (patriarchy).” He then continues:
The term “microaggression” — giving unconscious verbal offence to marginalised groups — has entered everyday vocabulary. I have lost count of the conversations I have had with faculty heads who admit to censoring their language for fear of giving offence. Their jobs are sometimes at stake.
The goal is to eliminate prejudice from the mind. Yet it can have the perverse effect of heightening awareness of race. There is a boom on America’s campuses — and beyond — of what one critic has dubbed the “race therapy complex.” University faculties are bulging with multicultural guidance counsellors, diversity officers, and those whose task it is to provide training in racial etiquette. Their job is to detect racial insensitivity. Naturally, some find it where it does not exist. The more such positions are created, the greater the vested interests behind it. As Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Yet Luce is, unwittingly, part of the problem. He issues in his piece the usual politically correct disclaimer about how bigotry is alive and well in the United States, citing as examples the highly publicized police shootings of black suspects. Yet as this reporter and others have pointed out, police shootings of blacks have declined 75 percent during the last few decades; moreover, studies have shown that police are actually more likely and willing to shoot white suspects.
And spreading destructive lies amounts to shooting ourselves in the foot. What’s really going on with the current political correctness, protesting, and targeting of college administrators is, again, nothing new; it’s merely the last wave of useful idiots being consumed by the next wave of useful idiots.
As to this, we should be mindful of The Tale of the Useful Idiot. In the early 20th century, there was a group of military men stationed at the Kronstadt fortress on Kotlin Island in Russia. Known as the Kronstadt sailors, they at one point fell under the sway of a female poet who filled their heads with utopian ideas about a future workers’ paradise of equality and bliss. Inspired, they then aided the Bolsheviks in the 1917 overthrow of Russia’s tsarist government; in fact, they were so effective that founding leader of the Red Army Leon Trotsky called them the "pride and glory of the Russian Revolution."
But after some time something happened. These men, many if not most of whom were sons of peasants, started receiving letters from home about how the Bolsheviks were brutalizing and starving the people. Disenchanted, one of them wrote (this is close to verbatim) “It makes me sick to my stomach to think that I was part of this.” And they rebelled against the Soviets in 1921.
Trotsky was then charged with quelling the uprising, and while the sailors put up a spirited fight, they ultimately were vanquished. Thousands fled to Finland, and most of the rest were executed or died in Soviet gulags.
Of course, even revolutionary Leon Trotsky couldn’t remain revolutionary enough, and he was assassinated in 1940 under Joseph Stalin’s orders. As Stalin had put it, "We will destroy every enemy. Even if he is an Old Bolshevik, we will destroy his kin, his family. Anyone who by his actions or thoughts encroaches on the unity of the socialist state, we shall destroy relentlessly.”
And so it has always been. The leftist French Revolution — during which the political terms “right” and “left” originated — killed thousands. Yet its prime author, Maximilien Robespierre, himself was put under the guillotine by fellow revolutionaries frightened that they were next to be purged. It was essentially the same story in Mao Tse-tung’s China, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
So today’s college administrators are purged because, as the saying attributed to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen informs, “He who marries the spirit of the age will become a widower in the next.” Today’s leftists are never left enough for tomorrow’s. They just get left in the dust a bit sooner than the failed societies they help spawn.