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E-Pluribus | May 4, 2023
A pessimistic take on campus free speech; how immaturity contributes to problems in higher education; and a judge versus journalists in North Carolina.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Eric Kaufmann: Universities Are Losing The Battle on Free Speech
Pluribus has followed some of the recent positive signs that institutions of higher education are finally stepping up to the plate in the battle against illiberalism. Eric Kaufmann at Unherd, however, isn’t completely sold.
[T]he gradual emergence of a liberal centre willing to speak its name is cause for optimism. This came to broader attention with the Harper’s Letter in July 2020, continued with an Economist editorial in April 2021, and was followed by the first New York Times editorial in March 2022. Since then, the NYT has run a series of articles challenging campus conformity and has even been willing to court protests by running pieces sceptical of gender reassignment surgery. WaPo is late to the game, but confirms the trend.
Why the turnaround? Incentives explain a lot here. First, some of the energy in cancel culture has ebbed post-George Floyd, with the number of cancellation attempts dropping back to the (still high) levels of the mid-2010s (Figure 1). Second, the attacks on universities from the Right, encapsulated in Ron DeSantis’s campaigns against critical race theory and gender theory, permit liberals to use a “both sides” defence of liberalism. Conservative media attention also focuses centrist liberals on the need for internal reform rather than the prospect of further embarrassment. The Right has been a vital ingredient in the new liberalism.
But in the long run, liberalism is giving way to progressivism in elite spaces. The new cultural liberalism in the media reflects the views of senior staff members, and is opposed by affinity groups and young employees. That’s important, because surveys consistently find that “woke” values are twice as prevalent among younger Leftists than among older Leftists. Over 8 in 10 undergraduates at 150 leading US colleges say speakers who say BLM is a hate group or transgenderism is a mental disorder should not be permitted to speak on campus. What’s more, 7 in 10 think a professor who says something that students find offensive should be reported to their university. Young academics are twice as censorious as those over 50. These are the editorial teams and professoriate of tomorrow.
Read it all.
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Matthew G. Andersson: The Infantilism of Higher Education
In the rush to protect college students and make them feel safe and included, colleges and universities may be doing them a disservice. At Minding the Campus, Matthew Andersson writes that higher education should be helping to develop a mature outlook in students who otherwise find it easier to maintain an inward focus and miss the larger duties and responsibilities of adulthood and citizenship.
One of my favorite philosophers is Robert Hanna. . .We recently discussed the lack of mature thinking at American colleges and universities. I told Bob that, in my view, Kant has much to say about this, especially in how personal rights and freedoms must be linked to personal responsibility, and to our own “internal court of conscience.” This speaks to one of the biggest problems in higher education: the development of what might be called the “virtues,” which Aristotle and others spoke to centuries ago, and how they seem to be a distant ideal in academic culture.
Here, Kant was perhaps among the first modern thinkers to address the free speech debate in terms of personal integrity. As Hanna puts it, Kant was a “dignitarian”: a human community is non-sectarian, sufficiently respectful of everyone’s human dignity, non-coercive, and non-authoritarian. “In the worldwide ethical community advocated by Kant, no one is ever treated as a mere means or a mere thing, or told that X is right just because the government says that it’s right & controls the means of coercion.”3
In addition to dignity, Kant provides two other critical, complementary ideals to which our colleges and universities should aspire, and which also provide a reasoned basis for asserting rights: they are duty (which I’ll speak to by way of an example, in a moment), and reciprocity (in a technical or network sense). Hanna elaborates: “Kant’s notion of reciprocal action = reciprocity is originally worked out in the first Critique, in the Third Analogy of Experience, which postulates simultaneous mutual causal determination as a fundamental structure of the real world. Some distinctive kind of causal structure is needed to hold the natural world together.”
[ . . . ]
In the history of the United States, it may be instructive to consider generations before us who were “grown up” by the age of 21. For example, an aircraft commander in World War II was at this ripe age the captain of a ten-man bomber aircraft, and often a group or even squadron leader, responsible for hundreds of lives and the conduct and performance of dozens of crews. Men and women who fought in or supported the American Revolution were also fully grown up, because they had to be. They were often supporting a family, growing their own food, tending to business matters, and otherwise fighting to survive.
Read the whole thing.
Freedom of the Press Foundation: More than 45 Orgs Call to Drop Charges against Asheville Journalists
While the plight of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Russia is extremely concerning, journalists in the United States have their own brushes with the law. The Freedom of the Press Foundation is highlighting the plight of a couple of local reporters in North Carolina who ran afoul of the legal system for filming police as they cleared out a homeless encampment in 2021.
Last month, an Asheville, North Carolina, judge convicted two journalists of trespassing for doing nothing more than recording police conducting a homeless encampment sweep at a public park on Dec. 25, 2021. The journalists, Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit, are entitled under North Carolina law to a second trial, this time with a jury.
Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) led a coalition of over 45 organizations calling on Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams to drop the prosecution immediately. The letter, sent on World Press Freedom Day, explains that “[t]he journalists should be commended — not tried — for spending Christmas away from their families to perform the public service of documenting important news.”
[ . . . ]
“This prosecution is both unconstitutional and pointless. The First Amendment prohibits using trespassing laws as a pretext to retaliate against journalists for doing their jobs. And nobody in Asheville stands to benefit from government resources being wasted to criminalize journalism,” said FPF Advocacy Director Seth Stern. “The progressive image the city works to cultivate is further damaged every day the charges aren’t dropped.”
Read it all here.
Ben Klutsey of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University with a reminder about “mutual forbearance”:
The Texas legislature is considering weakening the state’s protection of the rights of citizens to speak out (SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”). The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is not a fan:
And finally, at least the former President & Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund found one thing to admire, and Christopher Rufo appreciates it: