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E-Pluribus | November 1, 2021
Defending American classical liberalism from both sides, fighting for freedom in Tibet, and the University of Florida bans faculty from testifying.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
David French: A Christian Defense of American Classical Liberalism
On the surface, the nationalistic “New Right” and social justice-focused “New Left” may appear to be polar opposites. But at The Dispatch, David French argues that both represent different illiberal ends of the ideological spectrum, comparing the populist Christian intellectuals of the New Right with the New Left’s embrace of anti-racism/critical race theory. Both, French contends, are ideologies at war with American classical liberalism.
On the right, the challenge comes most prominently from a cohort of mainly Christian intellectuals, many of whom were featured in an extended New York Times piece about the new right and some of whom are in a marriage of convenience with Trumpist populism. They perceive liberalism as both problematic on its own terms and inadequate to the task of resisting “woke” post-liberals on the left.
Whereas critical race theorists root their objections to liberalism in its coexistence with American oppression, many Christian post-liberals (perhaps we can call them “critical religion theorists”) root their objections in liberalism’s alleged contributions to American immorality and godlessness, with a particular emphasis on abortion and the sexual revolution.
According to this critique, the individualism that liberalism protects (and fosters) eats away at the integrity of the church, the community, and the family, creating a nation of atomized individuals who seek mainly their own pleasure.
Ultimately, both the critical race theorist and the critical religion theorist reach a similar space—that the allegedly self-indulgent nature of liberalism creates a class of people who look after only their own interests and abuse liberty to pursue those interests. According to this critique, a better and more just society would seize the reins of power and decisively utilize the government to reorder the nation’s public and private life, a process that would require dramatic alteration in the relationship between the individual and the state.
Post-liberal right and post-liberal left fundamentally prioritize the power of the state over the liberty of the individual. Under their preferred forms of government free speech, economic freedom, private property, and religious liberty would all be fundamentally transformed and dramatically diminished.
Read the full piece.
Aaron Sarin: Tibet’s Long Fight for Freedom
The Tibetan struggle against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) represents one of the starkest examples of authoritarian oppression in the world. Aaron Sarin at Quillette provides a thorough overview of the past, present, and future of this fight for freedom, comparing it to the CCP’s more recent totalitarian crackdowns and abuses.
While the international community does its fawning best to please Beijing, the pressure rises back in Tibet. Over the past decade, this pressure has reached sufficient intensity to produce a spate of self-immolations: those most startling and instantly recognisable images of Tibetan resistance. One hundred and fifty-six monks, nuns, and ordinary citizens have set themselves on fire since 2009. A long tradition of self-immolation can be found in both Hinduism and Chinese Buddhism, but Tibetan Buddhism has generally frowned on suicide, viewing it as a disruption to the natural cycle of death and rebirth—an unnatural leap ahead.
The current situation is changing all that. Not unlike Hong Kong’s frontline protesters in 2019, with their street battles and Molotov cocktails, some Tibetans have realised they live in a time that calls for truly desperate measures. Perhaps, when confronted with an enemy that would rob you of both group identity and individual dignity, the pacifist approach seems less wise than it once did. Perhaps it appears merely weak and ineffectual. In such moments, an act of violence is surely the natural response, whether directed outward or inward.
Self-immolators who survive are subject to tortures at the hands of the Chinese police, first in the back of the van as they speed from the scene, and then as they lie with limbs amputated in their hospital bed. To avoid this fate and better achieve their objective, they have taken to wrapping themselves in quilts held tight with wire so that the flames are harder to quench. Some of them also now drink gasoline in addition to dousing themselves. This ensures they burn on the inside as well as the outside.
[ . . . ]
And so, since 2019, hundreds of thousands of Tibetan pastoralists and farmers have been forced into military-style “vocational training” camps in order to reform their “backward thinking” and “dilut[e] the negative influence of religion.” The process has been slower and quieter than in Xinjiang, due in part to the longstanding popularity of Tibetan culture throughout China. The Uyghurs are unloved, and so the Party fears no Han Chinese backlash to its actions up north. But the final goal of identity erasure appears to be the same in both provinces. Tibet may soon face its own creeping genocide, or as the Chinese Embassy in the US prefers to term it, “improvement in population quality.”
Read it all.
Michael T. Nietzel: Why The Academy Should Be Alarmed About The University Of Florida’s Ban On Faculty Testimony
Over the weekend, news broke that the University of Florida told three of its professors that they could no longer testify as expert witnesses in a lawsuit involving a new state voting law. At Forbes, president emeritus of Missouri State University Michael Nietzel contends the university’s reasoning for preventing the professors from testifying is flimsy while also setting a dangerous precedent for academics around the country.
On October 30, as the brouhaha quickly escalated into national news, the University of Florida put out the following statement:
“It is important to note that the university did not deny the First Amendment rights or academic freedom of professors Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin. Rather, the university denied requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.”
The university’s attempt at distinction is not very convincing. If the fact that the faculty were to be paid for their time is the real issue, that can be resolved quickly. I bet at least one of them, if not all three, would do the work for free. If that’s the case, the university should withdraw its objection. If it doesn’t, that’s convincing evidence that outside compensation is, as many suspect, not the real issue.
The University of Florida’s decision to muzzle its faculty appears to be an unprecedented case of prior restraint. The idea that a faculty member employed by a public university cannot testify about his or her area of expertise because such testimony - pro bono or otherwise - might be adverse to the state’s case is preposterous. Faculty have been doing it for years. I know because I did so myself when, as a faculty member at the University of Kentucky, I testified multiple times about the effects of various voir dire procedures used in capital murder cases.
[ . . . ]
The ban on the professors’ testimony is an obvious restriction of free speech, and the fact that the university was a party to it represents an attack on academic freedom by the very institution that should be protecting it.
The precedent set by this case should set off alarms across the academy. If a university can gag expert testimony, can it also ban paid speeches by its faculty, prevent consulting work for advocacy groups that a governor or legislator dislikes, or prohibit the publication of articles that criticize elected officials?
Read the full column.
More reactions to UF’s barring of professor testimony:
Are journalists cheering Big Tech crackdowns on countervailing views about climate change undermining the First Amendment?
A thread on the misplaced blame on Facebook for all of our societal ills (click through for the full thread):