Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"A 'truth' that will not debate is a truth that deserves to lose"

Stephen Carter is a professor of law at Yale. Here he explains the ideological rationale for campus intolerance. He calls those who refuse to permit speech they dislike "downshouters." Carter:
.... Students who try to shut down debate are not junior Nazis or proto-Stalins. If they were, I would be content to say that their antics will wind up on the proverbial ash heap of history. Alas, the downshouters represent something more insidious. They are, I am sorry to say, Marcusians. A half-century-old contagion has returned.

The German-born Herbert Marcuse was a brilliant and controversial philosopher whose writing became almost a sacred text for new-left intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s. Nowadays, his best-known work is the essay “Repressive Tolerance.” There he sets out the argument that the downshouters are putting into practice.

For Marcuse, the fact that liberal democracies made tolerance an absolute virtue posed a problem. If society includes two groups, one powerful and one weak, then tolerating the ideas of both will mean that the voice and influence of the strong will always be greater. ....

.... The only way to build a “subversive majority,” he writes, is to refuse to give ear to those on the wrong side. ....

Opening the minds of the majority by pressing one message and burdening another “may require apparently undemocratic means.” But the forces of power are so entrenched that to do otherwise — to tolerate the intolerable — is to leave authority in the hands of those who will deny equality to the workers and to minorities. That is why tolerance, unless it discriminates, will always be repressive. ....

Today’s campus downshouters, whether they have read Marcuse or not, have plainly undertaken his project. Probably they believe that their protests will genuinely hasten a better world. They are mistaken. Their theory possesses the same weakness as his. They presume to know the truth, to know it with such certainty that they are comfortable — indeed enthusiastic — at the notion of shutting down debate on the propositions they hold dear. Marcuse, as I said, was a brilliant philosopher, but on this question he was simply wrong. My own old-fashioned view is that a “truth” that will not debate is a truth that deserves to lose. ....

.... The downshouters will go on behaving deplorably, and reminding the rest of us that the true harbinger of an authoritarian future lives not in the White House but in the groves of academe. [more]