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Posts tagged David Horowitz


TONIGHT, on News of the Obvious:

Which freedom?

I’ve already mentioned here why I think that (Ward Churchill|Hans-Hermann Hoppe) shouldn’t be fired, even though he’s demonstrably an ass. In the course of doing so, I mentioned off to the side a direction I didn’t think the argument should go–but things seem to be getting steadily worse, so it may be wortwhile to touch on it a bit more.

A lot of people seem to think that the reason to join the fight over (Churchill’s|Hoppe’s) remarks, and the threatened repercussions from his University employers, is to defend his First Amendment rights, or to defend free speech from censorship by (Evil Right-Wing Jingoistic Goons|Evil Left-Wing Thought-Police).

No it’s not.

Let’s start with censorship. In the Roman Republic, the censor was a government official who, among other duties, was charged with safeguarding public morals (and had power to, for example, punish unmarried couples living together or land owners who did not keep up their property). Censorship has expanded and shifted in its meanings since antiquity, but the one thing that all censors have had in common is: they are, one and all, government officials who use force backed by law to suppress free expression. Censorship is a government act, and like all government acts, it is ultimately backed by violent enforcement. (Don’t believe me? Try publishing a censored newspaper in, say, Singapore, and see what happens to you.)

Censorship is, properly speaking, government suppression of free speech. No more, no less. Of course, you might talk loosely about censorious people or organizations without referring to any kind of government enforcement, but this is only a loose analogical usage. More to the point, it’s not the way you’re using the term when you say that the First Amendment bans censorship. All the First Amendment prohibits is invasive acts of government:

Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

But that’s not what happening to Ward Churchill or Hoppe. There are lone nutcases calling for all sorts of retribution, of course, but nobody politically in a position to make a credible threat is claiming that Churchill or Hoppe should be fined by the government or thrown in prison or burned at the stake, and given that all of these things have been done to real people in the past, it’s a bit insulting to lump the late unpleasantness together with these victims of honest-to-God censorship. The worst that’s been suggested for either is losing his tenure and his job; mostly what’s been floated are administrative reprimands and punitive cuts in pay or position. It’s true that–in spite of the fact that Churchill’s and Hoppe’s remarks were complete claptrap–they shouldn’t have to face that. It would be foolish. It would be petty. It would be narrow-minded. But it wouldn’t be censorship.

So what’s wrong with it, then? Well, the problem in this whole debate is that two related, but importantly distinct issues:

  1. Freedom of speech, in the sense of political freedom from censorship

  2. Academic freedom, the ability to participate in scholarly discussion without repercussions from academic employers, even if your views are unpopular or controversial

People on both the Right and the Left run (1) and (2) together all the time, but the fact is that they’re completely different issues, and if we want to fight for them both (which we should) then we need to recognize that they’re different and why. Free speech in the sense of (1) means freedom from government coercion; it’s a good thing to have because if you don’t have it, what that means is at some point or another some goon is going to pick up a gun or a billyclub and use force or threats in order to keep you saying only what the government thinks you should say–which is tyanny, even if what you say is mistaken, ill-reasoned, foolhardy, or even hateful. That’s damned important to keep in mind and to act on; but there’s no call to act on it in this case, because Churchill and Hoppe aren’t being threatened with force by any government officer.

Academic freedom in the sense of (2), on the other hand, has nothing at all to do with freedom from coercion. If we intend to defend it in any kind of intelligent way, just pointing to the Constitutional and moral arguments for freedom of speech in the sense of (1) are going to be completely misplaced. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean being obligated to provide anyone with a microphone, and getting the government to force other people, against their will, to print or air views that they find repellant or keep employing the person who airs those views, is no less tyrannical than getting the government to force people not to print views or employ teachers that the government finds unsuitable.

That doesn’t mean that firing Churchill or Hoppe for his controversial (and stupid) views would be a good idea; it just means that it wouldn’t be a violation of his rights. Saying that academic freedom is different from free speech doesn’t mean that it isn’t very valuable. It is. But it’s valuable for different reasons. Specifically, it’s valuable because academic freedom in Universities is an essential part of a third value:

(3) Open debate, the encouragement of vigorous, wide-ranging, well-reasoned public debate

It’s hard to have open debate if even those who are paid to inquire and debate for a living are always afraid that they’ll lose their job or face retaliation from their employers for holding controversial views. Enforcing a party line is a damn good way to get bad research and timid debate. If you rule views you find odious out of bounds for discsussion before you even hear the arguments for them, then you’re not going to be able to make any serious effort at getting to the truth.

That’s why Churchill’s and Hoppe’s cases are important. Not because you need to defend to the death their right to say what you disagree with–the issue isn’t their right to say anything (which isn’t at issue) but rather their opportunity to make arguments for it in a civil forum without fear of reprisal from their Universities. Open debate is important to have if you want to make any serious progress for civilization or human freedom, and you can’t have that if you decide that, regardless of the quality of argument, you’re just not going to listen to, or acknowledge, certain people because you disagree with their conclusions.

But notice the difference from free speech here: the issue isn’t your right to say something, but rather your opportunity to get a hearing for your argument for what you say. It’s a very good thing for Universities (and, mutatis mutandis, other outlets for public debate) to consult, and publish, and vigorously discuss many substantively different views on the important issues of our day–but only in the context of reasonable standards of intellectual honesty, scholarly rigor, clarity, etc. Free speech doesn’t have any constraints of that sort–you have a right to say things that are glib, superficial, wildly dishonest, unargued, or belligerently stupid. The moral and Constitutional arguments for free speech are all for unlimited free speech; leaning on them when what you’re really trying to argue for is academic freedom ends up as a call to artificially pump up the diversity of conclusions, without regard to the quality of the argument, in the name of defending the right of opposing views to get a hearing. And that undermines the very goals of rational, informed discourse that academic freedom and open debate are meant to preserve.

The late unpleasantness is only the most dramatic illustration of a troubling long-term trend in the U.S.: major public opinion outlets (in the newsmedia and elsewhere), and increasingly even Universities, seem to have no qualms about neglecting, ignoring, or even blacklisting far too many people for having controversial opinions, without considering their arguments. But that’s not censorship; it’s foolishness, and dishonesty on the part of those who try to shut down discussion.

This isn’t just hypothetical grousing about bad arguments; the confusion has practical consequences that we see every day. Churchill’s defenders on the radical Left and Hoppe’s radical libertarian defenders aren’t the only people who have used these kind of arguments; it’s now a favorite of raving lunatics, Holocaust-denying weasels, and jingoistic politicians who have repeatedly used phony charges of censorship in order to try to Mau Mau timid University bureaucrats into giving them a stage for their views whether or not those views are presented within any reasonable standards of intellectual honesty or scholarly rigor. Hacks like that ought to be ignored, denied a stage, and denied jobs at serious research Universities; there’s no censorship involved in that. Churchill’s and Hoppe’s arguments were idiotic, but unlike (say) the fabrications of a David Irving or the mad-dog rampage of a David Horowitz, there’s no reason to say that they’re outside the standards of academic standards for argument or for teaching. That’s why it’s worth it to stand up for their academic freedom, not because they have some kind of right to carry on however they please without being called to account.

When you equate the virtue of academic freedom with the right of free speech, you end up with calls for enforcement in law; the logical end-point of the the David Horowitz-David Irving gambit is phony free speech legislation like Title VI or Horowitz’s own Academic Bill of Rights–bills which try to use government force to tilt academic discourse in the name of increasing the numerical diversity of conclusions, out of misplaced free speech concerns. That’s a direct assault on the idea of the University, and completely undermines all the reasons we have to say that open debate is worth having in the first place.

The (Churchill|Hoppe) fracas is important, but not because it’s a threat to free speech or the First Amendment. It just ain’t, and if you keep pushing that line you’ll find yourself muddling the issue and travelling in some really unpleasant company. (And jeeze, Churchill and Hoppe are unpleasant enough on their own!)

I mean, seriously…

A question has been rolling around in my mind for the past day or so. Why in the hell does anyone take Ann Coulter seriously? For a while I had hoped that Rightists generally recognized that she is absolutely bonkers, but kept her around for the PR purpose of having a token female to point to when criticized for their overwhelmingly rich, white, and male (Ann Coulter is only two of the three) cadre of talking heads. However, I have seen one too many online comment raving to preach on after her sociopathic gibberish and I simply must accept that some people other than Ann Coulter actually believe this shit.

Perhaps I should not be too surprised; after all, Ann’s writings are currently carried by FrontPage Magazine, the house organ of the equally insane David Horowitz. But still…

A couple of months ago, National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen managed to make it into the runoff for France’s Presidential race before he was crushed by a popular front vote for the incumbent President Jacques Chirac. 19.5% voted for Chirac and 17.5% for Le Pen in the first round; in the runoff, Le Pen received the same 17.5% and the 2/3 of voters who had voted for neither all swung behind Chirac. Despite Le Pen’s crushing defeat and the failure of the National Front to gain any parliamentary seats in the June elections, the fact that Le Pen pulled such a large minority of French voters to his side troubled many Leftists.

Three days before his imminent defeat, Ms. Coulter set out on a quixotic mission to defend his candidacy and ruminate on why the cabal of liberals was directing such blind rage against him. However, somehow, in the process of her delirious, racist ravings (In addition to mutilating girls and burning synagogues, another popular Muslim pastime in France is to steal cars, set them on fire and push them off cliffs), she somehow neglected to mention–either because she doesn’t know or doesn’t care–the fact that Jean-Marie Le Pen is an unreconstructed fascist, who founded his National Front party with Vichy collaborators. In her musings on the murky issue of why Le Pen is described as an anti-Semite, his notorious description of the Holocaust as a mere detail in the history of World War II also slips her mind.

But enough on past foibles. Her most recent column, entitled Liberalism and Terrorism, was brought to my attention by Tom Tomorrow, who noted that Coulter attacked him for not being a real American… because of his satirical cartoon against Right-wing rhetoric that dissenters are not real Americans (Irony’s obituary will be featured in today’s New York Times).

Not that that is all that is ludicrous about her column, of course:

  • No matter what defeatist tack liberals take, real Americans are behind our troops 100 percent, behind John Ashcroft 100 percent, behind locking up suspected terrorists 100 percent, behind surveillance of Arabs 100 percent. (Apparently Arab-Americans who object to being singled out for legal harassment and intimidation aren’t real Americans; neither is anyone who is the least bit queasy about mounting assaults on basic Constitutional guarantees. Anyone who fights for the full protection of constitutional due process against arbitrary seizure of power and tyranny by the Executive, is clearly a terrorist-lover who hates our freedom.)

  • These people simply do not have an implacable desire to kill those who cheered the slaughter of thousands of American citizens. (Let us simply meditate in silence on Ann Coulter’s apparent endorsement of having an implacable desire to murder people on the basis of cheering an evil event–that is to say, slaughtering people for having bad thoughts.)

Coulter goes on to cite George Orwell in an attempt to support massive centralization of power in the hands of the Executive branch, disregard for civil liberties, perpetual war against vaguely-defined enemies, and extensive State surveillance.

I mean, seriously.

Why gays – and straights – shouldn’t serve in the military

David Horowitz takes issue with his friend Andrew Sullivan and tells us why gays shouldn’t serve [Salon.com]. The answer: because they’ll fuck all over the place and this will undermine unit cohesion. He deftly silences any attempts to point out the homophobic nature of this argument by spending the opening passage fulminating about how political correctness silences arguments through charges of homophobia, racism, etc. This, of course, is poppycock; by far the most politically correct thing to be these days is politically incorrect, and anyone, no matter how hateful and idiotic, can take up the mantle of the martyr for freethought if he (or she) wants to be immunized against criticism, or hugged on stage by Elton John.

One thing I will give Horowitz: he’s a blithering buffoon but he has an accurate vision of the military. I can’t help but think Right on! as he says Of all social institutions, the military is the most pragmatic. Its task, brutal in its simplicity, is to develop the most efficient killing machine that money can buy and intelligence can devise. and To create the perfect killing machine, the military works hard to drain recruits of their individuality and their self-interested desires in order to make them think like cogs in a machine. An essential part of the military mind is that the members of fighting units don’t think for themselves but do as they are told. But then, of course, I realize that David thinks this is a good thing. Ultimately, I actually agree with Horowitz that this is an excellent argument to show why gays shouldn’t serve in the military. But that’s only because I think it’s an excellent argument to show why no one should serve in the military, for the sake of their own humanity.

Anti-P.C. Right-wing Papers’ Commitment to Free Speech Tested by "God is an Abortionist" Ad

I laughed out loud at reading the latest riposte to David Horowitz’s BS, as David Mazel tests the free speech mettle of Right-wing campus newspapers (including the University of Alabama’s own Crimson White) by submitting an ad proclaiming in bold letters that 1) abortion is not murder and 2) God is an abortionist [Salon.com]. The results?

In an April 2 article in Salon, Horowitz wrote that his own ad had been accepted by 14 of 48 papers. His 29 percent acceptance rate is certainly nothing for the left to cheer about, but it sure beats my own paltry 9 percent.

Of course, I should be clear that I don’t think Right-wing campus newspapers should have to run left-wing outsider ads any more than neutral or Left-wing campus newspapers should have to run Horowitz’s crap. But I do love a good skewering of the Right’s hypocrisy from time to time. (Oh, damn, I’m criticizing David Horowitz, but I’m not running a David Horowitz banner ad on my page! I am such a PC thug that I am censoring his free speech!)

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