By Cliff Porter
Narrow ideological thinking in Higher Education is stunting intellectual development. The “Ideological Imperative” amongst the left is to indoctrinate and aggressively attack any perceived threat or opposition. Recent examples of intimidation and violence on campuses by groups like Antifa are in themselves essentially Fascist tactics. The problem on campuses is obvious to all free-thinking people. Pointing out the problem, unfortunately, is not enough. The Left brooks no opposition, and happily rationalize the sometimes violent assault on rights as necessary for the defense of the righteousness of their beliefs. Fortunately, there are some optimistic signs and other approaches to support the intellectual development of students and the desire for the freedom to think that is inherent in human consciousness.
The “Ideological Imperative” amongst the violent Left is the inherent belief in the righteousness of their ideas justifies and even necessitates their actions. For most Americans, individual freedom, rights, respect for your neighbors are essential to American political culture and our Constitutional traditions. Individual liberty, however, is not the motivating principle of the Left; rather, it is the progressive agenda, with vague socialist, ethnic identity politics, and anti-religious elements. The ideological agenda supplants individual freedom as the purpose of politics and even becomes for many the purpose of their lives. Since so much is at stake in the progressive ideological agenda, any means to achieve the ideology become necessary. Consequently, within the context of the ideological imperative, the threatening tactics of Antifa, intolerance, and campus protests against opposition, including violence, seem logical and necessary. Free speech and free association by conservatives and Christians, are attacked as “hate speech,” or vilified in a variety of emotional terms. In Orwellian contrast, vitriolic yelling, threats, shouting down others, and even overt thuggery by groups like Antifa are rationalized as free speech while delegitimizing individual liberty. They cannot tolerate individual liberty if it conflicts with their ideological goals. Students without the experience or education to resist the ideological onslaught are intimidated into obedience or silence. The irony lost on the Left is that Antifa, which presents itself as anti-Fascist, is using the same vague socialist and nationalist emotions along with the violent tactics and intolerance used by the Fascist Black Shirts and Nazi Brown Shirts – they are in fact Fascists.
As bleak as the actions of the Left appear, college students are not being buried under the weight of propaganda; they still hold onto the foundations of American political culture. When I taught World History, I included the origins of American civilization, liberty, and freedom. The Magna Carta, for example, is less frequently taught than it should be, and essential to understanding the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. When I read sections using old English terms, such as “No scutage nor aid shall be imposed…unless by common counsel of our kingdom,” “A freeman shall not be amerced for a slight offense…,” or, “[no] amercements shall be imposed except by the oath of honest men of the shire,” students’ eyes glossed over. When I explained “scutage” meant taxation, and “amerced” meant punishment, they immediately understood this to be the foundations of no taxation without representation, trial by jury, and legal due process. In a very real sense, the students understood this 800-year-old document was an essential part of their American rights and freedoms, even in California.
Positively at the institutional level, the hypocrisy of the mob tactics was too much for the leadership of the University of Chicago, releasing the “Chicago Statement” defending free speech, and being adopted progressively by more universities, albeit slowly. The protestors, such as Antifa, instinctually distrust free speech, and continue to use “Politically Correct” terminology as a window into the soul to determine friend or foe – too much is at stake to tolerate freedom. Some students still know the last sentence paraphrases Elizabeth I, and recent polls continue to show the overwhelming majority of students still support free speech – even for conservatives and Christians.
An important question is how to reach students, and people in general, behind the shroud of politically correct propaganda and restrictions on free speech? While teaching, I found asking key questions to students caused them to think, rather than spout back what they were told to think. A similar approach on larger scale may be effective for re-invigorating political debate, including free speech, on campuses as well as delegitimizing the Fascist tactics of the Left. Questions such as asking “Should we defend free speech?” or “Are rights and liberty important?” can encourage a discussion of the underlying principles of our Constitutional traditions. The efforts at censorship can make asking these questions challenging. Bypassing restrictions is possible in part through social media, but can also be done using old fashioned bill boards and campus flyers. More than slogans, questions generate discussion amongst students anywhere on campus and often tempers the more outrageous ideas by forcing defense of ideas amongst peers – after all, this is what Socrates did in the Greek polis. Education is a process of enlightenment or awakening of the spirit. The intimidation and indoctrination do not change human nature or crush individual consciousness and the desire to be free. Students want real knowledge. Helping the next generation of students think independently, and break free from restrictive thought control, remains the best defense of Liberty.