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Brandeis’s “repressive tolerance”

Like me, Michael Ledeen finds that “if there’s anything really new about Brandeis’ disinvitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it’s that they invited her at all.” While many seem surprised that Brandeis, founded by Jews in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, would align itself with Islamists and their apologists, Ledeen finds no underlying inconsistency.

Brandeis was the home of professor Herbert Marcuse, the iconic leftist philosopher of the 1960s. Marcuse dedicated his book Repressive Tolerance to his Brandeis students. He summarized its thesis this way:

The. . .realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed. In other words, today tolerance appears again as what it was in its origins, at the beginning of the modern period–a partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice. Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression. . . .

[T]he restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions. . . .

Marcuse helped inspire Abbie Hoffman and Angela Davis, the leftwing criminals whom the Brandeis admissions office cited as distinguished alums to prospective students when we visited the campus. And the thesis he set forth in Repressive Tolerance is translated into practice regularly at campuses throughout the United States.

Withholding an honorary degree from Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not, however, an instance of repressive tolerance. Colleges have no obligation to award honors to any particular individual, and it makes little sense for them to honor advocates whose doctrines they reject or feel uncomfortable with.

Repressive tolerance — in other words, intolerance in the name of leftism — comes into play when colleges fail to provide students with exposure to advocates whose doctrines they reject or feel uncomfortable with. This occurs if such activists are not invited onto campus in the ordinary course of affairs (as opposed to at commencement) or if they are invited but not protected.

Intolerance is also a hallmark of Islamism, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues so persuasively. The fact that her advocacy makes Brandeis uncomfortable, even as it lionizes Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman, is a strong sign that Brandeis’ sympathies lie with “repressive tolerance” rather than the genuine kind.

Herbert Marcuse would be proud of his old University.

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