CRB: Unsafe spaces

The new issue of the Claremont Review of Books is in the mail and, thanks to our friends at the Claremont Institute, I have read it in galley to select a couple of articles to be submitted for the consideration of Power Line readers. At the heavily subsidized price of $19.95 a year, the CRB affords the most cost-effective political education available in the United States of America. Subscribe by clicking on Subscription Services at the link and get immediate online access thrown in for free.

Pursuing a theme that is close to our hearts and that we have therefore recurred to here repeatedly, contributing editor Bill Voegeli considers the sickening mess on campus in “Unsafe spaces.” Bill serves as the William E. Simon Visiting Professor at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. He is the author, most recently, of The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion, now more timely than ever. His previous book is Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State, also now more timely than ever. He is a wise man.

Bill’s current current essay takes on the compassion brigades that marched across seemingly every campus of the country last year, demanding that “inclusion and even therapy should supplant free inquiry and discourse as the modern university’s highest concern.” In the name of social justice, today’s heirs of the ‘60s radicals cry not for the right to be heard, but for the right not to have to hear anything that might trouble their fragile souls. Better the truth go unsaid than one student feel slighted. Needless to say, this is not healthy for our universities or our country: “This belief that it is justifiable to silence, rather than refute, opinions one finds absurd or abhorrent is dangerous for any society, since it pushes us onto a slippery slope that jeopardizes anyone’s right to say anything. It is particularly antithetical to the purpose of a university, however, since it impairs not only the freedom to speak but the opportunity to learn.”

On today’s campus, interest group grievance politics holds sway with such an all-encompassing grip that deviations from the dogma are met with swift and punitive reprimands. Lives are destroyed over stray remarks and honest inquiries. In the name of toleration no dissent will be tolerated: “In the resulting dispensation, the power to denounce and silence grows with the contention that one’s own dignity, emotional well-being, and psychological safety are at risk. Weakness equals strength. The boundaries of debate are set by the most emotionally fragile. What they cannot tolerate, both in the sense of putting up with and of enduring, determines which ideas and modes of expression are impermissible. The ideas that remain in bounds are those that people can put up with. Strength equals weakness, then, which creates an incentive structure that rewards overreacting to objectionable speech, and penalizes under-reacting.”

Bill’s essay contains penetrating wonderful takedowns of the campus grievance industry, but the best part might just be his recommendation to legislatures funding the protest-loving faculty: don’t show them the money! “Conservatives have been firing shots across the bow of higher education for years, but the Ship of Fools has never turned back, or changed course. It’s time either to surrender or to shoot a round into the engine room.”