I’m back home for a few hours before I hit the road again. I have just enough time to offer the following observations about Jim Sleeper’s attacks on Little Trunk.
First, I’m very disappointed in Sleeper. His book about race relations and affirmative action, Liberal Racism, is excellent and his support for the war against Saddam is admirable. How someone as otherwise sensible as Sleeper could have written the nonsense that appears in the Yale Daily News column, and then followed up with ill-tempered e-mails, is beyond me.
In particular, the charge of “neo-Stalinism” is absurd. The neo-Stalinists Sleeper refers to (e.g., the Young Communist League) were characterized by their use of ruthless tactics to achieve a dominant position in well-meaning organizations in which they did not represent a majority, and then to purge their opponents within this group. One of the main tactics that neo-Stalinists employed was to obfuscate, or even lie about, their convictions and intentions (for example, while American Socialists fought in the “Eugene Debs brigade” during the Spanish Civil War, their Communist counterparts fought in the disingenuously named “Lincoln brigade”). Needless to say, Little Trunk’s report contains nothing that could possibly justify the charge “neo-Stalinist.” Far from attempting to purge anyone, or to gain control of any organization, or to conceal her true beliefs, she has forthrightly criticized the views of those with whom she disagrees. Sleeper’s real complaint is lack of civility. Why he chose to couch this complaint in such inflammatory and misleading terms, only he can explain.
As to the charge of incivility, this is obviously in the eye of the beholder. Compared to some traditions of discourse, some of the work of Ann Coulter, the Power Line crew and, yes, Little Trunk can be viewed as less than completely civil. But not compared to the work of those with whom we are discoursing, including, it now appears, Sleeper himself. Viewed against the utterances of certain members of Yale’s anti-war professoriate, for example, Little Trunk’s words can only be considered uncivil if one accepts that there should be two standards, one for professors and one for students. Indeed, Sleeper’s statements suggest that he equates civility with respecting one’s elders. As a fifty-something, I’m all for such respect. However, when it comes to the market place of ideas, this otherwise sound bromide does not provide sensible guidance.
Finally, Sleeper’s view that students should not criticize the views of their professors in off-campus publications is just silly. Rocket Man has already explained why. I would add that Yale is not a cult or a football team (was it Vince Lombardi who posted a sign in the locker room that said “What you say here, what you do here, let it stay here, when you leave here”?) While Sleeper’s sentiment is not Stalinist, it reminds me of the Leninist maxim that all criticism is allowed within the Party (this part Leninists honored only in the breach), but none is permitted outside. We at Power Line are very proud of Little Trunk for rejecting this anti-democratic approach and for expressing herself so eloquently on a matter of major concern.
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