Yoram vs. Robby

In the ongoing controversy about what to do about campus anti-Semitism, Princeton’s Robert P. George advocates for more robust free speech on campus, while Yoram Hazony, author of (among other books) Conservatism Rediscovered and The Virtue of Nationalism, disagrees sharply with his former Princeton mentor in a Twitter exchange that deserves a wider audience.

Here’s Robby’s argument:

Over the past two months, the public has learned about some crazy things happening on college campuses. Folks are also now aware of some of the disturbing beliefs young people have come to adopt (e.g. 67% of 18-24 year-olds regard Jews as “oppressors”). What can be done?

First, let’s talk about what not to do. Don’t further restrict free speech on campus. (Believe me, that will backfire.) Don’t expand speech codes or further ramp up the power of DEI bureaucracies in the hope of, e.g., combatting anti-Semitism. It won’t work.

The problem is that universities have become ideological monocultures. Prevailing dogmas go unchallenged; dissenting opinions are rarely heard. Students are catechized, not taught. They assume that only an ignoramus or bigot would not agree with the campus orthodoxies.

The objective needs to be to expose our young men and women to a much broader range of perspectives. They need to encounter and engage the best arguments to be made on all sides of questions that divide our society. We need to empower students to think for themselves.

Independence of mind is the solution. A campus culture of robust free inquiry is what produces students who think for themselves. Students need to be challenged, not coddled, and certainly not catechized and indoctrinated.

I have a number of (friendly) criticisms of Hazony’s two major books mentioned above, but on this issue I think he has the better argument:

Robby, my long-time friend and former teacher, I have only love and gratitude for you and respect for your opinions.

However, in this case I have to dissent. I can’t accept that the only thing to be done about the rise of an organized, exterminationist anti-Semitic sect vying for control of America’s universities, is to insist on the principle of free speech and to teach the students “independence of mind.”

Free speech and independence of mind are principles that very much characterized Princeton when we first met there in the 1980s. As editor of the conservative student magazine on an overwhelmingly liberal campus, I certainly benefited from the tolerance extended to conservative viewpoints in those days. And I continue to inculcate these principles in my own educational efforts to this day.

But as I’m sure you agree, no political principle can be absolute. Every good precept becomes a caricature of itself, and then downright dangerous, when it is taken as applying in every case whatsoever without limit. In political life, what is right is found in the proper balance among the principles, with each good precept setting limits on the others.

When you and I met, radical views were permitted at Princeton. Both Noam Chomsky and Meir Kahane spoke on campus. But neither Chomsky nor Kahane were so brazen as use their platform at Princeton to call for the extermination of entire national, religious, or racial groups. And neither of them were more than marginal figures in terms of their ability to influence the political life of the campus. There was no present danger that they and their followers would end the regime of free speech and independence of mind that governed the lives of both faculty and students.

Such 1980s radicalism is not a precedent for what is happening today. The neo-Marxist and Islamic supremacist movements that have established a powerful–in many places, dominant–position on university campuses are unlike anything you and I experienced in those days. In their calls for “genocide” against “oppressor groups” such as whites and Jews, they are explicitly inciting to violence against other faculty members and students. They do not express these views peacefully, in the hope of persuading. Rather, they deploy threats, aggression, deception, and a wide variety of forms of abuse in order to intimidate and silence anyone expressing disagreement with their positions.

Worst of all, they rely on like-minded allies in the disciplinary apparatus of the university to make sure that conservative, nationalist, Christian, or Jewish faculty and students who resist them in any public way are charged with and convicted of various supposed “hate crimes” for doing so; whereas neo-Marxist or Islamic supremacist faculty and students who use tactics of intimidation and abuse to purposely put an end to free speech and independent thought on the campus are granted de facto immunity in the face of whatever charges are filed against them.

The result of all this is that conservative, nationalist, Christian, and Jewish faculty and students are being systematically eliminated from academia. This has been happening for years. But now we have reached the endgame. The anti-Semitic tirades of recent months are so explicit and so shameless precisely because the purge is approaching completion.

In other words, the universities, through an excess of liberality and toleration, have permitted the establishment on campus of organized groups of faculty and students advocating for white genocide and Jewish genocide. These are not supporters of free speech and independence of mind. They are unblushing totalitarians and apologists for the most extreme forms of violence imaginable. Their presence on the campus, combined with their vicious techniques of suppressing all opposition, have ended free speech and independence of mind in many of the most important universities.

It is inconceivable that a scholar such as yourself, who has witnessed all this at close range, cannot see that further calls for free speech and independence of mind are wildly inadequate to these circumstances. These institutions are either lost or on the verge of being lost, and yet you seem to endorse the very policies that brought us to this horrific and menacing crossroads–which is plainly a danger both to academia and to the nation these universities were designed to serve.

I would respectfully request that you reconsider. Surely, you recognize the possibility that free speech and independence of mind are not principles that can defend the university against organized movements of fanatical faculty and students bent on transforming it into an institution devoted to inculcating hatred and revolution. After all, these principles failed to prevent the transformation of the liberal university of the 1980s into a training facility for revolutionary action against whites, Jews, and other “oppressor groups” in the 2020s. Moreover, these principles failed to prevent the capture of the immense prestige and vast resources of these institutions by those whose entire purpose is to repurpose these formidable assets to the advancement of bigotry, hatred and revolution.

And because these principles have already proved their impotence in the face of these neo-Marxist and Islamic supremacist groups, it is only reasonable that we should at this time emphasize other principles that can be more relevant to our present circumstances.

With all good wishes from your friend and student,

Yoram Hazony

We report, you decide.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.