Current Events

Various Thoughts on Campus Free Speech

In no particular order or organization:

1. John Stuart Mill had a liberty principle, not a harm principle. Read Jacobson’s work on this. Mill thought you could have the right to free speech even when such speech harmed others.

2. Any theory of campus free speech better take political economy seriously. It’s one thing to specify a set of rules or conditions under which speech should be allowed or prohibited. But there’s little reason to suppose that campus administrators, faculty, or students will be any good at identifying when those conditions obtain, or that they will act in good faith. Most of these people are biased hooligans, and some of them are malicious. Many of them think they’re engaging in war. If you tell people “Under special circumstances, it may be right to prohibit a speaker or shout him down,” then people, being people, will believe or claim that these special circumstances just so happen to obtain whenever they dislike or disagree with the speaker. As a matter of fact, censorship will always be an ugly political battle.

3. That was partly Mill’s point: We better have rules that err on side of freedom, because real people will always err on the side of censorship.

4. As Phil Magness notes,  campus movements to shout down speakers and control faculty speech are being led by MLA-departments. These just happen to be the departments with the most activism and the lowest quality “research”; they’re full of poststructuralists, ideologues, and people who do sloppy work that would never cut it in economics or political science. The faculty least qualified to have an opinion on politics are the ones with the loudest opinions.

5. If you want to convince taxpayers to defund education, keep it up.

6. As Diana Mutz shows, people who can explain the other side tend not to be activists. The people who are most active in politics cannot explain the other side adequately.   That should make you worry.

7. Many faculty say things like, “It’s okay to exclude certain points of view, because we know they’re wrong.” But it just so happens that the people who say things like are almost always doing really shoddy work themselves.

8. I don’t think this is a majority oppressing the minority. Rather, it looks like a minority oppresses a smaller minority while the majority sit in silence.

9. I can’t think of any cases of leftists speakers being shouted down or attacked. It’s true that conservative state legislators often try to control campus speech. But on campus, it’s usually the leftists attacking the few right-wingers.

10. In my PPE course, I regularly teach fascist thought. I have students read “the Doctrine of Fascism” and some of the most racist parts of Mein Kampf. They routinely report learning a great deal from it; in particular, many are surprised and frightened to discover that they accept Hitler’s premises in his argument for why Germany has the permission right to invade neighboring lands.

11. Some people say we can’t “platform” ideas that could be used for evil. I look forward to seeing those same people demand we shut down all Marxist talks and fire all the Marxist scholars, since Marxist ideas led to 100 million or more democides in the 20th century. Note that pretty much anything can be twisted in service of evil. Nietzsche predicted the rise of something like fascism, and he pre-emotively complained about how awful fascism would be; nevertheless, some fascists twisted his ideas to justify their cause. So you can criticize X and still have your ideas used to promote X.

12. A more simple way of putting 11: We don’t want to give hecklers a veto.

13. “We can’t question or debate X,” where X is some sacred value. In the middle ages, the Church used this argument to burn heretics. Today, the campus left uses this to justify beating up conservatives.

14. Questioning the values everyone takes for granted is part of our job description. For instance, take the question, “What makes something a moral patient that has rights?” Philosophers are supposed to ask that question and explore different answers. But inevitably that will infuriate certain people.

15. “Talking about X hurts my feelings and makes me feel unsafe!” Be careful making that argument. It can and will be used to silence you in the future.

16. In Fairfax, there’s a Christian bookstore. They don’t sell atheist or pro-Islam books or homosexual erotica. That’s fine. Not every bookstore needs to be like Amazon, which has committed itself to selling anything legal to sell. Similarly, if a university opens up with an explicit ideological or religious identity, that’s probably fine too. (It would suck if all or most universities are like that, but have a few here and there is fine.) However, once a college or university publicly commits itself to being a center of open and free inquiry in pursuit of truth, it acquires a duty of integrity to stick to that commitment.


  • stevenjohnson2

    “9. I can’t think of any cases of leftists speakers being shouted down or attacked.”

    It isn’t necessary to shout down or attack leftist speakers, when leftists are never chosen for commencement addresses or official venues. The ability of leftist speakers to draw large crowds or significant public attention in campus group events is severely limited by refusal of the mass media to publicize them. Leftists are rarely advocating immediate harm to and hate for people of the wrong sort, which makes outrage unsustainable. Lastly of course, when the administration acts to suppress speech, it isn’t regarded as an outrage at all. If you want an example, the equivalent of a Charles Murray is a Grover Furr.

    “11. Some people say we can’t ‘platform’ ideas that could be used for evil. I look forward to seeing those same people demand we shut down all Marxist talks and fire all the Marxist scholars…”

    Marxist scholars don’t get tenure and don’t get contracts renewed already. Even if they did, the ability of the rich to endow professorships and fund policy institutes pretty much ensures that evil ideas are powerfully propagated. More to the point, it is not how ideas may or may not be used, but whether they are real ideas supported by evidence and good faith arguments. In the Murray case, everyone knows this is not so. The only real issue with Murray is whether it is good tactics to use such aggressive tactics against a speaker who is merely a fraud, not an inflammatory demagogue.

    “16…. However, once a college or university publicly commits itself to being a center of open and free inquiry in pursuit of truth, it acquires a duty of integrity to stick to that commitment.”

    The error here is that a university is not a marketplace. If you insist on economic metaphors, the university has a fiduciary duty to foster speech that meets standards of truthfulness and humanity. This means a Murray, who falsifies data to justify policies meant to harm whole categories of people, just does not belong in a university, except as a pedestrian.

    Conservative students routinely beat up “liberal” students. A transgender student beaten in a restroom is a topical example. That of course is merely business as usual. Being shocked when the victims fight back is appropriate to bullies of course.

    • Jason Brennan

      Your response to 11 is obviously false to the point of absurdity. Marxist scholars abound in academia.

      Also, I doubt you’ve read Murray.

      • Phil Magness

        Some data on Marxists (and other radicals) in academia. They cluster in the sociology wing of the social sciences and in the humanities (where more tend to self-ID as radicals than Marxists…meaning they’re probably Critical Theory types)

        • russnelson

          Boy, wait until Steven Johnson 2 sees this. HEAD ASPLODE!

        • Irfan Khawaja

          How do you get “They cluster in the sociology wing of the social sciences” out of the link you’ve just given? Table 12 gives figures for “social sciences” but says nothing about sociology or clustering. The hyperlink above the table doesn’t work.

          • Phil Magness

            Page 40 of the study: “The highest proportion of Marxist academics can be found in the social sciences, and there they represent less than 18 percent of all professors (among the social science fields for which we can issue discipline-specific estimates, sociology contains the most Marxists, at
            25.5 percent)”

          • Irfan Khawaja

            Thanks, the link is working now. But the passage you’ve quoted suggests that you’re over-stating the evidence. The authors are saying that sociology contains the most Marxists *for fields for which they can issue discipline-specific estimates*. In other words, their point is that the evidence is spotty. Your claim is that the clustering obtains in sociology, full stop. Not that anything particularly important turns on this, but the two claims don’t assert the same thing.

          • Phil Magness

            18% of all social scientists (a grouping that includes sociology) are Marxists. 25% of sociologists are Marxists. Sociology (classified as a social science in this study) therefore has a higher concentration of Marxists than the social sciences at large. That would suggest a clustering of Marxists in the sociology wing of the social sciences.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            Sociology has a higher concentration of Marxists than the other social sciences, subject to the authors’ proviso that they cannot issue discipline-specific estimates for the other social sciences. Their claim is consistent with saying that if they could issue such estimates, their claim would have to change. You can’t offer an unqualified claim about Marxist clustering in one social science if you’re simultaneously saying that you’re not sure about what’s going on in the others. And they’re saying they aren’t sure. It may well be that Marxists cluster more in sociology than elsewhere, but the fact remains that you’re over-stating the authors’ claims by ignoring their explicit proviso.

          • Phil Magness

            I offered the reference on p. 40 to you as a courtesy after you inquired about sociology-specific numbers that were not apparent from Bryan’s screencap of Table 12 and indicated you were having trouble locating them on your own. You now seem set upon using that simple courtesy as a springboard to instigate a tendentious and dissembling litigation over a minor and informal observation about the high concentration of Marxists in sociology. Forgive me if I don’t indulge you any further down that rabbit hole, but my instincts tell me that – as usual – you aren’t interested in anything that could lead to a productive conversation about the issues raised in the original post. Go back to your sandbox, Irfan.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            I didn’t indicate that I had trouble locating the sociology-specific numbers on my own–as though they were there and I had trouble finding them. I said the link didn’t work. And it didn’t work. You haven’t disputed that. You’ve just confabulated a claim and ascribed it to me.

            Courteous or not, your interpretation of the study flouts the very text you’ve offered in its support–a fact that’s obvious to anyone who can read standard written English. The authors offered a finding subject to a proviso. You seem to under the impression that a finding subject to a proviso is the same as a finding not subject to one. I know you pride yourself on your crack social scientific skills, but it doesn’t take a Max Weber to figure out that the two things are not equivalent, no matter how many insults you direct my way in the quest to equate them.

            You seem to have a lot of trouble with simple accuracy and reading comprehension, but somehow, your supposedly data-driven “instincts” tell you that this is my problem. Actually, it’s your problem. The problem in question is known as blatant dishonesty–a rather bizarre compulsion on your part to misrepresent the truth in trivial ways for trivial reasons without any real hope of gain from it. The data are rather clear on that–and will remain clear, until someone decides to delete these comments from the site.

          • Phil Magness

            As I noted above, Irfan, you are apparently intent upon using the simple courtesy of the reference I provided as a springboard to instigate a tendentious and dissembling litigation over a minor and informal observation about the high concentration of Marxists in sociology. It now appears that you also intend it to serve as a springboard for gratuitous personal attacks upon my honesty, even after I declined to indulge you on the point. So be it. You’ve built quite the monument to your own absurdity in the course of this thread and others on this blog.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            I wouldn’t characterize what I’ve said about your honesty as either personal or gratuitous. I don’t care enough about you for it to be personal, and there’s more than enough evidence (here and elsewhere) to preclude its being gratuitous in the sense you intend. It would be more accurate to call it a service rendered pro bono publico, involving claims obvious enough to make rebuttal as difficult as it’s been for you.

      • stevenjohnson2

        The only Marxist scholar who received tenure in the US university system that I know of was Bertell Ollman. (But on reflection, maybe from years ago, Stephen Hymer?) It is regrettably necessary to quote myself: “Marxist scholars don’t get tenure…” No doubt it would be a happy thing if tenured professors who later turn out to be Marxists could have tenure revoked for misrepresentation.

        The claim that Marxists are a significant percentage of the university system’s professor would be absurd, were it not so rhetorically useful.

        • A. Alexander Minsky

          Fun fact about Ollman: The tenured Marxist professor also invented a Marxist version of the board game Monopoly back in the late 1970’s. Ollman wrote a book about the experience: “Class Struggle is the Name of the Game: Adventures of a Marxist Businessman”.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Blasphemy! Monopoly was originally a Georgist propaganda game (that was more or less stolen by Parker Brothers). Will those dastardly Marxists, not content with stealing the entire Left from us, leave us liberals with nothing at all?

            …Ah, fuck it. They can have Monopoly. That shit is awful.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Georgism isn’t Marxist, but it isn’t liberalism of any sort ever practiced by any government.

        • Phil Magness

          This claim is out of touch with empirical realities. Survey data show that at least 20% of faculty in the humanities and social sciences describe themselves as either “radical” or “marxist.” That suggests the number of tenured marxists in the academy likely numbers at least in the tens of thousands.

          • russnelson

            “This claim is out of touch with empirical realities.” Is that a PhD-ism for “Bullshit!”

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Maybe the “radicals” are merely describing their opposition to tariffs and support for electoral reform.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Trying to rebut the observation that Marxists don’t receive tenure (but may reveal it or take it up later,) by citing…what? Besides omitting the tenure/adjunct distinction, this datum is silent about what “radical” means. Self reporting is full of pitfalls for the unwary researcher/full of opportunities for the sly. If being “radical” is currently perceived as flattering, the self-reporting is worthless. Nor is it clear why only the humanities and social sciences matter. More objective measure, such as the number of Marxists the administrators might report, or the number of professors with partisan affiliations to organizations that present as Marxist, or editorial connections to Marxist journals.

            I have no doubt you didn’t make up this number, but it’s still deception.

          • Jason Brennan

            Steve must be trolling us.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            SMH head at this whole conversation. Just to illustrate what’s wrong with it: my Dean is a self-identified Marxist of the Sandinista variety. Obviously, his being a Marxist has not hurt him in the least, career-wise (and he got his Marxism, in part, from his grad school mentors). Nor does it hurt others like him, who may or may not “do” Marxism in their scholarship or as administrators, but are nonetheless self-identified Marxists. It’s common knowledge that such people do (as Brennan says) “abound in academia.” You don’t have to travel very far to meet them. And if surveys say they exist, and one has met one’s share of them (and one has, say, 22 years of experience in the profession), it’s hard to deny that they’re there.

            But if you ask my Dean *why* he identifies as a Marxist, his answer has almost nothing to do with the essential doctrines of Marxism, at least as I understand them (or as Marx understood them). Instead, he’ll offer up generic criticisms of capitalism framed in Marxist-sounding language–“alienation,” “exploitation,” the evils of sweatshops, globalization, etc. This is true of almost every “Marxist” I have every met in my life. Which is why “self-identification as a Marxist” is as meaningless a designation as Steve Johnson suggests (though not for the reasons he gives). If someone tells you he’s a Marxist, but holds his “Marxism” in this amorphous form, he’s told you essentially nothing. The Marxism in question is theoretically epiphenomenonal.

            Incidentally, my grad school mentor, Alasdair MacIntyre, was (for awhile) a self-declared Marxist and never even earned a PhD. Yet he had an illustrious career. He taught at Duke, Princeton, Boston, Yale, and Notre Dame, won a Guggenheim, and is now John O’Brien Senior Research Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Notre Dame. Iris Murdoch was a member of the Communist Party and a spy for the Soviets. Didn’t hurt her career, either–while she was alive, or posthumously, either. How many academics get movies made about them? How many get titles of nobility, while we’re at it (“Dame Iris Murdoch”). Or look at Brian Leiter. Or G.A. Cohen. How did their Marxism hurt their careers? Brian Leiter is the guy who spends his time destroying other people’s careers! So let’s not be too quick to assume that Marxism is a career-destroyer.

            By the way, what’s true of Marxists is also true, mutatis mutandis, of libertarians and libertarianism. If you ask libertarians today why they are libertarians, it’s not as though they will snap to attention and recite the Randian-Rothbardian-Nozickian mantras of “NAP.” They will, instead, give you a a drawn-out lecture about Hayek on extended order, or a stern talking-to about the rigors of economics as a social science. In both cases you will be left wondering what any of that has to do with the essential doctrines of libertarianism, as once understood by “simple men” a la Lynyrd Skynyrd.

            In both cases, it helps to remember how Marxists have come to cope with the inadequacies of their theory, and consider the possibility that libertarians have come to imitate their erstwhile adversaries for the same reason: the essential doctrines of libertarianism turned out to be more essential than defensible. If you then administer a survey and ask whether these people self-identify as “libertarians,” they might well say “yes,” for whatever that’s worth. The question is how much it’s worth. Don’t expect an answer from the survey, however “rigorous” its “methodology.”

          • Irfan Khawaja

            Did you delete a couple of my comments here? Two of them seem to be missing.

          • Jason Brennan

            No, I did not. I’ve been away and this is the first time I looked at this thread in days.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            Well, glad I asked, but they’re gone. One was about (9) and one was about (11). The one about (9) raised an issue about “retaliatory shoutings down” and the one about (11) tried to adjudicate between you and Steven Johnson on Marxists in academia. No accusation intended either by the original question or by this comment, just a statement of fact: they were here, now they’re not. Neither of them was really disputing very much that you’re saying here.

      • Fallon

        Does the neo-eugenicist Charles Murray produce data? No. Murray uses other people’s data in meta fashion. So what is the quality of Herrnstein and Murray’s sources? The Bell Curve data relied heavily on Mankind Quarterly and Pioneer Fund research, which have had explicit racist, eugenicist, and political goals. Take for example Richard Lynn, past president of Pioneer Fund, whom both Hans Hoppe and Murray praise to high heavens for his racialism. Jelte Wicherts, expert in statistics for science, found Lynn guilty of corruption and shoddy work after pouring over 100s of Lynn’s sources. Lynn is a key source for race realists like Murray and Hoppe– and the white nationalists love him.

        The “Devastating Criticism of Richard Lynn” blog spots at Racial Reality (BHL will not allow the link for some reason) give excellent snippets of the back and forth between Wicherts and Lynn. Lynn looks worse the more he attracts scrutiny.

        Yeah, so Murray doesn’t falsify data– he just uses corrupt data and libertarians and conservatives never hold him accountable.

        But what is troubling about your use of “empiricism” to defend Murray is that you are doing a shoddy job. Empiricism also involves evaluating data in terms of cause and effect. Data does not speak for itself. To assume that Murray has something solid to offer in the so-called Nature v. Nurture debate is irresponsible. Where is your due diligence? That I have to remind you that correlation does not equate causation says something about what PC v. anti-PC circus does to people.

    • A. Alexander Minsky

      It would probably be more accurate to compare the Stalinist apologist Grover Furr to the Northwestern professor and Holocaust “revisionist” Arthur Butz than to Charles Murray. And Furr is a tenured academic, so your argument that Marxist scholars don’t receive tenure appears to be incorrect.

      • stevenjohnson2

        Furr is a professor medieval literature or some such, and did not get tenure after writing his apologetics. But he is very much comparable to Murray in the way he presents data to a perceived end.

        • A. Alexander Minsky

          I’m far from a professional scholar, but reading Murray’s “Real Education” was a very different experience for me than tackling Furr’s “Khrushchev Lied”.

          Interestingly, a few years ago, Furr spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Stalin Society of North America not far from where I live in Cambridge Ma. The event attracted little attention, and absolutely no protesters. Apparently many view a thinker such as Murray who has uncomfortable views on intelligence and heredity to be morally inferior to a man who argues with a straight face that J.V. Stalin never committed a single crime.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Holy shit there is a Stalin Society of North America, alive and well in 2017!

            That is not even the best part. The best part is that their logo is, without irony, the “Treachery of Images” pipe. Yes, the very same pipe that Magritte painted atop the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”

          • A. Alexander Minsky

            The Stalin Society of North America is alive. It would probably be a stretch to argue that organization is well.

          • stevenjohnson2

            You know that’s not what “many” think about Furr, whom they’ve never even heard of. And of those who do, the rest don’t think anyone will listen to him because it’s manifestly crazy, therefore he does not need to be protested against. What they don’t think is that Murray is morally inferior to Furr, what they think is that Murray is peddling BS to support discrimination against real live people now. Murray is promoted by the media, therefore his interventions seem to matter. Furr’s opinon about dead people they don’t care about because they’re convinced Communism is dead.

            If they thought differently, Furr would be the target of, not just unruly right wing protesters, but of the administration of his university (which he may well be anyhow.) And of course intimidation or repression by the state as well. You seem to regret the great days of HUAC and Joe McCarthy, when people had their morals screwed on tight.

            Even worse, your claim Murray has “uncomfortable” ideas about intelligence and heredity is preposterous. Murray’s so-called ideas are very comforting to long standing prejudices held by a host of reactionaries. Garbing these same old ideas in a cloak of numbers is what has made him more than just another professor.

        • Puppet’s Puppet

          Actually, medieval history is one of the places I would say Marxist theories have been a clear net boon to scholarship. This is because there already was a “teleological” bias in place that was seriously warping the field, namely what is commonly called the “Whiggish” historical error, and Marxist historians did a great job identifying and counteracting those tendencies without, as it happened, adding much in the way of characteristic errors of their own. They’ve been quite rigorous and open-minded people that have simply put some much-needed emphasis on economic scholarship and put a spotlight on all the ahistorical nationalist biases that were affecting things at the time. Medievalism is in a much better state now than in the days of stuffy Oxbridge dons training Britons for foreign service. Credit where it’s due.

    • Phil Magness

      If you think that hardcore leftists are never chosen for commencement addresses, I recommend searching for that term on youtube along with names like Angela Davis, Judith Butler, and Noam Chomsky. The modal commencement speaker in the US tends to be left-of-center. But both hardcore leftists and simple left-of-center politicians appear to outnumber conservatives.

      • russnelson

        Clarkson University gave honorary degrees to the three people who claim to have created the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. At least one of them is proud of her leftist heritage.

      • stevenjohnson2

        Overlooked this before. Following the link, I see that you have tacitly defined “left” as “Democratic Party.” As an avowed libertarian, you are extremely reactionary, but that still doesn’t fly in rational discourse. Your claim the left of center is modal remains unsupported.

        Nonetheless, I must give credit to two counterexamples. Noam Chomsky did give a commencement address in 1999 and Angela Davis in 2012, and possibly in 2016, if California Institute of Integral Technologies, is a real thing. (No, Phil Magness, McGill University and American University of Beirut do not count, even if you feel the world belongs to America.)

    • Irfan Khawaja

      Brennan: “I can’t think of any cases of leftist speakers being shouted down or attacked.”

      Maybe, but that’s a very narrow way of thinking about the issue. Charles Murray was shut down at Middlebury by overt violence, true. But Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul (and essentially blacklisted by academia) by extremely under-handed tactics of a sort bordering on fraud.

      Morally speaking, I’m not sure which action is worse. They both seem reprehensible. Violence and disruption are not self-evidently worse than fraud and corruption.

      Incidentally, the Israeli Knesset has now passed a law that prohibits any advocate of boycott, divestment, or sanctions–even boycotts of settlements–from entering “Israel,” where “Israel” is construed to include Gaza and the West Bank.

      Any scholar (or non-scholar, for that matter) entering the country is subject to an hours-long ideological interrogation and is up for deportation (without compensation) if found to violate the terms of the law. Obviously, if you physically resisted your interrogators, they would use force against you, up to and including lethal force. It’s a live issue for me, as I teach every summer at a university in the West Bank, and have been subject to five-hour detentions/interrogations, strip searches, etc. even prior to the passage of this particular law. I’m not a leftist, but obviously, the law in question targets the left, broadly speaking.

    • Phil Magness

      FWIW, using the 2006 survey data as a benchmark, we can estimate that there are around 31,000 self-identifying marxist professors in the humanities & social sciences. They also concentrate more heavily in some fields like sociology, which has about 4100 of them.


    “Mill on Liberty, Speech, and the Free Society” by Jacobson is good.

  • What are MLA-departments? I googled it, but all I got was ‘Modern Language Associaton,’ which I guess is not what you are referring to.

    I know I should not be plugging my own stuff, but I have just had a defence of freedom of expression published in Reason Papers, available here:

    where I argue that freedom of expression is essential for self-discovery and human fulfilment, as well as for the growth of scientific knowledge.

    On your 7, a point I make is that we can never know which points of view are wrong (I give examples from the history of science). I amplify your point 11: it is not just that ideas must be interpreted, and can be reinterpreted; it is also that the link between idea and action involves a whole chain of other ideas (philosophers of science will recognise here ‘the Duhem problem’). On your 15: we often have to put up with a lot of anxiety if we really want to find out the facts, including the facts about who we are. On 16, I recall Popper’s distinction between schools of learning and schools of indoctrination.

    As should be evident, I very much agree with you on this issue.

    • DST

      I think that’s the MLA Brennan is referring to. He’s using “departments that adhere to MLA style guidelines” to denote the softest of the social sciences. A little cheeky, but probably accurate.

      • Puppet’s Puppet

        Do any social sciences, even nominal social sciences, use MLA? I always thought even the biggest @RealPeerReview hacks out there use APA to give them that veneer of scientific legitimacy.

        • DST

          That’s probably true. I suppose I should have said “humanities.”

    • Phil Magness

      MLA = English, Literature, Writing, and Foreign Languages.

      Each school classifies these differently when splitting up departments, so MLA refers to everything under that umbrella.

      • Theresa Klein

        It’s sort of hilarious. I wonder how many high school seniors enroll in an English program and then are surprised to discover when they arrive for their freshman year, that what they really signed up for was Marxism, Critical theory and Political Activism 101.

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  • Brasillach_

    Your comments on Nietzsche are off the mark. Nietzsche criticized anti-Semitism and German nationalism. But so far as I can recall, I can’t remember any passage where he “predicted the rise of something like fascism, and he pre-emotively complained about how awful fascism would be.” His remarks against socialism, democracy, egalitarianism, and liberalism are significantly more caustic. It’s a poor example for the point you’re making.

    • Jason Brennan

      I’m not a Nietzsche scholar, but the critique I have in mind is something like “On the State” in Zarathustra. I’m in an airport so can’t look it up right now.

  • J.k. Miles

    I’m so glad Brennan mentioned that Mill’s so-called harm principle (I’m not trumping. He never calls it a harm principle) is more a liberty principle, or as Dan Jacobson says an “anti-moralism” principle. It isn’t that Mill is anti-moralistic per se. Mill leaves moralistic pursuits to the realm of persuasion. What is not often quoted is the second part of mill’s “one simple principle” which says, “His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. . . These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise.” Mill’s idea of harm as a violation of a “distinct and assignable” obligation to someone is also quite different than the subjective ideas of harm or making someone worse off. If I have no clear and assignable duty to you not to offend you, then I do not harm you even if you feel harmed. Jacobson’s article is highly recommended.

  • Irfan Khawaja

    Apropos of (9), I’m curious what anyone thinks of what I’d call retaliatory shouting-down, which I’ll illustrate by way of the following (true) story (apologies for cross-narration, as I’ve told this story many times over, mostly without acknowledgement or response):

    Around 1990, I was an undergraduate at Princeton. A former Princeton grad student (then at Rutgers), influential in certain circles at Princeton, invited the Rabbi Meir Kahane to speak at PU. (This was three years into the first Palestinian intifada.) Kahane, protected ironically enough by a black bodyguard assigned by the university, gave a speech on how to handle the Palestinians. His advice? Annex the West Bank and Gaza to Israel, force the Palestinians to accept the status of subalterns without rights, and either forcibly expel or kill those who wouldn’t accept that status.

    Actually, he didn’t explicitly advocate mass killing in the talk; what he explicitly advocated during the talk itself was mass expulsion (“They must go!”). So I asked Kahane during the Q&A what he intended to do with those Palestinians who wouldn’t leave under orders, and he said they’d have to be killed.

    There was an uproar in the room. The Arabs in the audience, all sitting in the same part of the room, started to yell at Kahane. The Kahane supporters (bused in from Brooklyn, and occupying their own part of the room) yelled back. Kahane quieted them both down and then started yelling at me. (Because it’s always my fault.) I hadn’t (yet) done any yelling myself. I let him yell at me for a while, but then got sick of it, and started yelling back at him, partly because he wouldn’t let me speak. He had the mic, so in the end, he drowned me out. Then the moderator stepped in and made it clear that I had to sit down and shut up. I sat down and Kahane continued with his presentation. The bodyguard just sat there stone faced the whole time.

    Let’s put the event in formal terms, so that the analytic philosophers reading this will understand it. S advocates the mass killing, expulsion, expropriation, and disenfranchisement of X’s, a group of people. A person P who is not an X hears him out, but the X’s nearby try to drown out S. S’s supporters in the hall then try to drown out the X’s. Full stop.

    Let’s say that the actions of the X’s are wrong. What about the actions of S’s supporters? Are they wrong?

    In any case, if S yells at P, who has not done any yelling himself, is it permissible for P to yell back in retaliation to the point of drowning out S? In my example, Kahane managed to drown *me* out, but change the example a bit: what if I’d drowned him out? Right? Wrong?

    Is the presumption that the invited speaker has the floor no matter how he comports himself, or is there a discursive version of a non-initiation principle at work here, i.e., if you initiate a drowning-out, you deserve to be drowned out yourself?

    Matters seem complicated if you initiate a drowning-out while advocating mass killing etc. I’m not Palestinian myself, but I have Palestinian friends who would have fallen under Kahane’s mass killing dictat. So perhaps I could have shot Kahane’s ass right then and there in McCosh 50? I didn’t have a gun (and can’t shoot straight), but I could easily have brought a rock into the room. If I’d had one, could I have thrown it at his head? I kind of wanted to, but what would have happened to my illustrious career as a professional philosopher if I had?

    Recall that Kahane was assassinated in NYC just after a talk he gave, not too long after his Princeton talk. Kahane’s attacker was arrested and convicted, receiving a 22 year sentence (not for killing Kahane, ironically enough). I’m not sure whether or not the assassin had attended the talk. But I’m inclined to agree with his assessment of Kahane as a public speaker.

  • S M
  • Ethan Pooley

    Questioning the values everyone takes for granted is part of our job description.

    Perfect. And this reminds me of a line I recently quoted from Barry Lam:

    It is unfortunate that some of the things that make for good philosophy also make for bad public philosophy.

  • DBritt

    I think going after the “MLA” disciplines for being, in your opinion, shoddy detracts from your point. The shoddiness of their work isn’t material to the point at hand.. or if it is should we defer to a professor who does good work but opposes freedom of expression? Besides which, to dismiss not one but many disciplines as having lower quality research is a bit self-congratulatory, don’t you think? As a chemist I think there is a lot my colleagues could gain by better understanding anthropology.

    While we’re talking about shoddy research, “Most of these people are biased hooligans.” Are you asserting that greater than 50% of campus administrators, faculty, and students meet some reasonable definition of hooligan?

    In all I agree with your point, but I feel it’s mixed up in a bit of an angerball that requires further examination.

    • Phil Magness

      The point of calling attention to the shoddiness of their work is to illustrate that the faculty with the lowest scholarly standards are often the most likely to venture well outside of their fields of expertise to offer political opinions about the work of others. Or as Jason put it,

      “The faculty least qualified to have an opinion on politics are the ones with the loudest opinions.”

      • DBritt

        I don’t think I agree that political scientists get to stick a flag in an issue simply because that issue is political. Don’t philosophers have something to say about freedom of expression? Historians? Anthropologists? And anyway I also reject the idea that people who study politics are uniquely suited to have political opinions.

        Beyond that it still remains to be argued that certain disciplines have lower standards than others.

        • Phil Magness

          I wouldn’t claim that political scientist have a monopoly either simply because the subject is political.

          I am however suspicious when a faculty member in the English Department makes aggressively political claims about highly quantitative topics in social science, despite having no demonstrated compentencies in those same topics

  • King Goat

    The interplay of 14 and 16 interests me, or are people at those institutions not doing their jobs? Or are their job descriptions different, but that’s ok, but also it would suck if many more places had such job descriptions?

    • Jason Brennan

      20% or more of the relevant subjects.

      Since Marxism was decisively refuted before Marx even started writing, that’s a pretty high number.

  • Lee

    Professor Brennan, I’m intrigued to know which passages from Mein Kampf your students find themselves in agreement with. If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind sharing the names of the chapters or any particularly relevant passages? I think it’s important to understand the thoughts of those we passionately disagree with, so bravo for including such material in your course.

  • Jason Stanley

    Leftists may not get shouted down but they get fired from tenured positions (see Stephen Salaita). Faculty seen as taken the side of student movements can get fired (see Melissa Click). Leftist faculty get mercilessly harassed online, by the faux right wing outrage machine (of course the students in the student movement got it far more). I am sure right wing faculty also get there share of harrassment. It sucks to be political now or something like that, I am not quite sure what is going on. If you think harrassment is ideologically unidirectional you haven’t been paying attention. Jonathan Haidt notes correctly that it’s a time to be cautious.

  • Jason Stanley

    I teach Mein Kampf – I am teaching it later this Semester. I have taught it to members of our student movement. Nobody has ever complained about it. I don’t actually understand what picture you have in your head of people whom you are critiquing. Are there such people? Have you met and had long discussions with students with the set of beliefs that you seem to think animates some groups of students? I haven’t met any students with the views you seem to think are out there, outside of the pages of Breitbart or the Daily Caller or the National Review or whatever. Maybe they are out there, but it is suspicious that neither you nor I have met any, wouldn’t you say?

  • Jason Stanley

    In my Propaganda class last year I taught Frederick Hoffman’s Race Traits of the American Negro, William Bennett and John DiIullio’s Bodycount, DiIullio’s “My Black Crime Problem, and Ours”, Mein Kampf (and lots of other racial theory). Plenty of members of NextYale took that class, I am proud to say. I taught Language and Power last semester and I’m teaching Mein Kampf in two weeks again to my big propaganda class – and taught super predator theory again earlier this semester. I admire you greatly Jason and the world will be a better place if you put down the Breitbart.