The most significant aspect of the anaemic report by the House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights on freedom of speech in universities was the fact that it was produced at all. While the committee’s conclusions reflected classic establishment complacency (“The press accounts of widespread suppression of free speech are clearly out of kilter with reality”), the recognition by MPs that such an exercise required to be gone through to assuage public concern showed that an awareness is stirring among the general population that something is amiss.
And, pace the Parliamentary committee’s bogus reassurances, it clearly is. Universities, in theory, should be temples of free speech, arenas of debate and fierce contention where ideas are tested to destruction. Consider the mediaeval and renaissance exchanges of opinion in famous academic forums such as Bologna or the Sorbonne and ask yourself whether we have progressed or regressed in liberty of intellectual expression. Suppression of free speech in a university, of all places, carries a resonance of sacrilegious incongruity, like setting up a brothel in a church.
In reality, however, universities were ideologically debauched a long time ago. As early as 1848 they became violent cauldrons of revolutionary or nationalist sentiment. The Romantic movement had fostered the delusion that Youth was endowed with some almost Gnostic insight, moral superiority and “idealism” (i.e. imposing one’s own half-baked ideas on a more experienced and sceptical world) and this sentimental myth persisted through the événements of 1968 and so to today’s snowflakes, the contemporary heirs of Young Werther.
Level-headed people ask how can it be that privileged youngsters, who have gone to university to be taught, seek to lecture everybody else as soon as they arrive there. Yet that is not what actually happens. As the above potted history of campus narcissism shows, “liberal” orthodoxy and intolerance are passed on from one generation to another. The immediate pre-snowflake generation is entrenched in academe, most aggressively in such pseudo-disciplines as “gender studies” and in university administration. Intolerance is not an undergraduate phenomenon, virtue-signalling academic staff are a toxic component of the PC enforcement regime.
The Parliamentary committee’s claim that accounts of suppression of free speech are out of kilter with reality disingenuously equates suppression with those relatively infrequent occasions when masked demonstrators forcibly “no-platform” a non-PC speaker. Such episodes are merely the media-attracting tip of the iceberg: at least 95 per cent of monocultural enforcement is non-violent and therefore more potent.
The Parliamentary committee’s report cites, for example, the Newcastle University Transgender Policy: “Transphobic propaganda, in the form of written materials, graffiti, music or speeches, will also not be tolerated. The University undertakes to remove any such propaganda whenever it appears on the premises.” Newcastle University awards honours degrees in Biology. Will teaching materials or examination papers reflecting the scientific reality that there are only two sexes and that they are not interchangeable be removed from the university premises as “propaganda”?
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The transgender issue is a key watershed in the subversion of academic freedom. Until recently, the PC campus terror was confined to the humanities, disciplines that are, by their nature, more subjective. The crossover issue was so-called anthropogenic global warming. Since around the Renaissance, “progressives” had invoked science as an ally against tradition and religion. Eventually leftism and scientism, under the Marx/Darwin/Freud franchise, became synonymous. Although the climate crusaders increasingly relied on the contrived outcomes of computer models, as bona fide science failed to support their more extravagant claims, they still paid lip service to Science.
The transgender dogma, however, is contradicted by science, producing a potential conflict in which the PC magisterium has now made it clear that ideology trumps science. This is historic in that, for the first time in almost half a millennium, radicalism is ditching science as it formerly rejected religion. That in itself is testimony to the increasingly fantastic extravagances of dogmatic liberalism and may well be a portent of its impending intellectual dissolution.
Meanwhile, the suppression of free speech in universities which the Parliamentary committee thought out of kilter with reality has been audited by Spiked magazine and the results published in its Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR). Analysis of the activities of 115 UK universities and student unions found more than 90 per cent were restrictive of free speech, 63.5 per cent “severely” so. Using “traffic light” coding, 23.5 per cent of universities, including Oxford, were rated “red” in 2017, up 15 per cent from the previous year.
The FSUR coordinator, Tom Slater, highlighted the finding that “snowflake” undergraduates are not the worst offenders: “Universities are systematically stifling free speech on campus, while students’ unions take all the flak… Students’ unions have been pilloried for censoring ‘transphobic’ speech, and enforcing transgender pronouns. But our research shows that the vast majority of policies in this area stem from universities themselves.”
The advance of cultural totalitarianism in British and western society is at an awkward stage. Although cultural Marxism, or “political correctness”, has occupied all the commanding heights, its commissars are beginning to wonder if those heights are quite as commanding as they once were. Their confidence has been shaken by their defeat in the EU referendum. If that is the final outcome of more than half a century of creeping subversion, their efforts have hardly been crowned with success.
The first British institution to fall into the hands of the PC left was the BBC: as an exhaustive Civitas study recently showed, of 4,275 guests talking about the EU on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2 per cent) supported Brexit. That was the decade-long record of a royal chartered “public service broadcaster” with a duty of impartiality. Yet Britain voted Leave. Clearly, despite its Parliamentary-imposed gate-keeper role, mugging taxpayers for access to all other broadcasters, nobody is influenced any more by the BBC.
The reality remains, nevertheless, that Britain’s future leaders are formed at universities. If that formation takes place in a PC environment then the increasingly absurd and socially crippling prejudices of cultural Marxism – equally fallacious as Marxism’s discredited economic prescriptions – will damage this country’s freedoms and sap its energy, intellect and moral cohesion. It is time for a thorough reform of universities, but the essential preliminary even to that is the dismantling of a sub-Marxist legislative structure that is underpinning PC hegemony throughout society.
The Orwellian “hate” laws must be repealed and subjective, tyrannical concepts such as “aggravated offences” and “protected characteristics” erased from the statute book. It took the best part of a millennium for British subjects to win equality under the law and that precious gain must be restored. Demonising free speech as “hate speech” is an affront to liberty. Offending a few individuals is a lesser evil than gagging a nation, which amounts to the metaphorical vandalising of every war memorial in the country honouring those who died that Britons might speak their minds.