Review Of Sigal R. Ben-Porath, Free Speech On Campus

September 2018

At the end of her essay Note sur la suppression générale des partis politique, the French philosopher Simone Weil describes “intellectual leprosy,” where people take sides rather than think. In this way, she says, politics has thoroughly corrupted all forms of thinking. Hers is a brilliant indictment of the modern condition – a humanity forever roiled by the emotions of political allegiance, in which individual human beings are entirely forgotten.

Intellectual leprosy rages especially at universities where campus intellectuals behave like politicians, as they contrive new ways to place man over man, which is the true tyranny of technocrats, or experts, who promise to help us walk towards a good future. Such is the poisonous fruit of historicism.

An earlier French thinker, Frédéric Bastiat, in his classic work The Law, also described this leprosy. Bastiat called it “philanthropic tyranny,” where experts place themselves above humanity and then dictate what people are to do by tinkering with values – so much so that those values then become valueless.

Then, such tinkering is made into a system in the form of laws, or political diktats, which are treated as morality. This leprosy, this kind-hearted tyranny – this notion that morality progresses, gets better over time, as humans evolve into better creatures – was also the logic of the Jacobins, Leninism, Stalinism, Hitlerism, Maoism.

Thus, certain modern thinkers continually reject nature and all its connotations, and in its place seek to establish mental constructions that are meant to please the herd, the great collective. In this way, Hegel’s “cunning of Reason” is subverted. Consequently, for example, biology is trivialized, and in its place, artificial significance is vaunted (gender identity) – so much so that anything that seeks to return significance to the natural is fought tooth-and-nail until it is fully subdued. This has happened to social life, and this has happened to language.

Julien Benda called this subversion “the intellectual organization of political hatreds.” In this way, the scholar becomes an ideologue, ever eager to serve society, for the sake of power, or adulation – and thereby forgets the true calling of the life of the mind: to serve only truth. Thus, the scholar simply becomes a toothless state functionary. Benda called this debasement “the treason of the intellectuals.”

This leprosy, this tyranny, this treason is well illustrated in Sigal R. Ben-Porath’s book, Free Speech on Campus, which is really nothing other than an over-wrought instruction-manual on how to assemble and use the “new machine,” the new mental construct that Ben-Porath has built, and which she calls, “inclusive freedom.” When used properly, this gizmo will always spit out “protection” for both free speech and human rights. What can possibly go wrong?

What Ben-Porath offers, in fact, is artificiality, an imagined fabrication, over the natural reality of people living with each other, as they always have. But for Ben-Porath that cannot be; nature is incomplete – it needs some system to make it beneficial to man. So, humans do not just meet and get along. No, their co-existence is always to be negotiated by experts, who alone know what is best for the world, who alone can help us live better lives and be better human beings. Such technocrats are the Great Helmsmen charting the ship of human destiny to its proper port. Such is the mania for the machine that even the natural use of language, of exchanging words with one another, of participating in meaning is to be qualified – so that by controlling language, technocrats can train us to think “better thoughts” and use “better speech.” Thus, the natural character of language is now stifled by fake, imagined constructs, such as, “free speech,” “hate speech,” “better speech.” Each word is to be calibrated and manipulated to extrude the proper outcome. Humanity is not allowed to exist outside the interpretations of technocrats. Such is the tyranny, the leprosy, the treason in which humanity is called to live.

Ben-Porath describes “inclusive freedom” as “…an approach to free speech on campus that takes into account the necessity of protecting free speech in order to protect democracy and the pursuit of knowledge while recognizing the equal necessity of making sure that all are included in the ensuing conversation.”

Notice the clunky, sputtering lie, the contradiction, the confusion and false assumption. First, the lie. If free speech exists, then inclusion is a given. Free speech specifically means everyone is allowed and expected to speak without fear. Only silence offers the possibility of exclusion, although that too is problematic – physical presence itself is also an expression, a language of freedom (as in silent protests). If free speech truly exists, then there can only be inclusion. In other words, her machine just sets up a protection racket which will benefit technocrats like her.

Second, the contradiction. Inclusivity can only exist by establishing exclusivity. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. But she walks into this contradiction rather easily “…attention to speech is called for by issues surrounding it, such as the possible motivations of speakers, including ‘the troll problem’—speakers who intend merely to be provocative rather than to inform, challenge, or generate dialogue.”

The key terms here are, “motivation,” and “attention to speech,” in that speech of all kinds, though allowed, must be regulated and monitored, lest it transgress the stipulated boundaries of “inclusive freedom.” The intent of the speaker is crucial to controlling words and crowds. How easily the machine shifts into tyranny gear, and then goes into over-drive: “…views and opinions are oftentimes assessed ad hominem, based on the speaker rather than the content of speech. The harm is embedded in the assumption that some people cannot participate in the conversation at the same level of knowledge, meaning they and their views are not equally valued.”

Free speech is long forgotten, or now even unimportant (likely it was just a ruse, the honey around the cup’s rim to get us to drink down the bitter poison). Someone might want to ask Ben-Porath – who made her Lord Protector? The campus is not a daycare center, where children need to be kept from being hurt. If education is about cultivating feelings, then it is better to bulldoze universities now. This is care-ethics driven insane by the leprosy, the tyranny, the treason.

Third, the confusion. Ben-Porath professes education, political science and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and so it is curious that she loses herself in her own fog of words so often, and in so short a book. If “inclusive freedom” is all about getting everyone to have a civil conversation, then why does she actually believe that words are weapons “…the fact, which is hard to deny, [is] that speech that causes dignitary harm can silence members of already vulnerable groups and put their equal status as members of the community into question— is reason enough to regulate that speech or even to ban it.”

There cannot be a conversation if words are seen as weapons – there can only be war. Ben-Porath belongs to the more common liberal tribe of the professoriate who have taken the illogical conclusions of Jeremy Waldron to heart that words can “wound, terrify, discourage, and dismay.” This is nothing but the leprosy of safetyism, the tyranny of care-ethics and intersectionality, and the tyranny of historicism. And it is the first cultivation of another mental disorder – logophobia – where unmonitored words are not be trusted. Technocrats alone know best.

Does Ben-Porath actually believe that her machine will protect democracy, the entire university system – and freedom itself? This is the hubris of tyranny. But things get worse.

Fourth, the false assumption. Throughout her book, Ben-Porath assumes that the threat to free speech on campus always comes from outside, from one particular sector of society (conservaties), while the professoriate holds the “truth,” which outsiders want to destroy. “But opposing views are common on the conservative right and beyond, making the tension between groups espousing these opposing views raw and sometimes explosive.”

This is nothing more than delusion, brought on by hubris, imagining that experts are a caste apart, who alone know how to handle and dispense “truth.”

In case there is any confusion about this issue, Ben-Porath makes things clear: “The main challenge is how to clarify the correct position to a student who holds an incorrect one.” In other words, the real task of the technocrat professor is to ensure that indoctrination is completely successful, by enforcing the “correct position.” Teaching, then, is philanthropic tyranny.

But sometimes you have to put up with barbarians (she, of course, mentions Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray) – so let them rant and rave and go home – “inclusive freedom” will kick in and easily explain away their madness, and instil the correct point-of-view. “This can be done within ground rules that respect all members of the class[room]….” The ground rules are the “truth” of her own technocratic tribe, liberal-progressivism. Ben-Porath is, expectedly, blind to the fact that her machine can only produce bigotry dressed up as civility – for in her “correct” worldview the barbarians, the outsiders invading the campus are always “right-wing.”

What is the state of the university itself? What is education for? Ben-Porath gives the expected answer. “The demand that students learn to shed their particular identities as they gain an education is not only impossible to fulfill; it is also seen today as discriminatory. Presumably, what remains after we shed our specific attributes is a shared rational mind, which many see as a product of Western, male, white thinking— one that rejects insights from other genders, cultures, or perspectives.”

Such arguments are so easy to take apart because they fall all over themselves in their contradictions – but Ben-Porath’s book is not important enough to warrant a piece-meal dismantling of her argument (which stems from a very confused and therefore inadequate Hegelianism). But if education is not going to be about the rational development of the mind, then why bother with disciplines, why bother with experts, why bother with universities themselves, which are all products of the “rational mind?” Ben-Porath invalidates her own life rather quickly, by trying to invalidate the life of others.

And just to make sure that you understand what she wants you to understand, here is how she shills for “truth” in front of her students: “…there is no room for questioning scientific evidence, even if one’s ideological position runs counter to the information laid out in class.” This is such a wobbly Scientism that the less said the better.

The last century is littered with mass-graves of people who wanted to question the evidence and the information given them by science. In fact, science can be no more than conclusions, drawn from cause and effect – science can never be truth itself. Ben-Porath’s argument, however, is hardly that sophisticated. Like a good technocrat, everything she prefers is the “Truth.” Anything that opposes her “truth” is wrong.

Finally, it is interesting that Ben-Porath rather helpfully offers the epitaph to her own invention. “The demands of inclusive freedom on campus are broader than the simple protection of free speech through the institution of rules.” R.I.P.

However, Ben-Porath is successful in advancing a methodology now current among academics – linguistic engineering, where thought and words are deemed to be the same. The roots of this notion lie deep in Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism. In order to rebuild people’s minds, language must be thoroughly controlled. But it was Mao who perfected the approach, as David Apter, Tony Saich and Ji Fengyuan have so thoroughly detailed. Such engineering has very rapidly become the ideal tool of campus intellectuals, and is becoming dominant on the Internet, where complete control of speech by tech-giants is now the next Leap Forward.

It is only by way of an invigorated and focused conservatism that this leprosy can be cured, and then the tyranny of linguistic engineering overthrown. There really is no other possibility left – and we ignore the treason of the technocrats at our peril, whose “regimented, collectivist love,” as Robert Frost observes, will destroy us. We are all born free, and yet these self-righteous technicians of the human soul want to put us in chains for their own glory. In the words of Alain Finkielkraut, “Freedom is impossible for the ignorant.” The real fight will be setting language free from the sweaty hands of technocrats.

To start that fight, here is a little machine that kills all tyrants, especially self-righteous ones. We must always remember – whenever you put an adjective in front of freedom, you have lost it.