American academia and echoes of the Third Reich

American academia and echoes of the Third Reich Considering the furrow-browed uproar raised by campus radicals over the course of the past month, one might have guessed that several university presidents had invited Joseph Goebbels to impart his wisdom by giving a commencement address. In which case, those who objected to the invitations of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Murray and others to appear as commencement orators or speakers at American universities, suffer from an acute case of historical dyslexia.

Reflect on the following case, which involved a prominent academic and globally famous professor who was denied a promotion because a few radicals disapproved of his political beliefs. Initially they failed, and the appointment appeared to go through. Unfazed by a temporary setback, his opponents enlisted the aid of a powerful union to block his selection. The result? Victory! The appointment of the professor in question was denied and the extremists won. Who were the extremists? A pair of teachers who despised Albert Einstein, dismissed his theory of relativity as “Jewish science,” and deplored those who emitted even a slightest whiff of dissension from the party line. Who was the professor? Werner Heisenberg.

Yes, that Werner Heisenberg, in an incident that took place in Nazi Germany, which saw hundreds of cases like this. Cases of academics forced to recant their views, retrench their thoughts, retire from higher education completely or simply get out of the country while they could.

Indeed, as Richard J. Evans declared in his book The Third Reich in Power, the Hitler regime was built on “contempt for the intellect,” and that “anything that stood in [its] way, including traditional educational values such as freedom of inquiry, critical intelligence, or the ideal of pure research, was to be sidelined or swept aside.” Interestingly, he also goes on to comment that the Nazi penetration of higher education, though it resulted in the emigration of thousands of prominent scientists and scholars, was not nearly as complete as they wanted it to be.

The same thing cannot be said for the coteries of political radicals who dominate American education today. These same radicals also dominate the culture, media, and much of American politics. In fact, in denying individuals as prominent -- and especially in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as courageous -- as Rice and Murray the right to speak, the universities declared their own “contempt for the intellect” which so clearly defined Nazi Germany.

“We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy,” Ali declared in her prepared transcript, “but of truly critical thinking, where all ideas are welcome and where civil debate is encouraged.” 

That, however, is the exact opposite of what America’s backward “progressives” want to take place in our educational system, lest their “feelings” be bruised by comments that just might possibly burst through the barricades of ignorance enforced by the politically correct elites. In fact, as tirelessly pointed out by critics of American education today, the meretricious “diversity” movement includes everything from the ethnicity, race, and gender of the students, but not a whit about what really matters in thriving institutions: intellectual diversity. This intellectual diversity is exactly what Ali had to offer, as well as Rice, Murray, and many others who are denied their freedom of expression in venues where only the party line is permitted. Anything else, we expect, would go “against the core values” of the institution (to employ Brandeis University’s felicitous phrase).

And what values might those be, one could reasonably ask? There doesn’t seem to be a clear definition. Echoes from the Third Reich resound through the actions of today’s radicals and intellectual cowards. Prompting us further to ask, what is next on your agenda of stifling voices you don’t want to hear?

Book burning anyone? 

Marvin Folkertsma is professor and chairman of the political science department at Grove City College, where he has taught some two dozen different courses since 1974. He is the author of several books, including  Ideology and Leadership, Agony of Survival, Criminal Intent, and The Thirteenth Commandment. Agony of Survival was an alternate selection of the Jewish Book Club and nominated for the National Jewish Book Award. He also is a frequent contributor of op-eds that have appeared in news publications throughout the country.

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