Donald Trump Is Fighting for Free Speech. Professors Who Hate Him, Take Note.

Hostility to conservatives and conservative speech is the rule today in American universities.  We therefore can take no solace in the fact that the school recently guilty of disgraceful behavior toward Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield is Canadian: Concordia University.  It is indeed fortunate that the incident did not entail the verbal obstruction or physical violence that greeted, for example, Dr. Charles Murray and his colleague at Middlebury College in Vermont.  No, Professor Mansfield did not make it to his speaking engagement at Concordia because leftist bigots on the faculty blackballed him.  This generated an unctuous letter from the head of the university's Liberal Arts College, explaining (as if it made any sense) that the invitation to give a lecture was rescinded because the gentleman and his colleagues "were unable to reach a consensus as to what [they] wanted to achieve with this event."

On the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Professor Mansfield analyzes the motivation and premises of those who did not think him worth hearing.  The analysis encompasses both feminism and the postmodern rejection of free speech.  A letter from certain faculty members to the invitation committee had complained of Mansfield's "'writings on gender and culture'" and his "[p]romoting the primacy of masculinity."  Professor Mansfield suggests the connection, which is not without irony, between traditional feminine modesty, rejected by feminists as rendering women dependent on men, and the modern notion of the "safe space," also maintained by men, at least in instances such as this, where men are the deans or administrators.

In postmodernism, Mansfield discerns "the notion that free speech is an expression of one's power rather than a contribution to truth or toward a reasonable settlement."  In the struggle for dominance that characterizes all political discourse, including that of the university, all that matters is that "supremacy of the wrong side ... be prevented by supremacy of the right side."  For to the postmodernist progressive "[s]peech is irrational rather than rational," and reason itself is "nothing but an instrument of power with no power of its own."  It is natural that such people would wish to silence a conservative professor, for he "might trick gullible students and lure them to the wrong side."

Professor Mansfield concludes the piece by recalling his student days in the 1950s, when Senator McCarthy demanded that universities exclude communists and was therefore thought a threat to academic freedom.  Mansfield then little imagined that in his old age, he would be excluded from a college "in our free neighbor to the north, not as the member of a conspiratorial organization serving an enemy power, but simply for holding opinions shared by half the American — and perhaps the Canadian — population."  But as that is the case, and similar and worse events now occur regularly throughout the "liberal democratic" West, does the matter not call for the counsel of practical wisdom, as well as theoretical?  Having stated with lucidity the "theory behind his disinvitation," what does Professor Mansfield think we should do about it? 

The reference to Professor Mansfield sharing opinions held by half the American people is of interest, since that would appear to be the approximately half of the adult population that voted for Donald Trump.  The enlightened faculty of Concordia University would hardly have shunned Professor Mansfield for holding the views of those who supported Hillary Clinton.  Yet Professor Mansfield enunciated his categorical rejection of Donald Trump.

In this article from September 2017, to which we responded, Professor Mansfield characterized the president as precisely the kind of unsavory individual whom the Founding Fathers, through the intricate constitutional mechanism, sought to keep from the presidency.  Trump is vulgar and without virtue — he is the demagogic instigator depicted in, e.g., Book VIII of Plato's Republic, who raised the common folk against "men of quality, nobles, aristocrats, or gentlemen, and accused them of being enemies of the people, the majority for whom he spoke."  Professor Mansfield further suggested that Trump's supporters represented the "vulgar," easily exploited by the demagogue, even though their political views (apart from supporting the president?) seem to have been those that Professor Mansfield now professes himself. It is for holding them that he has suffered this recent indignity.

President Trump on March 21, 2019 signed an executive order authorizing the suspension of federal grants to universities that fail to uphold freedom of speech.  This, obviously, would not affect foreign institutions, nor could it be used to coerce American ones in their choices of guest speakers.  It was intended to address specifically the instances of conservative students and professors, including Christian conservatives, being assaulted or otherwise silenced.  Whatever its effect, it was an attempt to remedy, through the federal power of the purse, the overall problem of academic repression upon which Professor Mansfield now discourses.  How many other such attempts have there been by those in power?   

Many of us who have undertaken to teach Machiavelli's political philosophy to undergraduates are profoundly indebted to Professor Mansfield for his translations and commentaries.  May we not say, in Machiavellian terms, that all who oppose the Left in today's academy — certainly those who lack tenure — are unarmed before armed foes and that "there is no proportion between one who is armed and one who is unarmed"?  The president's order, conveying the threat of punishment to institutions that maintain or permit a regime of oppression, seeks to undo that disparity.  Other efforts must come, but in the meantime, what political allegiance should be forged, in light of experiences like Professor Mansfield's and the spectacle presently unfolding in Washington?

As of Memorial Day 2019, do the Democrats in Congress and their emerging presidential aspirants appear to be men and women of quality?  Are they not the ones stoking class and racial animosity, as well as such schemes of national annihilation as the "Green New Deal"?  Is it really a case of Trump attempting to overturn democracy by persuading the mob to make him dictator or of his antagonists seeking to subvert the result of the 2016 election by contriving false bases for impeachment, having previously sought to corrupt the electoral process by misuse of law enforcement and intelligence agencies?  

Where should our allegiance lie, in this time of peril for American republicanism?  If we deliberate well about what is advantageous for the country and thereby for ourselves as its citizens, is it not necessary to support the leader who resists the tide of events at which Professor Mansfield evinces such surprise?

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