The academy’s liberal infrastructure often seeks to justify its existence by enforcing political correctness. When this infrastructure’s subunit at Boise State University recently pounced on political scientist Scott Yenor for his scholarly research, it employed all the honed tools of its trade: humiliation through denunciations, attempts to force repentance upon threat of mock execution, and culminating in the demand for silence and conformity.
What was Yenor’s sin? (Full disclosure: Yenor was my colleague at the Heritage Foundation during the 2015-2016 academic year). He published an academic essay arguing that second-wave feminist Simon de Beauvoir gave birth to the idea that biological sex is not connected to gender. As Beauvoir wrote:
One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature . . .
Radicalized and refined by transgender advocates, the separation of sex from gender came to mean that gender can and should be freely chosen.
As Yenor points out, this rolling sexual revolution sparked by feminism doesn’t stop here. It is leading to a conflict in American society: in demanding that children be free to choose their gender, transgenderism activists, such as Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau, would label parents that prevent their children choosing their gender as child abusers.
In response to Yenor’s scholarly inquiries, the liberal infrastructure at Boise State University released an organized cacophony of anger and sophistry with a view to overwhelming the senses and mind. The university’s director for diversity and inclusion charged in an official statement that people like Yenor have a “pathetic fear of change,” and suggested that Yenor’s desire for heterosexual male supremacy “is the root of genocide.” Some members of the faculty senate agreed that Yenor’s scholarship is fascistic “hate speech,” the publication of which, in and of itself, violated the rights of women and transgender people.
Incited by these official university organs, students have gathered more than 2,100 signatures on a petition demanding the university fire Yenor. His scholarship, the petitioners assert, threatens “the existence of queer and non-binary folks.” A student journalist, defending Yenor’s academic freedom, withdrew his published support on the threat of moral condemnation from other students and ruined career prospects. Many others on campus, witnessing these attacks, have retreated into silence.
Yenor’s essay is an intellectual history. His accusers have offered not a single counter-argument, or raised any questions about the integrity or accuracy of his scholarship. Instead, the politically correct infrastructure at Boise State demands that scholarly inquiries and conclusions of which they disapprove be removed from the sphere of legitimate scholarly analysis—an odd stance if the purpose of the university remains the discovery of the truth.
In Yenor’s case, satisfying these authorities means no further study of the traditional family, religious liberty, or the true nature of human sexuality is permissible. Rather than a concern for the truth, these authorities wish merely to be beyond intellectual scrutiny—calling their self-anointment “toleration.”
The university is a microcosm of what may become of America. This form of moral and intellectual tyranny is peculiar to modern democracies, as French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville observed long ago. While yesteryear’s tyrants employed force in their demand for outward conformity, modern democracy has “perfected even despotism itself” in its capacity to compel conformity of the mind and heart.
Majority tyranny strikes less apparently but more insidiously, Tocqueville wrote:
In America the majority draws a formidable circle around thought. Inside those limits, the writer is free; but unhappiness awaits him if he dares to leave them. It is not that he has to fear an auto-da-fé, but he is the butt of mortifications of all kinds and of persecutions every day . . . for those who blame him express themselves openly, and those who think like him, without having his courage, keep silent and move away. He yields, he finally bends under the effort of each day and returns to silence as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.
The rolling revolution of conformity occurs with great ease and quickness in democracies. It imposes itself on brittle, democratic individuals according to a predictable psychology. Attempts to withstand the majority’s ire begin with self-doubt, leading to shame and self-silencing, and often culminates in the cessation of thoughts with which the majority disapproves. No indication would suggest that justice, good sense, or intellectual clarity can be relied upon to limit the majority’s future demands.
Will a future majority respect the freedom of thought more than it loves its brand of tolerance? Such a choice may never so dramatically come to public light as defenders of intellectual liberty (or of the family, or of religious liberty) may slowly disappear from the horizon through the majority’s power of demanding and enforcing conformity.
Our nation’s health and vitality may rest on the future rule or defeat of political correctness. Should its spirit supersede the spirit of free inquiry, universities will fully lose their meaning—even the natural sciences may succumb to it. Should the spirit of frank and open deliberation on policy issues and the common good be subsumed as well, self-government will be replaced by mass conformity ruled by acrimonious vengeance.
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