There is a difference between the US political left and right in the area of tolerance of ideas.
In general, the right argues vehemently against the left’s ideas, but does not advocate blocking them. For example, while many conservatives are looking forward to the New York Times’s business failure, and take a certain grim delight in the poor performance of far left media such as MSNBC with the American public, we don’t want them shut down just for saying what they say.
Suppressing the opposition
On the left, this issue is seen very differently as a general thing. The left spends millions of dollars, and millions of phone calls, letters and emails, trying to get spokespeople for the right shut down. I’ve been a subscriber to one of those efforts, “Media Matters for America,” for most of a decade, and I have noted that they are quick to resort to false information to advance their narrative. The Soros-funded operation makes no secret that they want Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others off the air forever. And to eliminate even blogs like mine, one of the goals of the Fairness Doctrine.
We heard something of this from John Kerry in the past few days, when he challenged the news media (largely leftist already) to block ideas from the political right. Similarly, far-left economist Paul Krugman is calling for conservative views to be censored from news reports. Krugman’s take is that the idea of compromise is itself an evil: “No, the cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism.”
If you were to ask a typical American which political party or ideology identifies with the idea of “tolerance,” most would answer “the Democrats” or “liberals” or “progressives” — and yet, these notions of eliminating opposition don’t seem to jive with this. Nor do several other aspects of the left’s behavior in the US:
- While many on the right oppose gay marriage, the left will attack and destroy the careers and livelihood of gays that don’t agree with them politically.
- The left has become the home of racist jokes in the US, placing stereotypical anti-minority humor and slurs in the media if the targets are minorities that don’t agree with the left politically.
- Women are the targets of continuous sexist attacks by the left if they aren’t following leftist ideology.
- Religious people are under siege by the left, unless they are leftists/Muslims of course.
- And the very rare conservatives invited to speak on campus (that ratio is about 15:1 against) are regularly attacked by leftist mobs, who cannot stand that ideas they disagree with might be heard.
So how is it that the people that have branded themselves as “tolerant” behave this way? How is it that the woman involved in the harassment of Glenn Beck and his wife at a theater would write “We live our lives intolerant only of those who don’t tolerate.”
Doesn’t that sort of doublethink give them pause? No. And that’s been true for about half a century.
Academic Freedom is History
Understanding the history here provides clues to this attitude. For decades now, universities have striven to eliminate conservatives in academia; the ratio now in many disciplines is on the order of 30 to 1 in favor of liberals. This despite a tradition, going back over more than a century, of explicit bylaws requiring that education be taught, and knowledge pursued, independently of politics. For example, here is Rule APM 0-10 of the University of California, adopted in 1934 and quoted in part:
The function of the university is to seek and to transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known. To convert, or to make converts, is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes necessary in performing this function of a university, to consider political, social, or sectarian movements, they are dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts…
Essentially the freedom of a university is the freedom of competent persons in the classroom. In order to protect this freedom, the University assumed the right to prevent exploitation of its prestige by unqualified persons or by those who would use it as a platform for propaganda.
This rule is part of an essential concept: that knowledge and teaching should be fair, impartial, fact-based, and without propaganda. Who could argue with these ideas?
The leftists in charge of modern universities could, and did. Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist professor at Brandeis, wrote a paper in 1965 called “Repressive Tolerance,” in which he advocated the new concept of “revolutionary tolerance.” Here’s his entire essay. And much more about him, written by non-leftists and collected (without much opposition offered) by a member of his family. His basic point regarding tolerance is that “society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake: here, certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed, certain behavior cannot be permitted without making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude.”
Thus, he makes his case that “revolutionary tolerance” solves a problem he describes earlier: “Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.” These things are, in practice, anything that impedes the advent of Marxism.
Art, Not-Art and Anti-Art
Along the way, he adamantly states that art cannot be repressed. And yet, Marxists have been quick to eliminate any art that they thought did not support the Communist State. How does Marcuse get there? He breaks “art” into “art, not-art and anti-art.” The latter two, you see, can and should be repressed. Of course, his people will make the decisions on what to tolerate.
For he argues that to do otherwise is to allow “Tolerance toward that which is radically evil.” And the repression of speech and acts is entirely appropriate in “liberalist theory”: Tolerance was ‘to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties'” — and only Marxist liberals are mature, of course. Everyone else must be repressed, because “There is a sense in which truth is the end of liberty, and liberty must be defined and confined by truth.” No Marxist truth, no liberty, because the most important thing is the chance of a Marxist peace. It follows, then, that “Consequently, it is also possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance [of peace], and those which would do the opposite. Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones.”
Censorship is a Prerequisite for Marxist Peace
Suppression of opposing “opinions, actions, and movements” is a prerequisite to the freedom he envisioned. And his notions here have been adopted across the United States. As a result, the remaining conservatives have been steadily losing the struggle for real tolerance and academic freedoms in favor of “political correctness” and activism by professors.
Ward Churchill was one of many hundreds of like-minded professors pursuing this new “revolutionary tolerance. And in Berkeley, where that Rule APM 0-10 above held sway and demanded an impartial handling of the truth, the Berkeley Senate voted to get rid of it, in 2003. Activism in the classroom is not merely accepted, it is actively encouraged.
Much more about this background is visible in David Horowitz’s “The Professors”: I recommend it. Here’s a link to a critique’s response.
A New Disagreement
There’s a gigantic danger here for freedom, and even the Left is not immune to its effects. It arises from the notion discussed here at length, that “tolerance,” as the Left sees it, involves censoring those who disagree with you because they are not “progressive” in their views of promoting a Marxist global peace.
But when you declare intolerance of points that disagree with you, this does not sit neatly across the left-right divide. It seems Marcuse didn’t quite anticipate this. He explicitly called for repression of violence and speech based on political position, and support of violence and speech if you were on the Left: “Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”
What’s the trouble? The diversity that the Left does not like at all: Diversity of opinion. On the left, and on the right, there are many points of view — and the de facto practice of intolerance can irritate others who are nominally on your own side.
So it is that a recent incident, where the leftist leaders of the City of San Francisco have attempted to shut down the communications of leftist protesters, has ignited a war that seems likely to be interesting to watch, at least.
Edit: Herbert Marcuse showed up in this Day by Day cartoon from several weeks ago:
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle