Precinct 333

Sunday, February 06, 2005

A Liberal Looks At Ward Churchill

I'm not a big fan of Professor Paul Campos, the Rocky Mountain News columnist who teaches law at the University of Colorado. But I find his observations on the Ward Churchill case interesting because he teaches on the same campus.

Should a serious research university consider hiring a fascist? This question doesn't have an easy answer.

After all, prior to World War II Europe produced several brilliant political theorists and philosophers who could be characterized as fascists, or proto-fascists, including Joseph de Maistre, Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger.

Whether, post- Auschwitz, it's possible even in theory to advocate similar views in intellectually plausible ways is an interesting question.

It is not, however, a question that has any relevance to the case of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, despite the obvious fascistic streak in Churchill's writings and public performances.

An interesting question. I would be inclined to say no -- especially if we are dealing with a taxpayer-funded state university, and even more so if that "scholar" regularly provided intellectual coverage for the enemy during time of war. I mean, should any American college have hired Heidegger or kept him on staff in 1942? The answer should be obvious.

As a political inclination and an aesthetic style, fascism is marked by, among other things, the following characteristics:

• The worship of violence as a purifying social force. This often manifests itself as an aggressive and romanticized militarism, that produces a kind of cult of the warrior, and that advocates violent action as a mechanism for social change, and an appropriate way of crushing dissent.

• A hyper-nationalistic ideology, that casts history into a drama featuring an inevitably violent struggle between Good and Evil, and that obsesses on questions of racial and ethnic identity.

• The dehumanization and scapegoating of opponents, who are characterized by turns as demonically clever conspirators plotting to undermine the possibility of a virtuous society, and soulless automatons mindlessly carrying out the orders of a vast and evil bureaucracy. This dehumanization often leads to demands that the evil in our midst be eradicated "by any means necessary," up to and including the mass extermination of entire nations and peoples.

• The treatment of moral responsibility as a fundamentally collective matter. The supposed virtues and sins of a nation or people are ascribed to all of its individual members, so that, for example, one speaks of "the Jew" (meaning all Jews collectively and each Jewish person individually) being responsible for the decadence of modern culture.

An interesting observation. I wish those on the Left who are constantly throwing around the terms "fascist and "Nazi" -- or invoking the name of Hitler -- anytime the oppose a policy or politician would consider this definition. Generally speaking, it doesn't fit, the rantings of and other left-leaning groups notwithstanding.

Anyone who reads widely in the collected works of professor Churchill, and especially anyone who listens to his speeches, will, if they are not blinded by certain ideological commitments, recognize the essentially fascist tendency of his work. If a white American were to speak of any foreign people or nation in anything like the way Churchill discusses America and Americans, the fascist character of his work would be obvious to everyone.

This point is only underlined by the behavior of Churchill's supporters, who, while not actually wearing brown shirts, did a quite convincing impersonation of fascist thugs at Thursday's meeting of the University of Colorado Regents.

All this was merely par for the course for Churchill, who believes that a Columbus Day parade is an incitement to genocide, and therefore something that he and his followers have a legal right to disrupt.

And, of course, there we have the double standard. Churchill's spewing of hatred is considered as acceptable due to his position on the left-wing of the political spectrum, especially since he claims (falsely) that he is a Native American, and therefore a member of one of the special classes of people protected under the guise of "diversity." Opposition is not permitted, and so we are often treated to the spectacle of progressive pogroms against those who dare to differ with their agenda.

But while the question of whether a brilliant scholar with a fascist streak ought to be considered for a place on a university faculty retains at least some academic interest, it has nothing to do with Churchill, whose writings and speeches feature an incoherent farrago of boundless paranoia, wildly implausible theories, obscene celebrations of murder, and atrocious prose.

The question of whether a serious research university ought to hire someone like Churchill is laughable on its face. What's not so funny is the question of exactly how someone like him got hired in the first place, and then tenured and named the head of a department.

That, in the end, is a more important question than what will or ought to happen to Churchill now. Churchill is a pathetic buffoon, but the University of Colorado is far from alone in having allowed itself to toss intellectual integrity and human decency overboard in the pursuit of worthy goals.

Yeah, it is the moe important question. And the answer is that the academicians of the liberal left have been allowed to dominate the academy for too long. In recent weeks, months, and years, we have heard about the dominance of the liberal left on faculties throughout the country. Such a lop-sidedness has seen the spread of ideas that are celebrated as "cutting edge" but never critically examined, because to do so would be "racistsexisthomophobicandelitist", a charge that will kill an academic career. Churchill was clearly a beneficiary of this trend, and that it has taken decades to recognize the problem and begin to confront it is the surest sign of the decline of higher education in the West.

Speaking truth to power, giving a voice to those who have been silenced, pursuing controversial and unpopular ideas in an intellectually rigorous way - these are all things that the university in general, and this university in particular, has done and continues to do.

That through whatever combination of negligence, cowardice and complicity we have allowed Ward Churchill to besmirch those ideals by invoking them in the defense of his contemptible rantings is now our burden and our shame.

And I agree with Campos here. Colleges and universities should be a place where new, controversial and unpopular ideas can be espoused. But it should also be a place where old ideas have a place of honor, where they meet and interact to truly push back the darkness of ignorance and expand the horizons of mankind. But instead we have seen the college classroom become a place where contempt for our own culture is taught, and where critical thinking has been replaced by propaganda and indoctrination.

Can the academy save itself? I don't know. It may be that the negligence, cowardice, and complicity noted by Campos have allowed the rot to spread too far. It may be that outside forces -- legislators, donors, practitioners -- will have to act to reconstruct the our institutions of higher education. And it may be that the absolutist understanding of academic freedom might be jetisonned in the process, and with it extremists like Ward Churchill.


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