"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Teach the children well

Archetypal conservative Edmund Burke warned of "licentious toleration"; archetypal radical Herbert Marcuse cursed "repressive tolerance." They are, as a concept, the same, though sitting on opposite shoulders -- one entreating to "preserve," the other taunting to "destroy."

As the University of Missouri students sack Rome yet again, conservatives will rally with liberals around a libertarian principle of speech against the fringe left's "delegitimization of dissent as a first-order goal." But these purely procedural appeals -- to speech for its own sake -- will ring hollow to a generation already raised awash in speech for its own sake. "Was the world improved," Russell Kirk asked, "by free discussion of the Nazis' thesis that Jews ought to be treated as less than human?" Today's students would urge, sincerely, if quite wrongly, that theirs is common cause. The lesson they need to hear, then, is not that ideas have no content capable of being judged, or that spaces should be made for Nazi doctrine as equally valuable. Instead, they need to hear that there are real standards for discriminating between Nazis and university administrators, between racial disparity and racial oppression, between Critical Theory and critical thinking.

The first duty in civilizing the vertical invasions of modern barbarians is to teach them discrimination: to survey the endless stream of content and select, to the exclusion of all else, that which is beautiful, true, decent, virtuous, noble, courageous, lovely. These things are not neutral; beauty is not in the eye of the beholder only; ugly is not interesting. As Salvador Dali said, "I seated ugliness on my knee, and almost immediately I grew tired of it." These young people clearly want for the exercise -- they mean to stand for something -- but, lacking in training, their youthful idealism manifests in mau-mauing pusillanimous university presidents and issuing lists of meaningless demands.

Speech as sweet reasonableness and solitary principle doesn't take. Rights are not neutral. They must accompany instruction to their proper use -- to eschew licentious toleration -- lest they will ever serve as the implements of revolution against whatever "repressive toleration" is to hand. 

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

The first duty in civilizing the vertical invasions of modern barbarians is to teach them discrimination: to survey the endless stream of content and select, to the exclusion of all else, that which is beautiful, true, decent, virtuous, noble, courageous, lovely. These things are not neutral; beauty is not in the eye of the beholder only; ugly is not interesting. As Salvador Dali said, "I seated ugliness on my knee, and almost immediately I grew tired of it."

Awesome, Tim. A band's been trying to get me to play with them and I finally said OK and sat in last night.

It was stylish, contemporary, and even slightly innovative.

But it was ugly, and it was tiresome. Thanks for asking, but no thanks.