“Free speech” is a favored cause for the right wing, but they don’t really believe in it: it’s a sound bite, a meme, a tool they can use to silence others. The latest example comes from Niall Ferguson, you know, this Niall Ferguson, the well known academic whose views are so totally suppressed by PC culture:
Ferguson himself is well-known for his conservative views. He made headlines in March for organizing a conference of 30 white male historians.
In 2013, for instance, he stated that acclaimed economist John Maynard Keynes did not care to consider future generations when discussing current affairs because he was gay. Ferguson later apologized for the statement.
He has also been criticized for his outspoken support of colonialism and the British empire.
We must have missed him in the bloody purge of right-wing assholes from university campuses. That happened, right? Anyway, he was an advisor to some abomination called the Hoover Institute, the conservative think-tank with an endowment of almost half a billion dollars and the mission of spreading capitalist propaganda on college campuses; he also has connections to Turning Point USA, which has the same mission, buckets of money, and a reputation for brain-dead stupidity that ought to persuade any kind of respectable academic to avoid them.
But not Niall Ferguson!
Even worse, some of his private emails were leaked — they were accidentally forwarded to someone not in his trusted circle of wingnut associates — and it’s been revealed that he and various organizations on the Stanford campus weren’t really interested in promoting the free discussion of controversial ideas. It was all about baiting their ideological opposition and crushing their left-wing critics.
As The Stanford Daily reported on Thursday, newly public emails show that Ferguson’s eagerness to fight off what he saw as encroaching political correctness led the historian to some bizarre extracurricular activity. Ferguson teamed up with a group of student Republicans, led by John Rice-Cameron, to wage a covert political battle against Michael Ocon, a student they viewed as excessively left-wing. In the e-mails they refer to Ocon as “Mr. O” and talk about ways to discredit him. “Some opposition research on Mr. O might also be worthwhile,” Ferguson wrote. Ferguson’s research assistant Max Minshull was tasked with the job of collecting the dirt on Ocon.
“Now we turn to the more subtle game of grinding them down on the committee,” Ferguson wrote in another email. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Rice-Cameron, the son of Barack Obama’s former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, was equally grandiose. “Slowly, we will continue to crush the Left’s will to resist, as they will crack under pressure,” Rice-Cameron crowed in an email, showing he has a great future ahead of him doing Darth Vader cosplay.
Further, it was clear that they brought in the repulsive Charles Murray simply to piss off the campus left. The whole charade is an exercise in antagonism — this is why the Murrays and the Dinesh D’Souzas and the Ann Coulters still thrive on the right. It’s not because they bring in fresh insights and challenge conventional ideas — they are the tired old hatreds of the status quo — but because they are good at inflaming and posturing and aggravating with lies. We should be aware of exactly what they are doing.
It’s a kind of power game. The goal isn’t to vindicate the abstract right to free speech but to assert the right’s power and influence over campus discourse — to force the campus mainstream into a choice between allowing vile ideas to spread or looking hostile to free speech.
The Ferguson emails are an unusually clear admission that this is what’s going on. Digging up dirt on a student in an attempt to silence their activism isn’t about “free speech” — it’s about suppressing left-wing speech. The entire framing of the Cardinal Conversations in the emails positions the initiative, which Ferguson ran, as part of a broader war on “the Left” and “SJWs.”
You know, I’ve been part of many conversations over the years about who should be invited to give campus talks — I’ve never heard anyone suggest that we ought to bring in X because they’d set the College Republicans on fire, or crush the Right. We invest in speakers who have stimulating ideas and good stories to tell. When we factor in the response of the reactionary right at all, it’s to suggest that Speaker X might help them learn.
I can’t imagine suggesting that we need to do “opposition research” on individual students at the university. There are some terrible people enrolled at any school, but all we have to do is wait for them to do something stupid in public (although we’d rather they didn’t, and just wised up). But I guess if you’re a professor with appointments at Stanford and Oxford you don’t have to be a responsible educator anymore.