Chris Rufo strutted into a lecture at a school of business at the University of Texas, which you’d think would be a friendly environment for him. It wasn’t. He got torched to the ground.
Rufo brought his anti-DEI argument to UT on Monday and because he is – like many on the right – a catastrophist, he gave it an apocalyptic twist, claiming that initiatives like DEI have made public universities frightening, insecure places.I think people from across the political spectrum would acknowledge a sense of anxiety [at the universities],he said.A sense of fear. A sense of foreboding. Something has gone quite wrong.
I’m at a university. He’s got the atmosphere turned around about 180° — if there’s any foreboding, it’s over the fact that conservative cultists like Rufo are hell-bent on eviscerating liberal thought on campus — he said as much outright, announcing that “it is necessary to replace liberal voices with conservative ones at institutions like UT.” Combine that with Republican legislatures constantly cutting funding, and yeah, something has gone quite wrong. I’d start with the fact that philistines like Rufo get speaking engagements on campus.
I needn’t have worried, though. My professional colleagues stepped up to the plate and showed that Rufo was an idiot.
Afterward, Rufo took questions. Naomi Campa, a classics professor at UT, challenged Rufo to define what he meant by “truth, beauty, and goodness,” a standard he had repeatedly referred to in his remarks that he said higher education should re-prioritize. A numbing digression followed in which Rufo complained that leftists reject the concept of beauty. He did not, however, offer any insight into what he considers truth, beauty, and goodness to consist of. “I would like some actual examples,” Campa replied with a note of impatience, “not some argument that says beauty is anti-diversity. … I agree that people give word-salad as answers but I challenge you not to do the same thing – because that was word salad.”
I would like to see examples, too. Leftists do not reject the concept of beauty at all — after all, I find beauty in spiders. I suspect that what he means is that we reject beauty because we can see beauty where he can’t, because, like Jordan Peterson, he thinks the only true beauty is white.
He couldn’t give a specific answer because it would give away the game when he specified a bunch of white supremacist ideals.
Ten minutes later, Polly Strong, an anthropology professor and the president of the UT chapter of the American Association of University Professors, told Rufo that she believed in intellectual diversity but that a commitment to the concept wasn’t what she heard from him. She said her personal hero is John Dewey, the pragmatist philosopher who advocated for academic freedom, due process, and neutrality in higher learning and asked if Rufo supported those values.
Rufo thanked Strong for her question but his words came faster and more insistent than before. He derided Dewey, saying it would have been better if he’d never been born, and dismissed his values. “Academic freedom, due process, neutrality – those are means, not ends,” Rufo said. “If you have an erasure of ends, what you get is sheer power politics, you get everything reducible to will and domination, and then you get an academic life that drifts into witchcraft, into phrenology, into gender studies.” Rufo concluded by saying that academics who continue to adhere to Dewey’s principles, “frankly, deserve what’s coming.”
Strong was completely unawed by the implied threat. “The ‘ends’ of academic freedom, due process, and shared governance is education for a democratic society,” she said simply. “That is the basis of John Dewey’s vision and many, many university professors believe that today.”
Oh, man, I could have told her ahead of time that conservatives despise John Dewey. The guy who said “Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous”? They hate democracy. “A society with too few independent thinkers is vulnerable to control by disturbed and opportunistic leaders. A society which wants to create and maintain a free and democratic social system must create responsible independence of thought among its young” — they want students who recite cant.
I do wonder what Rufo thinks is “coming.” Is he already planning the pogroms?
The phrenology remark is amusing, because it’s the people who are backing him who believe in genetic determinism, that race is quantifiable, and who publish in their favorite ‘journal’ of phrenology, Quillette.
The audience was silent after Strong’s remark. It had become clear that Rufo wasn’t dominating his opponents. It got worse for him when Samuel Baker, a UT English professor, came to the mic. Baker reiterated that Rufo’s veneration of beauty and truth was meaningless if he provided no idea of what the concepts mean to him, and he criticized Rufo’s use of violent imagery like “laying siege” and deserving “what’s coming.”
“I just want to be honest with you,” Baker said, “your rhetoric in relation to barbarism and the way you smugly say that the university is not going to like what’s coming – I think that in the context of the world right now, where there is a lot of really tragic violence, that we ought to be careful to remove ourselves from that and from groups with white supremacist associations. I really think you should rethink the glibness.”
Wait for it. Baker doesn’t just point out how shallow Rufo’s ideas are, he nails Rufo on his racist, fascist underpinnings.
By “white supremacist associations,” Baker was referring to reports linking Rufo to the figures who constitute a new alt-right bro culture, including the recently disgraced Richard Hanania – a visiting professor of the Salem Center who was, in his words, canceled after revelations that he’d written pseudonymously for white supremacist publications a decade earlier. Rufo also associates with anti-democratic voices like Bronze Age Pervert, as well as people from the Claremont Institute, who advocate for the overthrow of the 2020 presidential election, and Charles Haywood, an extremist who has called for a war of extinction against the left through his “No Enemies to the Right” philosophy. (Haywood is speaking at a far-right conference in Austin next month, by the way.)
Rufo responded to Baker’s remarks directly: “Well, well – be straightforward. What are you saying? You’re alluding, you’re insinuating –”
“That you hang around with fascists?” Baker replied. “Is that what you’re insinuating I’m insinuating?”
And there it was. The colloquy between Rufo and Baker continued for a moment more before Rufo launched into a strident self-defense, claiming he is more sensitive to fascists than anyone because of his family’s history in Italy. But the damage was done. Minutes later the Salem Center’s Carlos Carvalho hustled him out of the building as Baker and Campa tried to continue the back and forth.
Excellent. I’m proud of my professorial colleagues for smacking that lying poseur around. Do more of that, everyone!