Bryce Edwards has published ‘Culture war stifling critical debate on our campuses’ which examines the constraints on academic freedom in New Zealand. His discussion goes beyond the campus and also looks at how the left has become elite in outlook. That part is reprinted here:
The modern version of the left – or the “liberal left” – has different ways of pursuing political change. Largely it’s an elite, top-down model of politics, reflective of the left being made up of the highly educated stratum of society. They confidently believe that they know best.
This elite leftwing approach is very compatible with a more censorious approach to politics and that partly explains the authoritarian impulses we are seeing today. Traditionally the left has been the force in society most favourable to “free speech” and mass participation in politics – championing the rights of the oppressed or marginalised to organise, to communicate politics, to win human rights and political gains. In contrast, it used to be the forces of the right and the Establishment that clamped down on political expression and activity. This is why it’s all the more jarring that increasingly the left wants either the state or society to put limits on political debate and expression.
The rise of “culture wars” has been incredibly important for shaping the political atmosphere we are currently in. Rather than debate and discussion, or finding a middle ground, it’s more polarising – with both conservatives and liberals focusing more on personalities. For example, from the left we see widespread labelling of opponents as racists or sexists. There is now a sneering tendency on the left – especially at those who are seen as socially backward. This was infamously demonstrated in the case of Hilary Clinton talking about the masses as “deplorables”.
One logical consequence for many on the left is to take an approach of “language policing” and concern for “cultural etiquette”, in an almost Victorian way. Again, this is topsy-turvy – it used to be the conservative or rightwing side of politics that was concerned with policing people’s behaviour, and looking down on the less educated and enlightened.
The contemporary left has a mistrust in the ability of society to make the right decisions or to understand the world. In an elitist way, many on the progressive side of politics view the public as being ignorant or lacking enlightenment. Hence, the view of gender or ethnic inequality or oppression is often understood as something to do with personal behaviour and “bad ideas” (racism, sexism, homophobia) – rather than a fundamental part of how our society is structured.
So, if the problems of society are seen as being all about the individual, then it follows that the solutions are as well. The old slogan of “the personal is political” now underpins the focus on how to fix the problems of the world – we need to change individuals, providing them with the correct politics. And of course, it is so much easier for left political parties to make grand gestures regarding race and gender than they can on inequality and class.
Nonetheless, there are very good reasons that universities have incorporated a much greater focus on gender, ethnicity and other forms of oppression. After all, like the left in general, universities have historically left oppression and inequality experienced by some groups in society badly unaddressed.
Redressing past inadequacies is therefore something to appreciate on our campuses. But it’s unfortunate if this is just done in a way which creates more unquestionable orthodoxies, constraining students and academics from being able to debate and be critical thinkers. The chill of self-censorship in this area can be considerable. Read the full article here.