Monday, March 20, 2017

Why are the children misbehaving?

From what I can determine, the SJW thought process goes something like this:

I subjectively perceive your Christian values as "hateful" -- the root of "oppressive" social structures. I discovered my own unconscious biases on campus through seminars, and by studying endlessly repeated examples of the New Left's vastly expanded lexicon of what constitutes racism, bigotry, and misogyny in my social science courses. I do not need to respond to your so-called evidence-based arguments to the contrary, because your reactionary response -- a defense mechanism -- only reveals your unconscious desire to defend your privilege (white, male, heterosexual, Christian, etc.) and the status quo. Your presence has therefore "triggered" a justifiably irrational, aggressive, and sometimes violent response from student activists. Your fascist ideas must be silenced, not debated. Stop hating and microaggressing; acknowledge your privilege; put on a Che Guevara T-shirt.

It sounds like Maoist reeducation camp brainwashing, right? But we're not talking about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This is happening on American college campuses. It's the mantra of the New Left's Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). This is what we are up against. By we, I mean the vast majority of Americans who do not believe these things to be true. By this, I mean irrational, arrogant, formulaic, programmatic identity confusion. Why are these kids so confused about who they are? Obviously most students are not campus activists, and yet why do so many of our college graduates believe their cultural heritage to be oppressive and something to be ashamed of?

My previous blog post about the violent attack on Charles Murray and Allison Stanger at Middlebury (see here) focused on how a clear-eyed examination of the intellectual roots of the regressive left may help explain the cognitive mechanisms behind the normalization of violent SJW attacks on campus conservatives. I've been closely following progressive reactions to the attack in the hopes that the left -- which dominates the discourse on most college campuses -- might be moving in the direction of putting this genie back into the bottle before these problems spill into the streets. I've been anticipating a shift against campus intolerance. Why? As a matter of, if no other reason, self-preservation. It doesn't take much imagination to see the potential for blowback. So, how have progressives responded?

The Heterodox Academy, led by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (see here), has garnered a good deal of attention for calling for the cultivation of open debate and intellectual diversity on campuses. Haidt represents the progressive liberal desire to continue the classically liberal tradition of free speech. While this is an encouraging sign, I would also highlight what I suspect is a less openly discussed, but common, reaction by the regressive left -- perhaps an aversion to violence on campus (honestly -- how many leftists do you know that could hold their own in a saloon scuffle?), but an agreement that silencing "certain" forms of speech is necessary. The difference is one of strategy, and not of intent. The regressive left shares many of the same assumptions and goals of progressive liberals. However, as we shall see, the means of accomplishing these goals has become the dividing line between progressive liberals and the regressive left, but precisely where that line will be drawn remains to be seen.

Let's consider the recent Slate article, "In Praise of Intolerance: Today’s political climate doesn’t require more tolerance. It requires less," by assistant professor at James Madison University, Alan Levinovitz (for the full article, see here). Levinovitz's thesis is that despite the longstanding tradition within liberal thought to condemn intolerance, he has discovered the opposite to be desirable -- virtuous intolerance is essential to social progress. Of course, he uses a straw man to prove his point by suggesting that university biology departments should not consider hiring white supremacists, anti-vaxxers, or creationists, simply to show tolerance for other points of view. However, Levinovitz cautions that because of the liberal emphasis on "championing tolerance instead of truth or goodness, the left has opened itself up to unavoidable accusations of hypocrisy."

Levinovitz then focuses his argument by noting that efforts by Haidt, and other well-meaning progressive liberals, to eliminate "religious fundamentalism" are incompatible with tolerating these points of view. He stresses that "Progress today depends, as it always has, on the refusal to tolerate falsehood and immorality." Levinovitz chides Haidt for trying to "magic away" the views of the "religious right" while clinging to "an expansive vision of tolerance."

What campuses need, according to Levinovitz, is a renewed dedication to virtuous civil intolerance. He suggests that "the object and the context" of intolerance are vital in this regard. His example -- Charles Murray. He suggests that intolerance in the form of violence against the likes of Murray, and in the context of a campus speech, is inappropriate and inadvisable -- don't give a bad idea a "cross to die on." But he suggests that shouting at Murray in the supermarket for handing out copies of The Bell Curve would be acceptable and appropriate. Levinovitz goes on to note that in other contexts -- such as when dealing with civil rights issues -- "violence can be perfectly justifiable" and sometimes "laws need to be broken." To be fair, Levinovitz does not excuse name-calling as a cover for intellectual laziness, or avoiding the hard work of defeating "bad" ideas through debate.

So what would Levinovitz consider to be a dangerous idea today -- one that should be the object of "fierce resistance"? You might have immediately thought of Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto. After all, those ideas contributed to the deaths of well over 100 million people in the twentieth century. But you would be wrong. Levinovitz's central example of a nefarious thinker? C.S. Lewis. Yes, that C.S. Lewis -- the author of Mere Christianity, which Levinovitz characterizes as a "poisonous" work of "religious nationalism," that threatens to turn back the clock to the "not so good old days." What does he find so objectionable about Mere Christianity? It calls for American political and economic leaders to be Christians, and suggests that men should be the head of households. Crazy talk! Educated people cannot be allowed to think such thoughts. Can they?

To summarize these two progressive responses to the SJW attack at Middlebury: 
Haidt's response -- Let's get together and talk; free speech is important, even if I think you're a religious bumpkin with a provisional mindset; let's try to understand one another, agree to disagree, and avoid the pitfalls of groupthink by preventing an "orthodox" point of view from reigning supreme on campuses.

The cowboy scorecard: Haidt's willingness to engage and empathize scores big cowboy points. You have to respect a man that is willing to try and put himself in your boots -- even if he's accustomed to wearing high-end dress shoes.

Levinovitz's retort -- Stop coddling the religious right; some ideas need to be vigorously, virtuously, and in the right context, violently, opposed; don't be a violent idiot on campus though; stop being lazy and engage in the hard work of opposing bad ideas on the merits.

The cowboy scorecard: A cowboy has to respect Levinovitz for sticking to his guns, but it would seem that he's walking on thin ice when taking the "moral high ground" as a secular humanist. What is a secular humanist, exactly? Sounds like a fancy term for self-absorbed bull-pucky to me.

Conclusion: Although both make interesting points, Haidt is the clear winner. Yes, he's biased, but aren't we all? As a social psychologist he's probably more aware of his biases, and more open to a discussion of biases, than most. He understands that the messy business of representative government means accepting that others will not always agree with you, and that it is necessary to meet with good intentions and the desire to understand the other. He wants to find common ground. That requires grit, and humility.

Here's the rub. With the blurring of the lines of what constitutes racism, misogyny, and bigotry by the New Left and campus SJWs, what would Levinovitz suggest as the proper parameters of violence and lawlessness for SJWs, who see Nazis everywhere? What would Haidt say about the temper tantrums of the SJWs? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Help them better deal with their emotions? That sounds like coddling to me. Here's an idea right out of the field of psychology -- there must be consequences for undesirable behavior.

When we peak through the polite and sophisticated veneer of secular humanist objectivity, we see an unmistakable disdain for Christian values (for statistics, see the most recent Pew study here). Isn't this -- a disdain for Christian values -- the scholar's (Levinovitz) and the activist's (SJWs) common ground? Both clearly see traditional Christian ideas as oppressive (the not so good old days!). They simply differ on how to eradicate this "oppression." Is that not true? The scholar imposes cultural revolution from above; the activist fights the cultural revolution in the streets. Is that not true?

I have a few additional cowboy questions about how we might identify the difference between, say, a fundamentalist that should be opposed, and a "good" Christian that should be accepted? Surely, there are a few "good" Christians out there. Right? What's the litmus? A literal interpretation of the Bible? One's politics on key progressive issues, such as "trans" rights? Is a fundamentalist someone that does not support gender neutrality policies on campus? How about Trump voters? Would Haidt welcome Trump's deplorables to the heterodox table? It should be noted that a majority of Protestants and Catholics voted for Trump in the 2016 election (see here). Can they come out of the closet yet? How about truth -- absolute or relative? Is that a good litmus? Is a "good" Christian simply a person who no longer holds Christian beliefs, like a secular humanist? Maybe students should be assigned Mere Christianity, and purged if they refuse to condemn it's values. Think it can't happen (see here)?

Secular humanists, New Left "professor activists," and SJWs need to remember that Christians represent over 70% of the U.S. population. Are Evangelicals the nasty ones? That's over 25% of the population. Perhaps conservative Catholics -- are they the problem? Catholics represent over 20% of the U.S. population. Of course, we could turn the tables in this discussion and suggest that the declining numbers of Christians as an overall proportion of American society may be, in part, in decline as a result of activist professors and leftist gate-keepers who control the keys of entry into the middle class via the college degree. Of course, that would be a nasty example of stereotyping. So we won't do that.

And what, exactly, is a secular humanist? Are humans fundamentally good? Can you prove that empirically? What is the moral code of the New Left, and it's SJW activists? Doesn't the act of separating truth from falsehood, the moral from the immoral, require a belief system? A moral code? What's true, and how do you know? Does truth exist, or are all truths relative and socially constructed? Are the truths being defended by the university echo chamber subject to debate and discussion, or would disagreeing with these "truths" automatically land one in the category of pseudoscience? How is that different from the SJWs lazy-labeling of the other as a racist, bigot, or misogynist? Is anyone on campus allowed to believe in objective truth beyond the shifting dogmas of progressive identity politics? Hint: young people are sometimes lazy; their lazy labels are an oversimplified parroting of what they hear from you. They are reflecting your beliefs and values.

Levinovitz is right to recognize that the classically liberal tradition of free speech has allowed us to solve problems without unnecessary recourse to violence. But what happens when that formula no longer works? And what if that formula is no longer working because Christian values and ideas -- which I would argue promote self-reflection and empathy -- have been purged from the university by secular humanists practicing "virtuous intolerance." The crossroads we face today is a spiritual crossroads. The crisis we face today is an identity crisis. When students are searching for their identities as young adults -- as Americans -- they are finding it in rudderless progressive values. You may think of yourself as a tolerant liberal -- aghast by campus violence -- but if you also routinely stereotype Christians, Republicans, and those who hold traditional American values as backward, and uninformed, then please recognize that the SJWs are your children. They have taken your assumptions to logical conclusions. They see fascists, white supremacists, oppressive capitalist structures, and the evil patriarchy everywhere. Secular humanists -- you are committed to destroying their faith; the New Left is simply giving them a new one (see here).

- The Cowboy Historian

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Steve Bannon's "Admiration" of Vichy Collaborator Charles Maurras: Fake News, Take Two

If you've followed my blog, then you know that the Atlantic and the New York Times implied that presidential advisor Steve Bannon is a Nazi -- on the basis of one misrepresented citation (see here). So much for journalistic integrity. Sadly, the baseless attempts to connect Bannon to Nazis are not new (former DNC chair Howard Dean called Bannon a Nazi in the lead-up to the election, see here), and have not abated. Since the election, the intensification of Nazi allegations has underscored the regressive left's low journalistic standards for what constitutes "evidence." Consider the curious case of Bannon's alleged admiration of Vichy collaborator Charles Maurras.

Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley, in his newest gem, "Another Day, Another Report About Steve Bannon's Affection for Nazism," which is an update to the imaginative, "The President’s Top Adviser Is Literally a KKK-Level White Power Scumbag," pegs Bannon's "affection" for Nazism to two authors. The first is "white advocate" Jared Taylor. The other is Vichy collaborator Charles Maurras (for the Mathis-Lilley article, see here). This post will focus on the supposed Maurras-Bannon connection, and a future post will deal specifically with Taylor, as well as Jean Raspail's The Camp of the Saints references.

The Maurras-Bannon connection
Mathis-Lilley's list of "sources" consist of scavenged block quotations from Politico and Mother Jones, which review a short list of Maurras' fascist bona fides; Maurras believed that the Enlightenment was coming to and end, served time for attempting to assassinate Léon Blum in 1936, collaborated with the Vichy government's suppression of Gaullists during the war, and ultimately served a life sentence for being a Nazi. Bannon's "admiration" for Maurras, Mathis-Lilley assures us, closes the book on Bannon. He's a Nazi. But how does Mathis-Lilley "prove" Bannon's "admiration" for Maurras? Simple. Mathis-Lilley provides a block quote from Michael Crowley's Politico article -- "Bannon has also expressed admiration for the reactionary French philosopher Charles Maurras, according to French media reports confirmed by Politico."

As it turns out, Crowley's entire case for a Bannon-Maurras connection rests exclusively on the following statement: "Bannon has also expressed admiration for the reactionary French philosopher Charles Maurras, according to French media reports confirmed by Politico (see here)." Does this look familiar? Unfortunately, Crowley does not provide a single citation, link, or any other form of tangible evidence to support this statement, direct readers to the "French media reports," or explain how Politico "confirmed" said reports. Perhaps these things exist. Perhaps they do not. At least the Atlantic and the New York Times provided a bogus citation as cover for their fabrication. Politico hasn't even given us a misrepresented citation! For all we know, Crowley just made it up.

Perhaps Crowley's undocumented "French media reports" are Guy Sorman's France-Amerique article from February 16, 2017, entitled, "The French Source of Trumpism (see here)." Sorman's source for the claim that Bannon was "largely inspired by" Maurras? None other than an unnamed French diplomat. That's right, an anonymous source. According to the unnamed diplomat, "Bannon quoted one of Maurras’ famous maxims, which distinguishes the 'legal country' (the democratic republic and its elected officials) from the 'real country' (the people dear to Trump and Marine Le Pen)."

Voila! Bannon is a Nazi.

Crowley's Echo Chamber
Here's the kicker -- Crowley's Politico article is the first link (the "evidence") in a chain of mindless mimickers that are all peddling the "Bannon is a Nazi via admiration for Maurras" refrain. We've already mentioned Mathis-Lilley's piece in Slate. Let's round-up the other digital hucksters guilty of slinging Crowley's bull-pucky:

Pema Levy's, "Stephen Bannon Is a Fan of a French Philosopher...Who Was an Anti-Semite and a Nazi Supporter," in Mother Jones (see here).

Daniel J. Solomon's "Why Does Steve Bannon Admire A French Nazi Collaborator?," in Forward (see here).

Alt Wire's "Stephen Bannon's a fan of a radical philosopher sentenced to prison for his Nazi sympathies," via Mother Jones, via Politico -- (Do note the Twitter references to Bannon's "admiration" for Maurras at the end of the "article," here)

For a short bit on how Bannon's ideas "echo" Maurras' distinction between the "legal country" and the "real country," see the Truth Examiner's, "Stephen Bannon IDOLIZES A French Philosopher…Who Was an Anti-Semite and a Nazi Supporter, And There’s MORE!." (see here)

What, according to the regressive left, is Bannon's actual transgression? 
It would appear that their angst stems from the perceived threat that Bannon poses to globalism and the EU, as well as Bannon's support for Brexit, Trump, strong national borders, Christianity, capitalism, and, here's the real rub -- concerns Bannon has repeatedly expressed about mass Muslim immigration to the U.S. Ironically, the last point -- that Bannon sees an immediate security threat in radical Islamic terrorist groups seeking to infiltrate the U.S. through previously lax immigration, border enforcement, and refugee resettlement policies -- is most often used as more "evidence" that Bannon is Goebbels, Trump is Hitler, and Muslims are the European Jews of the 1930s.  The regressive left's extremist lens has distorted their perception. They see Nazis everywhere. Here's a bit of cowboy advice -- stop torturing the evidence! Otherwise, it'll confess to anything you want it to.

Unfortunately, the continual allegations of the Trump administration's Nazi and fascist affinities have found fertile ground among low-information zealots, and have facilitated a dangerous slide toward the normalization of violence as a means of "resistance" to the POTUS and his supporters (for the recent "Ides of Trump" writing campaign to mark the assassination of Julius Caesar, see here, or for the recent billboard in Phoenix that depicts Trump as a Nazi, see here). Consider the sustained acts of violence against Trump supporters (see here), the rash of violent attacks on campus conservatives (for my blog post on violence against conservative speakers on campus, see here), assaults on high-profile Trump supporters (for the recent attack on the elderly conservative radio show host and vocal Trump-supporter, Michael Savage, see here), and even calls for violence against the POTUS by pop stars (for Madonna's musing about "blowing up the White House," see here, and more recently Snoop Dogg's new video that depicts the rapper shooting the POTUS, see here, and for despicable threats against the FLOTUS, see here).

I've linked to the SPJ's code of ethics, here. It's high time journalists held their own accountable. Otherwise, the amazing lack of integrity shown above, and in my previous blog, will come to define the fourth estate in the public imagination as a group of dishonest, and radically partisan, hucksters.

- The Cowboy Historian

Friday, March 10, 2017

Has the Regressive Left Declared War on Campus Conservatives?

In case you missed it, there was another violent physical attack on a conservative speaker on an American college campus. This time, it was at Middlebury College. Allison Stanger, the female faculty sponsor of the controversial, scheduled speaker, Charles Murray, was viciously attacked by protestors and had to seek medical treatment for a neck injury she sustained in the melee (see here). Until this incident, most polite academics simply feigned ignorance, downplayed, or spoke in hushed tones about growing radical leftist intolerance toward campus conservatives. But now, a time of choosing sides has emerged. What's new in all of this is the growing chorus of leftist intellectuals that have begun to publicly support the use of physical violence to silence conservatives. How did we get here?

Part of the answer can be found in the radicalization of campus activists. Over the course of the last decade, student activists (a.k.a. Social Justice Warriors, or SJWs) have been using "crybullying" tactics and and disturbed emotional thinking in an attempt to impose irrational, puritanical, and New Left-inspired concepts of "social justice" on all facets of campus life (for the nefarious influence of milk, see here). Their objective -- to purge campuses of anything that could cause subjective discomfort (according to the New Left's enhanced definitions of racism, misogyny, and bigotry) to anyone they identify as having a legitimate claim to "victim" status. This has included concerted campaigns to purge campuses of the American flag, former (progressive!) presidentswords, movies, statues, building names, gender specific pronouns, Mr. and Ms., classic works of literature, earringsHalloween costumes, professors, guest speakers, foreign dignitaries, and most importantly -- ideas.

Accordingly, opposing "hateful" conservative ideas has emerged as a hallmark of SJW protests. Speakers who have have faced classic SJW tactics range from esteemed Professor Christina Hoff Summers (see an example here), to the flamboyant Brit, Milo Yiannopoulos. These tactics have become all too familiar -- claim the status of a victim that needs protection from "hate speech," demand "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings," attempt to have conservative speakers disinvited through petition and protest, and, when all else fails, show up to the event and use Trigglypuff tactics (see here) to disrupt and prevent speeches and debates. Kids will be kids, right? But it's not just students.

The occasional whacky professor calling for "muscle," or attacking conservatives directly, is also not new. Consider the case of the UC Santa-Barbara feminist studies professor, Mireille Miller-Young, who, in July of 2014, physically assaulted pro-life students during a pro-life campus event (see here). Miller-Young screamed obscenities at the teens for holding pro-life posters. The professor's hysterics then gave way to aggression and violence, as she proceeded to knock the posters from their hands, push the teens to the ground, and steal their poster. Despite pleading no contest to theft, vandalism, and battery, neither the professor nor the university expressed regret for Miller-Young's behavior. In fact, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs engaged in classic victim-blaming by stating that the teens were "hawking intolerance in the name of religious belief." The university never took disciplinary action against the professor, essentially sanctioning Miller-Young's violent attack.

Taken in isolation, this incident can be, and has been, dismissed as anecdotal -- not representative of the tolerant liberal atmosphere of today's campuses. But consider the following collection of examples, which seem to be the tip of a much larger iceberg of normalized discrimination and calls for violence against libertarians and conservatives.

Bucknell professor calls campus conservative group "fascists and racists" and insists that they should pay a "steep and lasting price" for a conservative speaker they invited to campus.

NYU professor calls for police and protestors to engage in "anti-Fascist" violence against former Fox News personality Gavin McGinnis.

Drexell University professor calls for "white genocide."

Ohio SSCC anti-gun professor calls for anti-gun activists to arm themselves and storm the National Rifle Association's headquarters, and to leave "no survivors."

Perhaps no other speaker has faced more sustained vitriol from the regressive left than Yiannopoulos. While Yiannopoulos faced every SJW tactic in the book, he was concerned about his personal safety enough to hire a serious security team. His concerns proved justified at a speech he attempted to give at UC Berkeley, when an SJW protest turned into a violent riot. Responses on the political left varied widely, with most expressing horror and blaming agents provocateur. However, the close listener noticed murmurings on the left -- Yiannopoulos brought this upon himself. The premise behind these grumblings sounded eerily familiar to the official justifications of violence at UC Santa Barbara -- "hate speech" can "trigger" righteous indignation and a violent response (see here). Therefore, this type of speech should not be allowed. This is classic victim-blaming (see a compilation of journalists, actors, directors, and professor who justified the use of violence to shut down Yiannopoulos' speech, here). The viscousness of some of these attacks can not be overstated. Even comedians are refusing to perform on campuses (see here).

The hackneyed response to violent attacks against campus conservatives, as was the case following the attacks at Yiannopoulos' UC Berkeley speech, has been to create a dichotomy between "peaceful protestors" and nefarious "outside forces." Who, then, is responsible for the attacks? Black-bloc anarchists? Or, perhaps it's a right wing plot, as was suggested by Bill Clinton's former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich (see here). There's been no real exercise in reflection from the political left -- no contemplation of how the theoretical foundations of the social justice movement may in fact be the root of the problem.

For years, SJW activists -- professors and students -- have steadily demonized traditional American values, whites, men, Christianity, etc., as the forces of fascism, Nazism, and "oppression." Where did these ideas come from, one might rightfully ask? Part of the answer is that New Left academics in the social sciences have indoctrinated a generation of young professors into the cultural marxism of the Frankfurt School (see here), which prioritizes attacking the "intellectual superstructure" of the "evil capitalist bourgeoisie." The Frankfurt School's theoretical positions have been applied to countless dissertations, monographs, and have come to define textbook narratives (one author prefers the term "pomofascists" -- see here). These ideas -- which are antithetical to Western Civilization and traditional American values -- have become so normalized on today's ideologically homogenized campuses that one does not need to look hard to find the local college or university class or seminar on white privilege or male privilege. These core SJW assumptions provide the critical background for understanding campus responses to the election of Donald Trump.

Trump's election -- taken by the SJWs as "evidence" that at least half of the nation was inhabited by deplorable racists, misogynists, bigots, fascists, and Nazis -- signaled a new phase of "resistance" rhetoric (for my analysis of media-driven Nazi allegations against Trump and Bannon, see here). An Orange County College professor called Trump's election "an act of terrorism," and the student who recorded it was promptly suspended (see here). On campuses across the country, "traumatized" students experiencing "emotional distress" were encouraged to mourn, hold "cry-ins," seek safe spaces, wear safety pins, pet therapy dogs, express their anguish in coloring books, and other absurd, infantilizing exercises. A few professors -- even at Harvard -- called for violence in the streets to oppose the "illegitimate" election results (see here).

Trump's election marked the regressive left's psychological apocalypse. The increasing frequency of violent leftists attacks, coupled with national media coverage of the Yiannopoulos and Stanger attacks, has created a tipping point in the national conversation. Leftists who formerly ignored the problem can no longer do so. They must now either condemn it, or own it. Many have forcefully condemned the violence, and the Cowboy Historian tips his stetson to those who have. Unfortunately, some have chosen to publicly justify and encourage violence as an acceptable method for "resistance."

We can now add The New Republic to the list of "respectable" publications supporting violence to silence conservatives. Aaron R. Hanlon's recent article, "The Myth of the 'Marketplace of Ideas' on Campus (for the full article, see here)," argues against the use of violence to silence the likes of Yiannopoulos and Murray, but not out of any principled defense of free speech. Hanlon's reservation to the use of violence is based on behavioral economics. Simply put -- we are rewarding provocation and performance. According to Hanlon, we -- the market -- are misinterpreting the signals protestors are sending, which is fueling the popularity of speakers like Yiannopoulos and Murray. Hanlon claims that while violence may be strategically inadvisable, it should still be recognized as "an important signal in the marketplace that they [students] don't want these speakers on campus"; to dismiss violent protests as "illiberal" would be to misinterpret "knowledgable, rational opposition."

On the bright side, the recent attack at Middlebury has provoked a vigorous nonpartisan response to promote ideological diversity on campuses, as reflected in Northwestern University's recent student government resolutions (see here). For the University of Chicago's response, see here. The creation of the Heterodox Academy, which boasts over 450 college and university professors from across the ideological spectrum, has made its mission to "advance viewpoint diversity and promote free inquiry in the academy." Finally, professors at Middlebury have expressed their support for free speech and debate by signing a "statement of principles." While many departments expressed warm support for the principles of free and open inquiry, speech, and debate, certain departments have refused to support the statement. Unsurprisingly, they are the very departments that have been utterly infested with the illiberal doctrines of the modern "social justice" movement (see here).

There can be little doubt that the escalation of violence on college campuses represents the logical outcome of the flawed assumptions of the so-called social justice movement. It has been the failure of campus faculty and administrators to recognize the illiberal nature and intellectual roots of these groups, and to respond to escalating criminal violations accordingly. The time has come for those who value free speech to posse up and start rustling!

- The Cowboy Historian

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Is Steve Bannon a Nazi? Fake News and Guilt by Citation

Recently, a friend of mine casually claimed that former Breitbart editor and presidential assistant Steve Bannon and POTUS Donald Trump were Nazis. Nazis! I'd seen this type of polemic before, but I'd dismissed it as election-year hyperbole, and after the election, as extreme post-election bitterness. What struck me about this conversation was the ease and surety with which the Nazi accusation was made. There was no pause for emphasis. Calling the POTUS a Nazi wasn't even the centerpiece of the conversation. The claim came mid-thought, as if it represented a consensus point of view that could be mentioned in passing -- an established fact

Knowing that educated, well-intentioned people don't make such allegations flippantly, I stopped the conversation and asked for an explanation. When challenged for evidence, I discovered that my friend's Nazi allegations relied on claims made in the New York Times and The Atlantic. To my shock, both articles (here, and here) implied that Bannon admired the infamous Julius Evola -- the Italian philosopher of Fascism. Both articles cited a single reference to Evola from a speech Bannon gave at the Vatican in 2014. This must have been an incredibly self-incriminating statement by Bannon, I mused, for a single citation to prove he is a Nazi. 

The New York Times article, entitled "Steve Bannon Cited Italian Philosopher Who Inspired Fascists," implies that this single citation was something of a dog whistle for white nationalist groups, which Bannon "nurtured as the head of Breitbart News and then helped harness for Mr. Trump." Of course, no evidence from Bannon's writings or public statements -- even a citation --  is provided to establish Bannon's ideological connection to white nationalist groups. That's because Bannon's connection to white nationalism is "assumed knowledge" on the part of the reader. 

Nevertheless, the article does make a bizarrely contrived connection between Bannon and an actual white nationalist -- Richard Spencer. This is the point at which the New York Times' magic formula for linking Bannon to Nazism is revealed. Spencer's white nationalist credentials are impeccable. Thus, because Spencer praised Evola, as well as provided unsolicited support for Bannon and Trump in the election, and, given that Bannon cited Evola in a speech, Bannon's ideas must therefore be closely related to those of Spencer and Evola. Was this the math the New York Times and the Atlantic used to slander Steve Bannon? Sadly, yes. The writers of both articles imagine Bannon through the eyes of Spencer, and present Spencer's affinity for Evola and Bannon as evidence of Bannon's ideological transgression.  

So, what did Bannon actually say about Evola? Was Bannon's Nazi ideology really revealed in a single citation? I read the transcript myself (see the full transcript here). I was immediately struck by the fact that Bannon's speech presented Nazism and Fascism as evil, barbaric, and rightfully defeated. To my surprise, the Evola reference wasn't in the speech, but in the post-speech question and answer session. Bannon's single reference to Evola, when taken in context, simply pointed out the influence Evola's writings, which Bannon notes "metastasized" into Italian Fascism, had on one of Vladamir Putin's advisors. Concerning Putin's Russia, Bannon said it was a kleptocracy. This was hardly "evidence" of a Bannon "endorsement" of either Evola, Putin, or Fascist/Nazi ideology. 

When presented with these findings, my friend resorted to a fall-back position of claiming that Bannon and Trump might not be actual Nazis, but were nevertheless guilty of pandering to "alt-right" ideas in Brietbart and on the campaign trail. I asked how many adherents of the "alt-right" existed, or what exactly constituted "alt-right" ideas. My friend could not formulate a coherent response, but simply repeated the exercise in conflation found in the articles -- Bannon and Trump peddle the ideas of fringe white nationalist groups for political gain. I then realized that the hack journalism shown above had found a receptive audience in the echo chamber of academia, where intellectual laziness and willful ignorance allow baseless claims by dishonest journalists to become "common knowledge.

In this case, the endlessly repeated claim that Bannon, and hence Trump, is guilty of being a Nazi, rests on a single citation taken out of context.  

- The Cowboy Historian