Are we slid­ing into a new to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism?

The Church of England - - LEADER & COMMENT - Peter MULLEN

When the Ber­lin Wall was torn down in 1989, the poet CH Sis­son said: “I can’t un­der­stand how we can re­joice over the end of this tyranny in the Soviet bloc when we’re build­ing up some­thing very much like it in West­ern Europe.”

I re­called his words when I read the shock­ing re­ports about Felix Ngole who was sacked from his MA de­gree course in so­cial work at Sh­effield Univer­sity for ex­press­ing sup­port for Kim Davis, the Amer­i­can county clerk who was jailed for re­fus­ing to li­cense ho­mo­sex­ual mar­riages.

Sh­effield Univer­sity tried to jus­tify Ngole’s dis­missal in a state­ment say­ing he had “trans­gressed bound­aries which are not deemed ap­pro­pri­ate for some­one en­ter­ing the so­cial work pro­fes­sion.” Quite apart from the fact that any­one who uses lan­guage like that should be told to go away and wash his mouth out, how dare the univer­sity ex­pel a stu­dent for ex­er­cis­ing his right to free speech?

It gets worse. The dis­ci­plinary panel con­cluded: “Ngole is en­ti­tled to his opin­ions but there was a danger that pub­licly post­ing those views would have an ef­fect on his abil­ity to prac­tise as a so­cial worker.”

What va­ri­ety of dou­ble-speak is it to say that he has a right to his opin­ions but he is not al­lowed to ex­press them?

Ngole is a Chris­tian who dis­ap­proves of ho­mo­sex­ual mar­riage. He is pow­er­less to re­peal the law – ei­ther here or in the USA - which in­tro­duced ho­mo­sex­ual mar­riage. But in a democ­racy that en­shrines the prin­ci­ple of free speech, he would be per­mit­ted to ex­press his dis­agree­ment. What this proves be­yond all doubt is that we no longer live in a coun­try where free speech is al­lowed. There is a name for this sort of coun­try – our sort of coun­try, the new, mod­ern Bri­tain – and it is to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism.

To­tal­i­tar­ian regimes do not im­prove and ma­ture over time. Rather they in­ten­sify their in­tol­er­ance and sheer nas­ti­ness and they broaden the scope of is­sues to be de­clared for­bid­den. Then they in­crease the sever­ity of penal­ties for those deemed to have “trans­gressed.” Sis­son was right.

We see symp­toms of bur­geon­ing to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism in what we might have con­sid­ered the most un­likely places. For ex­am­ple, the lus­cious Grande Dame of fem­i­nism, Ger­maine Greer, was due to give a talk at Cardiff Univer­sity on the sub­ject of women and power. But she was “no-plat­formed” – or, as we lovers of or­di­nary English say, dis­in­vited. Why? Ms Greer is a rad­i­cal leftie, the sort of per­son who usu­ally ap­peals might­ily to our lumpen in­tel­lec­tu­als. What had she done wrong? She had writ­ten that men who have sex-change op­er­a­tions do not be­come women.

No­tice, she did not say that men should not be al­lowed to have these op­er­a­tions. In fact she ex­plic­itly de­clared: “Go ahead, you’re do­ing noth­ing wrong.” She merely pointed out that the re­cip­i­ents of such surgery never can be women in the full sense.

Uni­ver­si­ties nowa­days ex­press con­cern for stu­dents’ “men­tal safety” – mean­ing they must on no ac­count be ex­posed to opin­ions and ar­gu­ments that of­fend the canons of the new pro­gres­sivism. This is a dis­grace.

Uni­ver­si­ties, the pride and joy of Euro­pean in­tel­lec­tual life for a thou­sand years, are now afraid to ex­pose stu­dents to ideas they might find chal­leng­ing. But the whole point of a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion is to teach young peo­ple to be dis­cern­ing – that is to tell one thing from an­other; in short, to think. By ban­ning sub­jects and speak­ers who of­fer af­front to their prej­u­dices, our uni­ver­si­ties are fail­ing in their pri­mary task to teach think­ing.

This new fash­ion for in­sti­tu­tion­alised po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, and the rais­ing of the habit of tak­ing of­fence to the sta­tus of an art form, be­comes too daft to laugh at. For in­stance, last Septem­ber the stu­dents’ union at the Univer­sity of East Anglia boy­cotted a lo­cal Mex­i­can restau­rant for its giv­ing out som­breros to din­ers. They said that white peo­ple wear­ing Latin Amer­i­can cos­tume is “racist.”

Again, the writer Bren­dan O’Neill re­counts how he was pre­vented from speak­ing about abor­tion at Ox­ford last year. The stu­dents claimed that hav­ing “a per­son with­out a uterus” speak on abor­tion would make young women feel “men­tally un­safe.”

This stuff has been around for a long time. When I was a coun­try par­son in York­shire in the last cen­tury, I went to York Univer­sity to hear the con­ser­va­tive philoso­pher Roger Scru­ton. Only, the renta­mob brigade of un­der­grad­u­ate oiks wouldn’t let him speak. They kept up a bar­rage of noise and vile abuse un­til Scru­ton was obliged to step down from the ros­trum and the talk was aborted – if I’m al­lowed to say that, not hav­ing a uterus. The irony was that the sub­ject of his talk was “free speech”!

It was worse than cat­calls and abuse: Scru­ton was threat­ened with phys­i­cal vi­o­lence and, if he had not been led out quickly by a side door, he would have been harmed. Of course the univer­sity au­thor­i­ties were spine­less. I wrote to the Vice-chan­cel­lor and asked him what he in­tended to do about this dis­grace. He wrote back: “What could I pos­si­bly have done?”

Well, he could have dis­ci­plined the stu­dents in­volved. Bet­ter still, hav­ing been warned there was go­ing to be trou­ble, he could have at­tended the talk him­self, mounted the ros­trum and, when the un­pleas­ant be­hav­iour started, re­buked the per­pe­tra­tors.

The prob­lem is that this sort of ra­bid in­tol­er­ance is not recog­nised as bad be­hav­iour. In­tol­er­ance is now re­garded as a sign of virtue, of the new higher right­eous­ness. It is noth­ing of the sort. It is gov­ern­ment by the Thought Police, the death of free speech and the abo­li­tion of lib­erty. In a word, to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism.

Ger­maine Greer was ‘no-plat­formed’ at Cardiff Univer­sity

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