The New Cathars

I thank Bill Keezer for sending me an excellent essay, by law professor Amy Wax, on the collapse of civil discourse in academia. Professor Wax has had a better opportunity than most of us to observe this collapse first-hand, thanks to the cataract of abuse she endured for having commented publicly on another socially destructive collapse: the breakdown of “bourgeois values” in American culture. (That initial commentary was an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, back in August. You can read it here, and if you haven’t, you should stop right now and do so.)

We read:

Shortly after the op-ed appeared, I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen for a while and asked how his summer was going. He said he’d had a terrible summer, and in saying it he looked so serious I thought someone had died. He then explained that the reason his summer had been ruined was my op-ed, and he accused me of attacking and causing damage to the university, the students, and the faculty. One of my left-leaning friends at Yale Law School found this story funny — who would have guessed an op-ed could ruin someone’s summer? But beyond the absurdity, note the choice of words: “attack” and “damage” are words one uses with one’s enemies, not colleagues or fellow citizens. At the very least, they are not words that encourage the expression of unpopular ideas. They reflect a spirit hostile to such ideas — indeed, a spirit that might seek to punish the expression of such ideas.

I had a similar conversation with a deputy dean. She had been unable to sign the open letter because of her official position, but she defended it as having been necessary. It needed to be written to get my attention, she told me, so that I would rethink what I had written and understand the hurt I had inflicted and the damage I had done, so that I wouldn’t do it again. The message was clear: cease the heresy.

“Cease the heresy”. We see this sort of language, which describes the prevailing culture in religious terms, more and more. There is a very good reason for this, namely that what we are dealing with is, in actual fact, a religion. I have been making this case for a long time now (the idea is not original with me, of course), but I think a concise post that puts the argument together in one place is in order, and I shall write one.

Meanwhile, read Professor Wax’s latest essay here.

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