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Every day, people are losing their jobs because of political opinions or assertions about reality which are considered unacceptable. David Shor, a political data analyst, lost his job after tweeting a summary of research indicating that nonviolent protest tactics tend to be more effective than violent tactics. At the Poetry Foundation, both the president and the chairman resigned after being heavily attacked because their statement on the current situation…which said that the members “stand in solidarity with the Black community, and denounce injustice and systemic racism”…was vague and lacked any commitment to concrete action. An Illinois high school principal finds her job under attack after advising students that, if they protest, they should refrain from violence and looting. The list could be expanded indefinitely and includes people in all industries and at all levels.
This isn’t new. For the last two decades, the ‘progressive’ left has loudly insisted that dissenting voices (dissenting from the Prog worldview, that is) must be suppressed. But the trend has accelerated sharply.
I am reminded, as I often am, of the memoirs of Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. One very affecting section of the book describes what happened to Haffner’s father–a civil servant under both Weimar and the Kaiser–following the Nazi takeover. The elder Haffner, long-since retired, had considerable accomplishments to his credit: “There had been great pieces of legislation in his administrative area, on which he had worked closely. They were important, daring, thoughtful, intellectual achievements, the fruits of decades of experience and years of intense, meticulous analysis and dedicated refinement”–and it was extremely painful to him to see this work ruthlessly trashed by the new government. But worse was to come.
One day Mr. Haffner received an official letter. It required him to list all of the political parties, organizations, and associations to which he had ever belonged in his life and to sign a declaration that he ‘stood behind the government of national uprising without reservations.’ Failure to sign would mean the loss of his pension, which he had earned through 45 years of devoted service.
After agonizing about it for several days, he finally filled out the form, signed the declaration, and took it to the mailbox before he could change his mind.
“He had hardly sat down at his desk again when he jumped up and began to vomit convulsively. For two or three days he was unable to eat or keep down any food. It was the beginning of a hunger strike by his body, which killed him cruelly and painfully two years later.”
Haffner Senior was retired; he would surely have no chance for other employment if he crossed the new regime. He could either violate his convictions and sign the document, or sentence his wife and himself to total impoverishment and possibly actual starvation.
As recently as 10 or 15 years ago, it would have seemed unlikely that any American would have to face Mr. Haffner’s dilemma. But things have changed. If current trends continue, it is very likely that you will have to foreswear your beliefs or face career and financial devastation.
Plenty of markers along this dark path have been visible for years. Things have been especially bad in academia, it seems. At Yale, lecturer Erika Christakis resigned after being vitriolically attacked for suggesting that people not get all stressed up about Halloween costumes. Her husband, Nicholas, has also resigned from Yale. Ms. Christakis says that many of those were intellectually supportive of the couple were afraid to make their support public: “Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters.”
This article uncomfortably parallels the Haffner story:
(Iowa State University) students are told that they must abide by the school’s policy against “harassment” of anyone in the university community. Students must complete a “training program” consisting of 118 slides online, covering the university’s non-harassment policies and procedures, and then pledge never to violate them.
But what if a student thinks that the ISU policy goes way beyond preventing true harassment and amounts to an abridgement of his rights under the First Amendment?
In that case, ISU reserves the right to withhold the student’s degree. So either the student agrees to abide by the policy even though it may well keep him from speaking out as he’d like to, or have his academic work go for naught.
Iowa State is going beyond ‘only’ requiring you to shut up about your opinions and will also require you to positively affirm beliefs that you may not share.
The attack on individuals’ careers and finances due to their political/philosophical beliefs is by no means limited to academia. There is the case of Brendan Eich, who was pushed out as CEO of Mozilla because of his personal support (in 2008) of a law that banned same-sex marriage in California. There are multiple cases of small businesspeople subjected to large fines because of their refusal to violate their convictions by baking a cake or providing other services for a same-sex wedding.
And don’t think that just because you support gay marriage — even if you support what you think is 100% of the ‘progressive’ worldview — that you are safe. Deviationism can always be found, as the Old Bolsheviks discovered during the time of Stalin. Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis, herself a self-defined feminist, was investigated by the university after complaints were made about an essay she published under the title “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academia.” Kipnis writes:
A tenured professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social-media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child. I’d thought she was exaggerating, but that was before I learned about the Title IX complaints against me.
At least some liberal/’progressive’ academics are evidently starting to realize that they are not exempt from Deviationism or Heresy accusations. One may have 99.99% of the approved opinions, but there is always the danger of that .01% mismatch. Especially since the approved opinion set is highly subject to change.
And proof of an accusation is not necessarily required, a mere allegation may suffice to destroy your career. So may association with one of the accused. ”Goody Thompson was seen talking to Sarah Williams, and we all know that the Williams woman has attempted to summon the devil.” See Jonathan Kay’s story, here.
And also consider what the work climate is going to be like for those that do manage to stay employed and avoid dismissal for political reasons. Again I cite Haffner–here, he describes what conditions were like in his place of employment, the Prussian Supreme Court (Kammergericht) following the Nazi takeover. The Jewish judge had been moved down to an administrative role in a lower court, and his place had been taken by a young and inexperienced man who was there to represent the Nazi position on legal matters. The new judge didn’t seem to know much about law, but asserted his points in a “fresh, confident voice.”
We Refendars, who had just passed our exams, exchanged looks while he expounded. At last the president of the senate remarked with perfect politeness, ‘Colleague, could it be that you have overlooked paragraph 816 of the Civil Code?’ At which the new high court judge looked embarrassed…leafed through his copy of the code and then admitted lightly, ‘Oh, yes. Well, then it’s just the other way around.’ Those were the triumphs of the older law.
There were, however, other cases–cases in which the newcomer did not back down…stating that here the paragraph of the law must yield precedence; he would instruct his co-judges that the meaning was more important than the letter of the law…Then, with the gesture of a romantic stage hero, he would insist on some untenable decision. It was piteous to observe the faces of the older Kammergerichtsrats as this went on. They looked at their notes with an expression of indescribable dejection, while their fingers nervously twisted a paper-clip or a piece of blotting paper. They were used to failing candidates for the Assessor examination for spouting the kind of nonsense that was now being presented as the pinnacle of wisdom; but now this nonsense was backed by the full power of the state, by the threat of dismissal for lack of national reliability, loss of livelihood, the concentration camp…They begged for a little understanding for the Civil Code and tried to save what they could.
Surely this passage comes close to describing the feeling and actions of many genuine scholars while watching their university departments be taken over by the forces of political correctness, or the emotions of many experienced government officials and corporate managers as these institutions also are subjected to the rack of ideological absolutism.
There can be no serious doubt that the election of a Democratic President..especially if coupled with Democrat control of Congress…would greatly strengthen the push toward an America in which the expression of unapproved opinions is dangerous and the affirmation of approved opinions is mandatory. We are already heading in that direction at alarming speed: a Democrat presidency–with all that means in terms of empowerment of the ‘progressive’ wing of the Democratic party and its allies in media and academia–would accelerate the trend greatly and quite possibly make it unrecoverable.
(An earlier version of this post was published in 2016; it has been updated here in light of recent developments)Published in