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The Historian’s Hubris

Niall Ferguson is a compelling writer, wry and puckish, intellectually curious. He has a knack for converting his deep knowledge of history and finance into narratives the average reader can grasp. There’s a generosity and a sense of excitement to his writing that have helped propel him to stardom in the publishing world and on the small screen. But for all his qualities, Ferguson didn’t know enough to pause before hitting ‘Send.’ Instead, by gleefully attempting to crush a coterie of left-wing Stanford University students who were trying to gain influence within his invited speakers series Cardinal Conversations, he threw gasoline on the blazing free speech wars and turned his own, noble-sounding words into ash. Ferguson has vowed to retreat “to [his] beloved study,” where presumably he will hunker down, reassess his methods and motives, and even, one hopes, re-emerge a better man.

One of our era’s most recognizable defenders of free speech, Ferguson co-founded Cardinal Conversations to foster open debate at Stanford. When it was announced that Charles Murray, author of the infamous 1994 monograph, The Bell Curve, would be speaking last February, several Stanford University campus groups began protesting a free speech initiative that seemed designed to stir up controversy and privilege right-wing voices. Ferguson became “deeply concerned” following an anti-racist rally on campus, and in a spectacularly ironic twist, began plotting with his young acolytes on the steering committee against a progressive student activist named Michael Ocon. Ferguson feared that Ocon would attempt to derail Cardinal Conversations, so he set about ensuring that the student’s views wouldn’t be heard. He advised the young Republicans that they “should all be allies against O[con]. Whatever your past differences, bury them. Unite against the SJWs.” He also recommended they do some ‘opposition research’ on Ocon in the hope of digging up dirt that could be used to discredit him.

It was a self-inflicted wound, foolish and silly and shameful, and his departure is a loss for historical scholarship. On some level, even his detractors must rue his slinking departure; debating his ideas was always challenging, stimulating, and fun. Ferguson has never shied away from the spotlight, no matter how glaring, and is known for taking melodramatic umbrage at criticism. Nevertheless, the knives have come out for him, sharper than ever, with outlets like Vox crowing that the Ferguson fracas is emblematic of the Right’s bad faith argument in favour of free speech.

How and why did this renowned author and academic allow himself to become entangled in the maelstrom of campus politics? What could possibly have driven him to conspire with 20-year-old students against their left-leaning foes and write incautious sentences like these: “Now we turn to the more subtle game of grinding them down on the committee. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”? Niall Ferguson has long been sounding the alarm about the moribund nature of free speech on campus and in the media, and he believes that it is the Left who, given half a chance, will deliver the coup de grâce. He is hardly alone in worrying about the Left’s puritanical speech policing. Jordan Peterson is perhaps the most famous public worrier about left-wing anti-free-speech activism, but all the members of the so-called ‘Intellectual Dark Web’—including the more progressive ones like Bret Weinstein—have argued that the Left is more censorious than the Right, at least in the current context. Evidence that progressives are clamping down on free speech is clearest on North American university campuses, where university speech codes elaborated by progressive administrators spell out the limits of what students and faculty can say. Certainly, the prevailing view on the Right is that universities are hotbeds of ideological conformity.

There is no denying that Social Science and Humanities faculties contain far more progressives than they do conservatives; indeed, the data supporting this are overwhelming. While many professors in these disciplines are perfectly professional and haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater, the fact remains that these departments, while highly conscious of the importance of cultural diversity, are far less concerned with viewpoint diversity. This monolithic convergence of orthodox beliefs leads to a less congenial environment in which questioning received wisdom can be perceived as an assault. Deviation from ideology is strictly monitored on social media, where call-out culture can do most of the dirty work of shaming dissenters and detractors.

But monotonous left-wing virtue-signalling is not the whole story. The Right has its own techniques and apparatus designed to rally adherents to the cause of free markets and smaller government. Indeed, in the United States the right wing’s cavalry has already galloped ahead with all three branches of government. Right-wing individuals and organizations finance major universities and think tanks to the tune of billions of dollars. Turning Point USA regularly visits American campuses to stir up outrage against progressives and trumpet the imminent decline of Western civilization. As the Vox article points out, right-leaning campus groups are not above inviting controversial characters like Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon in the guise of promoting free speech when what they really want to do is cause outrage on the part of their idealistic fellow students on the other side. This kind of trolling taints genuine efforts to stimulate dialogue, leading to massively disproportionate protests against comparatively mild-mannered speakers. Indeed, in a shockingly pusillanimous move in 2014, Brandeis University caved to pressure from Muslim groups and progressive activists and rescinded its offer of an honorary PhD to Ferguson’s wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is an author and promoter of women’s rights who was born in Somalia and endured all the humiliation and oppression that the Islamic world can deploy against Muslim women, including female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and Islamist indoctrination.

Ferguson is an unapologetically revisionist academic who has long enraged his more progressive colleagues by making arguments that dispute some of the Left’s most sacred shibboleths. In his 2003 book Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, he argued that Britain’s embrace of capitalism, which led it to explore and eventually rule vast swathes of Africa, Asia, and North America, also contributed the foundations of modern democracy and the rule of law. 2011’s Civilization: The West and the Rest makes the case that Europe and America came to dominate the world thanks to six “killer apps” (competition, science, property, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic), and that we in the West would do well to study how we got here, and what we need to understand in order to stay ahead. His unapologetic defense of capitalism and other ‘Western’ values has often grated on the sensibilities of left-leaning historians.

And left-leaning historians, Niall Ferguson has often argued, dominate the field so thoroughly that students are rarely presented with the kinds of ideas he writes about—ideas he considers crucial to the preservation of our modern, democratic societies. In his view, the contemporary, politically correct, post-colonial narrative which holds that Empire and Imperialism were unalloyed evils that served only to advance the interests of oppressive powers and crush the aspirations and natural evolution of victimized nations and peoples, is hopelessly simplistic at best, and perniciously ahistorical at worst. For all the violence, racism, and rapacity inflicted around the world by European colonial powers (and which he readily concedes), Ferguson believes that the West should be credited for the ideals of fair play, the rule of law, free trade, and democracy.

Despite being well-versed in the world’s great cultures, Ferguson has more than once been accused of bigotry—a charge he hotly denies. There is certainly a long and not always noble tradition in America and Britain of fretting about the decline of Western values, much of it a reaction to the necessary and liberating political and intellectual work of colonial subjects, blacks, and women articulating ways and reasons to throw off the shackles of oppression. Ferguson is aware of this history of maligning other cultures and peoples in order to preserve the dominance of Western power, but his focus is on the positive contributions brought about, especially, by the capitalist system and its necessary corollary, the rule of law. Still, Ferguson’s affection for counterfactuals—for example, imagining how things would have turned out if Britain had stayed out of WWI, or if India had never been colonized by Britain but instead had continued to be ruled by the Mughals—lead him to advocate for positions that are anathema to the Left.

When he was a student at Oxford, the academic world had already begun its great shift leftward. Yet, as he explained to Dave Rubin in the course of a recent interview, it was still possible to debate the ideas that would one day become academic orthodoxy. As a student, he relished the opportunity to take on the consensus, and indeed was “egged on” by the few conservative professors who remained. Turned off by the sanctimonious groupthink of most of his fellow students and bewildered by their wholesale dismissal of what he perceived as the good that British culture and politics had contributed to world history, Ferguson strode onto the public intellectual stage swinging, and hasn’t stopped since.

Perhaps he never quite shook his adolescent pugnacity. Perhaps, despite his worldly success, Niall Ferguson is a Peter Pan, a boy who never grew up. He has since sheepishly conceded that “student politics is best left to students.” The Vox article argues thinly that “his track record of controversial statements—such as attacking the work of liberal economic giant John Maynard Keynes on grounds that Keynes was gay—suggests that’s only part of the story.” In other words, if a historian suggests that a certain economist’s outlook on the future might have been influenced by his sexuality, then his claim that the Left dominates campus debates must be spurious. This is nonsense; one can obviously believe that free speech is in peril and advance theories, however crackpot, about human sexuality and its psychological implications. Unfortunately, by making the bizarre decision to aid and abet his youthful disciples at Stanford as they ganged up on another student, he crossed an abundantly clear ethical line, using his position of power and authority to undermine one of his own charges. Worse still, he shot friendly fire at his own side and undermined a legitimate debate about free speech. He claims that, while he regretted having written the emails, “It seemed to me that the Cardinal Conversations student steering committee was in danger of being taken over by elements that were fundamentally hostile to free speech.” This is something of an explanation, but far from an excuse.

The Stanford email scandal will no doubt chasten Niall Ferguson, and there’s little doubt that he will give student politics a wide berth in the future. In a supposed attempt to foster free speech and open debate via the Cardinal Conversations initiative, Ferguson went to great lengths to crush his opponents’ rights to express dissenting views. But Niall Ferguson’s foolhardy actions, far from indicating the mendacity of the Right’s free speech argument, may in fact demonstrate just how beleaguered even a successful conservative historian can feel in an academic environment almost wholly dominated by progressives.

 

In a former life, Genevieve Weynerowski co-founded a personal carbon trading company. She now works as a writer and translator for film and magazines and is currently writing a murder mystery set in the age of migrant crises and climate change. You can follow her on Twitter @GWeynerowski

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56 Comments

  1. This isn’t a discussion article; it’s hit piece. You assume without discussion that a professor getting involved in student politics is shameful. A bit of discussion might have brought out the fact that Leftist professors do this all the time without consequences or even, I’ll bet, without you ever suggesting that they did anything wrong. You conflate committee politics with silencing speech. You describe political activity as “ganging up”. But I’ll bet when you like the politics being pushed, you don’t call it “ganging up”, you call it “group action” or “consensus building” or something else that is a nice term for “ganging up”. You offer a tendentious characterization of what Ferguson has written about Keynes under the shallow pretense of defending Ferguson while slyly implying that he is homophobic. Had to get that one in there even though it would be completely unrelated to the story if this weren’t a hit piece in disguise.

    You suggested that popular conservative speakers are invited merely as provocations, as though you can read the minds of conservatives and can’t imagine why else they would invite popular speakers that always draw a large audience. Hm. Why WOULD a group want to invite a popular speaker that always draws a large audience? Apparently, you can’t think of any reason except to provoke masked communist blackshirts . That must be it.

    You imply that when Leftists try to suppress free speech, they are just reacting understandably to deliberate provocations, but when Ferguson discussed strategy in committee politics with students, now THAT’S a real moral problem.

    None of this is an attempt at honest discussion; it is narrative setting and character assassination. Shame on you, Genevieve.

    • Mark says

      You raise a good point. Peterson has pointed out that the leftist professors don’t even try to hide the fact they’re training activists. Therefore, the leftist professors are engaging in student politics.

      I agree with your point on inviting right-wing speakers, too. Obviously many people want to listen to them.

    • Dear David,

      A number of my friends are university professors, some with strong leftist leanings, others more conservative or libertarian. They all found Ferguson’s behaviour beyond the pale. The problem isn’t so much that he got involved in student politics, but that he used his position and influence to, among other things, attempt to smear a fee-paying student whose political views he didn’t like.

      Still, I’m well aware that all too many academics on the Left consider “social justice” to be their primary mission as teachers. I’ve been told of clandestine meetings held to “deal with” conservative students who were “disrupting” what were arguably in-class indoctrination sessions.

      With respect to the rest of your critique, nowhere do I say or imply that it’s okay for Leftists to suppress free speech. Neither do I suggest that “popular conservative speakers are invited merely as provocations”. I say that *some” are. If you think that there are no troublemakers on the Right, then I’m afraid you are very naive.

      Finally, you make a lot of assumptions, all of them wrong, along the lines that I must think it’s perfectly okay for Leftists to engage in the kind of tactics Ferguson indulged in. For the record, I emphatically do not, nor am I a Leftist.

      Genevieve

      • Genivieve, I’ll take you at your word that you did not intend this as a hit piece on Ferguson, but you certainly are not speaking from the right. The entire article is laced with attempts to poison the discussion with negative characterizations of the right.

        “gleefully attempting to crush a coterie of left-wing Stanford University students who were trying to gain influence within his invited speakers series”. How about “attempting to resist a Leftist effort at subverting yet another institution”?

        “turned his own, noble-sounding words into ash” and “hunker down, reassess his methods and motives, and even, one hopes, re-emerge a better man”. How about “was criticized”?

        Meanwhile, “following an anti-racist rally on campus” taking the description of the organizers at face value. A conservative would not characterize the rally as anti-racist.

        Then on to, “plotting with his young acolytes”. How about “advising student leaders”?

        “ensuring that the student’s views wouldn’t be heard”. How about “opposing a student leader he disagreed with”?

        “in the hope of digging up dirt”. How about “in the hope that he was careless enough to say out loud what he really believes”?

        “is known for taking melodramatic umbrage”. I just included this because it’s ironic.

        “stir up outrage against progressives”. How about “warn people about progressives”?

        “trumpet the imminent decline of Western civilization”. How about “explain what Western civilization is and how the Left is endangering it”?

        I could go on, but the result would be longer than your article, because about every other sentence contains a tendentious phrase or characterization in the service of attacking Ferguson, attacking conservative activism in general, or downplaying the dangers of Leftist totalitarianism.

        • Andy H. says

          Is Ms. Weynerowski duty-bound to “argue from the right” when she writes for Quillette, even when–at least in the case of Professor Ferguson–“the right” has got it wrong?

          • Bruce says

            I have no idea what a writer is bound by anymore, hence I just read the words they put together and form a conclusion. I think David’s example of this being a “hit piece” is correct in it’s analysis. Each of the examples he points out are valid samples of why this is a leftist hit piece. The argument could have been made without the diatribe pointed out by David.

    • Andrew Smedley says

      I really think you’ve got the overall point of the piece wrong. Quillette and it’s writers have been staunch advocates for free speech and strongly opposed to the new left wing campus culture of silencing dissenting views. Quillette is not against the left in principle, it just so happens that most of the silencing is coming from the left at the moment.

      Since the behaviour of Ferguson is very similar to the behaviour and tactics used by leftists to silence opposition that Quillette has criticised in the past, it would be very hypocritical not to call it out just because Ferguson isn’t an SJW.

      A lot of people here seem to have the notion that the author of this piece is obliged to be against leftists and for conservatives, as though we are fundamentally at war. (I for one think this is a terrible way to look at the situation. We are fundamentally in it together, we are stuck on a rock in the middle of nowhere with a short amount of time to make the best of the situation, we just happen to fundamentally disagree on how to make the best of it.) Instead of this tribal mindset, I think the publication and the author have a much stronger obligation to enlightenment values and they would be neglecting this obligation if they did not call out Ferguson for this.

      P.S. I didn’t think the author was implying Ferguson was homophobic with his ideas about Keynes, the author was accusing Vox of doing precisely that.

      • Just because *you* don’t like what she says, does’t make it a “hit” piece or something not worth being published on Quillette.

      • “Since the behaviour of Ferguson is very similar to the behaviour and tactics used by leftists to silence opposition that Quillette has criticised in the past, it would be very hypocritical not to call it out just because Ferguson isn’t an SJW.”

        Leftists have gotten people fired for expressing opinions held by half the country, they have rioted against speakers they don’t like and otherwise shut down speeches, they have used violence against people reporting on their activities, they have justified their own violence by pretending that speech they don’t like is violence, they have mobbed people’s homes and frightened them and their families, they have gone after the families of people who say things they don’t like, they have doxxed people who are now in danger of murder from Islamic terrorists.

        So, do you mean to tell me that these things are “very similar” to advising students on student committee politics or do you mean to tell me that
        Quillette has also criticized Leftist professors for advising students on student committee politics? If the first, then you are simply wrong. Engaging in peaceful politics is not at all like any of those things. If the second, then I doubt that you are right, perhaps you could give me a link.

    • Dear David:

      This isn’t a hit piece; it’s the heartfelt lamentation of a crestfallen fan. And it resonates with me. Big time. Genevieve perfectly captures how thoroughly disappointed and gut-punched I felt when I heard about what Ferguson did at Stanford. I was actually depressed for a day or two after I got the news. Didn’t leave the house until Genevieve invited me out to Else’s, a local pub, to drink beer and talk about how we felt about the whole Stanford scandal.

      I’ve assigned Ferguson’s books to numerous classes at John Abbott College (where I teach). And I’ve been a great fan of his work for years now (e.g., I bought The Square and the Tower the very same day it came out). I thought Ferguson was so much better than this. I thought he was a thoroughly honorable man. It’s sad to discover that he’s just another petty partisan who will readily break the rules of decency to win a couple of points in a stupid culture war.

      Ferguson has rightly maintained for years that “fair play” is one of the West’s greatest virtues, one of its “killer apps”. For this reason, and others, I think it was reasonable of me to expect him to play fair. I didn’t expect him to be perfect, mind you, but I did expect him to be better than a Vox writer. Regardless, shame on you, David, for casting aspersions on Genevieve’s motives. She’s just as much of a Ferguson fan as I am. And her article comes from a place of sadness. If you can’t see that, you should probably reread it.

      John Faithful Hamer, Ph.D.
      Teacher of the Humanities
      Department of Humanities, Philosophy, and Religion
      John Abbott College (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Québec)

      • John, first, I wish I had a super cool name like you do. Second, the article not only did not convince me that Ferguson did anything that is not “fair play”, I didn’t see anything to remotely indicate that.

      • defmn says

        //It’s sad to discover that he’s just another petty partisan who will readily break the rules of decency to win a couple of points in a stupid culture war.//

        This, of course, is the core of the disagreement. You think it is a “stupid culture war” while many see it as the rapid decline of the most promising culture of all time.

        Viewed from your perspective the rules never change no matter the level of danger. I wish I could agree with you but I fear that perspective requires the ignoring of a substantial and growing body of evidence.

        I hope I am wrong and you are right but my education in political philosophy screams that things are going to get much worse before they get better simply because attacks from the left find their genesis in weakness and the naturally weak have no conception of honour. As the old maxim teaches “the high understand the low but the low cannot understand the high”.

        Maybe you should re-read The Republic – the most profound examination of human nature I am aware of – and see if that doesn’t change your mind.

    • Jason says

      David, I’m afraid I’m going to have to stick up for Genevieve here. I don’t come to Quillette to step into an echo chamber. When somebody like Prof. Ferguson makes the news for the wrong reasons, I want to see it examined and taken apart from as many different perspectives as possible.

      Setting aside the merits of Genevieve’s points, and setting aside the unfairness of Prof. Ferguson potentially being held to a higher standard than his ideological foes, the fact is that he *did* shoot himself in the foot and as Genevieve said, “worse he shot friendly fire at his own side and undermined a legitimate debate about free speech.”

      Her article (and Ferguson’s actions) are a warning to everybody of how advocates for free and open debate can forget themselves, “put their foot in it,” and harm the perceived legitimacy of bigger issues.

      It’s not a hit job: it’s a demonstration of how a self-created hole in Ferguson’s armor creates an opening for real hit jobs. A warning to us all.

      Good article, Genevieve.

    • NomNom says

      Fascinating. I think David’s comment, the author’s response and the Dr. Hamer’s comment really highlight the differences between young and old. Even if David isn’t young (but I suspect he is), his attitude reminds me of young conservatives.

      Young conservatives have grown up watching people on the left not play by the rules and absolutely dominate culture because of it. Old conservatives (and centrists) tend to say “well, play fair, the world will see the left and their crazy tactics and reject it. We must be better than them by calling out our own that do not play fair.”

      Young conservative reject this outright, claiming that the left dominates our culture because they play dirty, and now we must play dirty too. Winning is everything, and old conservatives decisively lost when it was their time to fight. At least that’s what I think young conservatives perceive.

      • doug deeper says

        Jason and NomNom, I appreciate both your comments. Never should this become an echo chamber. I am a nearly 71 yr old classical liberal otherwise known as a conservative today. Going to college in the late 60s I ended up a socialist and went thru a very long reality check. Thru my philanthropic activism in higher education over the last 10+ years I have been thoroughly red-pilled. The tone and nature of Genevieve’s article does not help non-orthodox thinkers to be even “cleaner” in our tactics than we already are, it causes many to go further into hiding to avoid reputation damage, career demolition and possible physical harm.
        As I scrutinize what Ferguson did I cannot find his encouraging the Stanford GOP to do opposition research on a leftist student activist to be a concern at all. If this was the university of the 1950s this might be shocking and reason for dismissal from polite society, but today’s campus environment bears little resemblance to that environment.

        Radical neo-Marxist professors have been escalating their movement to de-platform wholesale non-orthodox speakers and students for decades now. Violent intimidation and rioting are no longer uncommon practices on many campuses. I led the near shutting down of Cal State University, Northridge (Valley State College then) in 1969 to protest the Viet Nam war, not because the president said it was ok, but because I had widespread faculty support. We worked very hard to make that a peaceful demonstration, today the faculty know no such bounds.

        Under sane conditions I would condemn what Ferguson did, but conditions today are no longer sane.

  2. Derp says

    Uh, India was ruled by the Marathas at the time the British established dominion over the subcontinent (after winning the Third Anglo-Maratha War).

  3. doug deeper says

    David Gudeman is exactly right. This hit piece is laughable given the actual reality on campus. The author accepts Vox’s words as gospel. The shame is if Niall Ferguson does back away from the fray as the author seems to assume and relish. Just think: then the West Coast will be without even one non-orthodox historian. The left will have a much better time of it taking over Cardinal Conversations. One must be very tough and strategic when fighting the Goliath-like orthodoxy on campus, so I am very unsure that the tactics employed by Ferguson were as unsavory given the existing conditions as this author asserts. And when all non-orthodox speech has been banned from campus, and we are very close to that today, exactly what brave stance will this author take to bring it back? The answer is likely none.
    When in a battle for survival, it is difficult to be nice all the time.

    • I absolutely do not take Vox’s words as gospel. On the contrary, I describe their conclusion as “nonsense”. Nor do I want Niall Ferguson to stop advocating for free speech. But as I said in the piece, “he shot friendly fire at his own side and undermined a legitimate debate about free speech”. And also “Niall Ferguson’s foolhardy actions, far from indicating the mendacity of the Right’s free speech argument, may in fact demonstrate just how beleaguered even a successful conservative historian can feel in an academic environment almost wholly dominated by progressives”.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      Shorter @doug deeper: What Ferguson did wasn’t nice, but the Left is always much worse, so Ferguson has nothing to apologize for.

      More generally, Quillette [and the Right in general] often seem stuck in a cartoonish heroes vs. villains model for intellectual debate. Needless to say, the people on the Right are the outnumbered heroes, bravely fighting off hordes of savage Leftists. This is how Profs. Peterson, Ferguson, Anomaly, etc., have been presented recently.

      In reality, there is a robust conservative/Republican intellectual infrastructure spanning the U.S., capable of nurturing and defending Rightist thinkers like Ferguson. Just look at a partial list of the fellows of the Hoover Institution [some are deceased, but all are recognizable names]: G. P. Schultz, Thatcher, Condoleeza Rice, Niall Ferguson, M. Friedman, T. Sowell, Kissinger, Mattis, McMaster, E. Meese, Rumsfeld, E. Teller, and other former Republican officials.

      With a list like that, it’s laughable to claim that West Coast conservatives are an endangered species.

      • Well they may not be all heroes but they are way outnumbered even if they still have there spheres of influence and our currently wining the debate in certain sectors in America.

      • Deafening Tone says

        If you have to use a list with dead and retired people on it, your argument sinks itself. Try this one: There are 807k college faculty (of all ranks) in the U.S. as of 2015 (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_315.20.asp?current=yes). Leftist faculty VASTLY outnumber conservatives among this population. Now just picture damn near every college in the country reflecting this ridiculously lopsided reality (more than 4.6k total in the U.S.), and you have that many more colleges than Hoover Institutes in the country.

        And virtually no dead people.

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          Well, you can look at the complete list for yourself:

          https://www.hoover.org/fellows

          The list I used from Wikipedia included some former Hoover fellows, but the list of active members above still swings pretty far to the right. There are lots of former Republican Party officials and prominent conservatives at Hoover, but virtually no prominent Democrats, except Sam Nunn.

          Look, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with right-leaning think tanks like Hoover, Heritage, AEI, Manhattan Institute, George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, ASU’s Center for Political Thought and Leadership and Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, UA’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, etc., etc.. Unlike some on the left, I don’t object to private funding of university-based think tanks, provided that the contracts and donors are made public, that the mission is appropriate to the university, and that the think tanks adhere to all university policies in hiring, etc.

          Your attempt to sway the argument using 807,000 total higher ed faculty in the US fails on the grounds that different US colleges, universities and even departments have very different roles and different faculty makeups. Lumping religious-affiliated colleges, liberal arts colleges, professional schools like engineering and medicine, technical and community colleges and state A&M universities together is pointless, even if we knew the political views of all those 807,000 faculty members–which we don’t.

  4. Cassandra says

    Yes, not the best of behaviours, but why do we hold the right to a higher standard than the left? It’s war, for Christ sake. No platforming, black balling of colleagues with the wrong views, advertising boycott campaigns, doxxing, nasty name calling (Nazi, Hitler), the simple use of far, alt, rabid, rancid to always prefix “right” etc. For my part whenever I am dealing with my guardian-reading brothers I always use the adjective c**ty before the left to let them know how I feel about their pathetic name calling, and there is the odd left wing activist I could entertain using a bike lock inappropriately on. So, despite this “revelation” I will continue to admire the reasonably humble Ferguson as one of the smartest men in the room and I would give him the advice to never apologise to the left for anything.

    • Considering the overwhelming reply to this article, Quillette readers do not hold Right leaning individuals to a higher standard. However, they have elevated them to deities that shall not be criticized.

      • Deafening Tone says

        I agree with the author of the article, FWIW. Turn the other cheek is a better way of exposing the ridiculous of the left. What Ferguson did lent credibility to the victim class.

  5. ga gamba says

    Ms Weynerowski’s first evidence is Ferguson wrote students “should all be allies against O[con]. Whatever your past differences, bury them. Unite against the SJWs.” OK, how is this denying Ocon his speech? At most it instructs the recipients of his email to have a united front to reply to Ocon’s speech and actions.

    Her second evidence is Fergusson “recommended they do some ‘opposition research’ on Ocon in the hope of digging up dirt that could be used to discredit him.” Presumably this would be done by looking at his social media, finding interviews he had conducted with the press, and talking to people who know him. One may argue about the ethics of dirt digging, a practice that is standard by the media in its exercise of free speech, but this too doesn’t deny Ocon his speech.

    These, Weynerowski writes, prove “Ferguson went to great lengths to crush his opponents’ rights to express dissenting views.” Huh?

    Is there anything else? I assume Weynerowski would have included it. Though it is not explained, it appears what underpins her essay is adult students performing activism in public should be shielded from scrutiny, opposition, and criticism by older adults who don’t even hold direct power over them, such as being their teachers or academic advisors – the appeal to safe space and the cry of power imbalance. What remains unaddressed is universities employing many who offer numerous courses teaching real McCoy censorship is not only desirable, it’s a moral social good, and when that fails it’s justifiable to punch people and bonk them over the head with u-locks. Not only are they shaping the minds of young adults, teachers such as Yvette Felarca, who was filmed physically attacking her opponents, do so with middle-school students.

    Not only do I not see Ferguson’s smoking gun, I didn’t even hear the gunshot and see smoke and a victim. I conclude Weynerowski either doesn’t know what censorship is or uses an unorthodox definition.

  6. dirk says

    Fergusons’wife Ayaan H.A. once was a devote lefty, working in the think tank of the Dutch Party of the Working Class (the party still exists, the working class has evolved into middle class, this as a side note). As a refugee from Somalia, she almost automatically, being a victim and underclass of all kinds, walked into that think tank and felt initially at home. But she became very assertive and fierce soon, likes to throw gasoline to enhance fires and preaches the right to insult, especially against her moslim brothers and sisters of once, thereby fits wonderfully with her husband, I must think. It’s not my style, but, at least, it’s dynamic and vivid.

    • doug deeper says

      Dirk,
      Ayaan Hirsi Ali was fighting against the Islamic violence that murdered her partner, Theo Van Gogh, and had so ubiquitously threatened her life to the point no one in Holland was willing to have her live near them for fear for their own lives. This, despite the fact, she was an elected member of the Dutch Parliament. Quite a feat for a woman who escaped a forced marriage in Somalia and entered Holland under political asylum. Thank God she fights against the violent suppression of women, especially within Islam, and in particular, female genital mutilation.
      I have met her twice and heard her speak several times, she is a most eloquent, thoughtful and perhaps the nicest “fierce” person I have ever met.
      Am I to assume you do not support such an advocate for all, even Muslim, women’ rights?

      • dirk says

        I agree, a nice,fierce woman, that’s why I bought her book on freedom, and another one from Waris Dirie, also from Somalia, also fighting against genital mutilation, but less fierce, more empathic. Maybe I am too meek for admitting it’s not my style, but, Ayaan certainly provokes, Holland was shocked by her fierce movie, together with van Gogh (but it was on TV), the murder was the result. I think, it must be a happy fierce couple, she and Niall, with a lovely young son.

    • ga gamba says

      The savaging of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by the progressives is one of its most shameful acts in recent memory.

      The Islamists must’ve hired a phenomenal PR Svengali. The 180 degree flip to its favourable perception by progressives is astonishing to behold. There is simply no crime too intolerable for progressives to overlook and rationalise when a group is deemed to be on the outs with cis heteronormative white male capitalists.

      • dirk says

        You mean she is now accepted or not by left Ga? As I said, she started as a left, fighting for equality in asyl procedures (she found out that well educated ,richer refugees had a much better chance of being granted asylum than simple, less articulated ones) but soon became a fierce adversary of the muslim community, and was adored by Wilders, van Gogh and other no nonsense ultra-rightwingers.
        She warned for the intrinsical danger of muslim faith, advertised that in her movie with van Gogh, and, logically, no longer was a darling of the left. But I always loved to hear her speak, she knew things from within, her life is one big and large fight, and I wish her the very best at the side of her cis heteronormative fierce husband.
        Her fight against female mutilation is a special case, sometimes the left seems to accept this in the name of cultural diversity, even Dutch intersectional feminists (left? right?) donot know how to feel about it.

  7. AARON D JENSEN says

    I would imagine the objective observer would recognize the asymmetry in this.

  8. Constantin Draghici says

    I concur with Ga-Gamba’s comment. It may well be that the author is sincere, but she confuses political organization with the silencing of free speech. Most egregiously, she could not articulate a reason someone may want to hear what Milo Yiannopoulos or Steve Bannon think. This is an insidious form of censorship that increasingly finds support from an alleged political centre, or even alleged conservative position. To me, that’s the precursor of the Gulag, because it reduces whole thinking human beings to a mere nuisance that could at best be tolerated around – but nowhere near the microphone. The fact that Steve Bannon, warts and all, may have been the thinking behind historically significant events and what could be described as a peaceful revolution within the GOP – it is not enough to make one curious to hear what he has to say. In the author’s mind the only reason to invite him is to poke the sensibilities of people who share her view that he must be deplatformed. I do not buy that she a defender of free speech, and if she truly believes that to be the case, it is high time to re-evaluate that notion.

  9. This is more a tangent type point but I don’t believe there is any real evidence certain right of center personalities are invited by student Republican groups with the goal being even partially upsetting leftist students and progressives on campus. Thats a claim I see often and I reject it. Take Milo Yiannopolis. For some reason this guy (I dont get him at all) has quite a large following on the right especially among younger conservatives its perfectly natural that he would get invited to speak. Then there is the fact that almost anybody worth hearing on the right enrages these people anyway. Look at the ridiculousness involving a person like Ben Shapiro when he gives a speech in a college setting. You have idiots trashing an orthodox Jew with very orthodox conservative views as a radical who is a member of the alt right. A lof of these people don’t need a reason to go nuts about any viewpoint different then theres. They would probably be ok with Bill Kristol giving a lecture on how awful Trump is though I’ll give you that.

  10. Sapere Aude! says

    Ferguson had the right idea. The sane (including sane leftists) need to stop playing by rules the insane SJWs and their bedfellows/puppetmasters in the globalist oligarchy dispensed paying lip service to years ago.

    You have to understand, these are people in the thrall of an evil, totalitarian, nihilistic cult that has declared a war of social annihiliation on all who oppose it — they are not interested in reasoned discussion or ‘the truth’, but only further extending their domination of our institutions until they reign unchallenged.

    You don’t fight a war by playing by rules your opponents openly ignore and subvert.

    And you had better hope the forces of sanity win the culture war, because if they don’t that could well herald a real one.

    The only shame here is that Ferguson was caught. Dissidents need better opsec.

  11. V 2.0 says

    I stopped taking this article seriously as soon as words like ‘plotting’ and ‘acolytes’ were used, though it’s attempt to hide the foaming-at-the-mouth disdain for Ferguson and his views was amusing. I do have to give credit to Quillette for its determination to publish views from all sides of the debate. Too bad the quality is so obviously on the conservative side of things. It must be slim pickings indeed trying to find something, anything, from the Left that is not completely bereft of reason and logic. It’s embarrassing to be a liberal these days.

  12. I’m hard pressed to think of one instance of a progressive prof, someone like melissa click for example, after having been caught in something similar, expressing the slightest modicum of remorse. Ferguson seems to be sorry, which speaks well of him.

  13. Nilufar Rahman says

    Why we are so socked to see that professor involved in student politics? Left leaning students and student organization always involved like minded professor. In Evergreen situation we saw even the college president get involve.

  14. The Starry Messenger says

    To Ferguson,
    Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod.

    • TarsTarkas says

      And then they came for the blog posters, and there was nobody they could turn to for succor . . .

  15. Intrograted says

    Thanks, Claire and Genevieve. I didn’t read all of them, but some of the comments here somewhat highlight what you wrote. Thanks for some viewpoint diversity, Quillette.

  16. Dan Meisels says

    To be clear, he called for opposition research, but was any done? Furthermore who filed the freedom of information act to get a hold of his emails and does that not amount to opposition research? Suggesting opposition research does not seem untoward in a situation where you are the target of opposition research.

    That said I must say I am getting to wrapped up in all this culture war stuff to be anywhere near objective. I miss the double aughts.

  17. Grant Dewar says

    Genevieve, Well done for provoking debate, in the greeek tragedies hubris will always invite the ire of the gods, your piece is cathartic. Great to see the way in which Quillette is providing this platform for freedom of thought and speech.

  18. Gordon Gekko, Jr. says

    A bit over analyzed. Everything Ferguson has done is performed 50x over on the left. As a college professor, I see it daily. A nice piece of work but your time would have been better spent working on the murder mystery.

  19. British Empire was responsible for killing 150-180 million in its 400 years of pillaging conquest, colonization and man-made famines.Hope I could bring those lives back and ask them “How were the British”.

  20. Tron says

    Queensburry Rules he said, and was kicked in the groin for 20 years. Hubris or human?

  21. Mazzakim says

    I am a non-classical Liberal, for reasons I am not going to get into here, but I don’t believe one has to look through life entirely through the lenses of politics, social justice, or what have you. It is possible to admire a novel, for example, for its aesthetic qualities without worrying what the author is saying about whatever underlying power dynamic. It is possible to look at complex things like the British Empire and acknowledge they are complex, and not either all one thing or all another. That said, I find this post and the comments to be highly amusing.

    The author is most definitely not on my team. And yet you all are going for her jugular for what is all-in-all a lament, not a condemnation. I’m going to suggest there might be a case of collective myopia going on here.

    “We have to because we are so outnumbered! No retreat, no surrender! No straying from the tribal lines! War, war, war!”

    Actually, if you’re vastly outnumbered by anyone on campus, it’s the apolitical students who might have a political orientation but otherwise really couldn’t give a shit. They are going to class, going to work, fucking off, partying, getting high and whatever else *other than* politics. Campus politics is the loudest on one side yelling at the loudest on the other, over and over again. It’s almost always the same actors, over and over again.

    And for all the whining about “indoctrination,” even with the politically active, all but the most dedicated will upon graduation dutifully join corporate America and start to build their adult lives. They will sort out being somewhat to the left or somewhat to the right, more or less in equal proportion, but politics will be far from their primary concern.

    I’m a real-life combat arms (combat engineering then infantry) combat veteran. As much as it may feel like it, politics is not actually war. But don’t mind me, I’ll be over in the corner smelling the flowers.

    • doug deeper says

      Mazzakim, Thank you for your service! You wrote:
      “… all but the most dedicated will upon graduation dutifully join corporate America and start to build their adult lives.” Yes, and corporate America now looks exactly like the college campus. The most powerful corporations, Google, FB, Amazon, Apple, Starbucks, GE, Disney all adhere to the ID politics, SJW ideology they picked up in college or the culture at large which is now inundated with it. This is not our fathers’ college campus, corporate world or American culture. This is something very different. The indoctrination is quite thorough, and non-bigoted people who have more classically liberal or traditional values are simply not allowed to speak honestly in society. This is a nicely veneered tyranny.

  22. markbul says

    ” several Stanford University campus groups began protesting a free speech initiative that seemed designed to stir up controversy and privilege right-wing voices.”

    Funny how the only ‘controversy’ comes from those who disagree with the Left. And anyone who is not of the Left is necessarily ‘right wing.’ This is how they seek to control society – by controlling the very meaning of language. Orwell knew this well. When allowing a man to be heard ‘privileges’ his voice, you know you’re not fighting a fair fight.

  23. Mirror on the Wall says

    There’s a certain naivety to this piece. The left do not play fair, they fight dirty. Ferguson’s tactics were in the correct spirit, but unfortunately the execution found wanting.

    It will be necessary for ever greater organization and even clandestine planning if we are ever to wrest our great institutions from the clutches of these psychopaths.

    I do not lament the author of this piece, but I do implore them to open their eyes a little wider.

  24. Melk says

    The Left loses all credibility in this type of discussion when they demonize Ayaan Hirsi Ali for being anti-Islamic. It is the mindset of moral idiots and it’s not entirely clear to me exactly how the author feels about Ali. If Ferguson is at all influenced by the indecent approbrium directed at his wife, can fully understand. More power to him.

    • dirk says

      What do you mean with anti-islamic Melk?? In her last book, she defended islam culture, and depicts ways to integrate with the modern world.She remains part of that world, and doesn’t want to severe from it. She abhors female circumcision, O.K., but so do many others within Islam. Please, delve into her history, and try to understand her, and with more empathy.

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