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Campbell Campbell-Jack: If students can’t face the world, how can they change it?


In Dad’s Army Private Frazer, the gloomy Scottish undertaker, regularly cries ‘We’re doomed, I tell ye. We’re all doomed.’

It is easy to think ‘We’re doomed’ and that progressives have taken over. The media is painfully politically correct and relentlessly pushes a progressive agenda. Politicians uttering a word out of line are quickly brought to heel by a braying Twitter mob. When university authorities hasten to appease students who demand ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’, it’s apparent that our universities are havens of progressivism.

Has progressivism won the day? Not necessarily. Shutting down public debate could mean that you have won. It could also mean that you are well on the way to defeat.

Progressives want to enforce conformity of expression. Contrary views are met with cries of ‘No platform’. Even long-serving progressive warriors such as Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell have fallen foul of the mob. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Roman Catholic Church was never half as effective as Twitter.

Knowing that an invited speaker might criticise the concept of ‘rape culture’, Ivy League students at Brown University demanded a safe space in which to shelter. The room was equipped with biscuits, colouring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies. Carers trained to deal with trauma were on hand.

One student bravely left the sanctuary and ventured into the lecture hall to see what was going on. She retreated to the safe space: ‘I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.’

When we find a student at a leading university traumatised by hearing contrary views, we are not encountering an invincible army. This is an ideology which feels the need to cocoon itself in a bunker of ideological conformity. It is not the behaviour of an all-conquering ideology.

It is not only students. On hearing the then president of Harvard, Larry Summers, say in a lecture that men and women had different aptitudes, Nancy Hopkins, an MIT biologist and Harvard graduate, walked out, telling The Boston Globe later that if she hadn’t, ‘I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up.’

Do these sound like the foot-soldiers of an invincible army? Apart from a handful of terrorist-inclined Antifa thugs, the armoury of most progressives is confined to hurt feelings and tears.

The aim of progressivism is to produce people unable to engage in thought-crime. The result will be a generation unable to engage in any thought. Snowflakes protected by Play-Doh and frolicking puppies are not insurmountable.

Universities should not exist so students can absorb facts or their lecturer’s opinions. Vital to educational development is sharpening the student’s thought processes in the cut and thrust of argument, thus broadening his or her vision. Those who never engage with contrary ideas never learn to see the world through the eyes of others, and will be intellectually and socially stunted.

To change the world, you have to learn how to engage with the world. If you are unable to engage with the world, you live in an ineffectual intellectual ghetto. What happens when progressives emerge from their safe spaces and encounter the reality where people have contrary opinions and frolicking puppies are in short supply?

The Hogwarts generation have been educated to believe they live in a world where by means of repeated incantations of ‘Tear it down’ and waving their arms they can make statues disappear and everything in the world will magically be changed for the better, the bad will vanish and the good will live in peace and harmony; until the next issue comes along.

The seeming triumph of progressives heralds their eventual defeat. The progressive elites in universities and the media are producing a generation of intellectual infants. These students think of themselves as radical progressives, the cutting edge of goodness in a corrupt society. In truth, they are the willing foot-soldiers of an elitist repression of thought.

Noam Chomsky, the outspoken anti-capitalist and intellectual guru of the Left, is concerned with speech and its uses. In The Common Good he writes of how the establishment supposedly keeps people in check by restricting the range of what may be said whilst giving the illusion of free speech.

‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.’

This is precisely what the Left is doing. The range of acceptable opinion is severely limited, but within that restricted spectrum the wildest, most disruptive views are encouraged. Rampaging demonstrators demanding that history be annulled and free speech restricted so that they feel safe believe that they are demonstrating for liberal values. Meanwhile the media reinforces their self-image as liberal reformers.

The new orthodoxy seems on the surface to be all-conquering. Historically, monolithic thought systems which shun reality have a habit of collapsing so completely that onlookers are astonished. The Scottish Reformation was a relatively peaceful event in a blood-soaked century. This was not because the Reformers were all-powerful but because the seemingly impregnable established church collapsed when pushed. The totalitarian Soviet Union with its demand for total ideological conformity seemed impregnable, right up until it shattered.

Elites by their nature are isolated and prey to self-delusion. Attempting to impose dogma doesn’t produce agreement, it succeeds only in forcing everyone to mouth acceptable slogans. There is no guarantee that everyone understands or accepts them. Shutting down public debate may ensure a short-term win, but behind it is the realisation that you have already lost.

Those who value the traditions and standards of Christian-based Western culture need not despair. Progressivism is a façade, another empty shell ready to crack open.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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