Freedom of speech

The neo-Marxist takeover of our universities

According to Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, America’s universities have succumbed to ‘safetyism’, whereby students are protected from anything that might cause them anxiety or discomfort. In their book The Coddling of the American Mind, published this week, they attribute the spread of ‘trigger warnings’, ‘safe spaces’ and ‘bias hotlines’ on campus to a misplaced concern about the psychological fragility of students. In their view, millennials aren’t ‘snowflakes’, but imagine themselves to be on account of having been surrounded by over-protective parents and teachers. The fact they are the first generation of ‘digital natives’ hasn’t helped, since it has left them marooned in echo chambers, unaccustomed to challenge. In addition,

Taking offence has become a blood sport

In a recent column, I vowed to return to a point made in passing. To refresh your memory, the American magazine the Nation printed a formal apology for running a harmless 14-line poem by a white writer about homelessness. The poet’s sins: using the word ‘cripple’ and adopting a voice lightly evoking what I gather we’re now to call ‘AAVE’: African-American Vernacular English. Facebookers were incensed, comments huffy. The poet apologised, too. I decried this ritual progressive self-abasement as cowardly and undignified. But it’s worth taking a second look at that story as a prime example of screaming emotional fraudulence in the public sphere. Employing today’s prescribed lexicon, those apologies

You can say that

‘There. I said it.’ That phrase, and the attitude it strikes, says something pretty specific. It doesn’t just say: here’s what I think. It says: ‘Here’s what I think, and, you know what? It’s what nobody except me dares to say in public.’ It says: I’m brave. It says: I speak truth to power. It says: here I am on the battlements. It also says: I’m a grade-A chocolate-coated plonker. And though most people are too fly these days, too aware of the lurking threat of Craig Brown, to use that form of words, there’s a good deal of there-I-said-it-ism about these days. In particular, when it comes to the

Diary – 2 November 2017

Where better to be than in Liverpool on a crisp autumn evening, haranguing an open-air meeting of students? I hadn’t done a soapbox speech since my Trotskyist days 45 years ago, and had forgotten how exhilarating it is — the questions sharper, the audience more alert, the tempo brisker, and the missionary feeling of spreading the word. Also, the students didn’t cough all the time, which they tend to do in stuffy lecture rooms. But I had never meant to do this. Months before, Tom Willett, of Liverpool University’s politics society, had asked me to come and speak about my favourite subject, the fact that there is no ‘War on

Letters | 19 October 2017

The great divider Sir: Niall Ferguson (‘Tech vs Trump’, 14 October) draws a parallel between the Reformation — powered by the printing press — and today’s social networks — powered by the internet — in their influence on the established hierarchy. Ferguson astutely observes that the consequence of the Reformation was not a hoped-for harmony but ‘polarisation and conflict’. The difference was then, and is now, between collectivism and individualism. Collectivists always saw the internet as a vehicle for the universal consciousness: the blending of minds. Individualists always saw the internet as an integrator: establishing facts using the principle of non-contradiction. The first is mystical. The second is a demonstration of

Lionel Shriver

The young oppress their future selves

Matt Ridley’s fine recent Times column was hardly the first to raise the alarm about the pseudo-Soviet intolerance of the left emerging from university campuses. Yet he began with arresting statistics: ‘38 per cent of Britons and 70 per cent of Germans think the government should be able to prevent speech that is offensive to minorities.’ Given that any populace can be subdivided into a veritably infinite number of minorities, with equally infinite sensitivities, the perceived bruising of which we only encourage, pretty soon none of us may be allowed to say an ever-loving thing. We won’t rehash the whole trigger warning/safe spaces nonsense. But I am baffled by what

Alice’s restaurant

Though Alice Waters is not a household name here, that is precisely what she is in America — the best-known celebrity cook, the person who inspired the planting of Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden, the recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Légion d’Honneur, vice-president of Slow Food International, the founding figure of California cuisine. She is the mentor of Sally Clarke and, claims Wikipedia, of René Redzepi and Yotam Ottolenghi. It all began in 1971 with a simple French restaurant in Berkeley, California, which she called Chez Panisse in homage to the films of Marcel Pagnol. It served a no-choice menu, costing $3.95, consisting of the traditional dishes

Letters | 31 August 2017

Campus censoriousness Sir: I am so grateful to Madeleine Kearns for having the courage to speak out about her experiences at university when others, including myself, remain silent (‘Unsafe spaces’, 26 August) . I have done the reverse of Madeleine in that I, a young American woman, moved from New York City to the UK for graduate school. One of the main factors in this decision to continue my education here is because I feel I have more academic and intellectual freedom. The idea of a balanced argument at my undergraduate university was ‘neoliberal’ versus ‘radically liberal’. We spoke of the importance of diversity, but political diversity was never considered. I

The hormone that makes you a liberal halfwit

People who feel unkindly disposed towards economic migrants are chemically imbalanced, according to a study from the University of Bonn. More specifically, they are deficient in oxytocin, a neuropeptide hormone sometimes known as the ‘cuddle drug’ because of its ability to turn normal human beings into simpering halfwits. Psychologists ran a series of studies in which Germans were asked how much money they would like to give to, say, Tariq and Mohammed, who have just arrived here from Syria. ‘Nothing at all, unless they intend to spend it on a ticket home’ is of course the correct response, and indeed many Germans initially concurred with this. However, after they were

A bookseller’s duty

To my mind, a bookshop is like a library — the only difference is that you buy the books, you don’t borrow them. But both have a duty to provide books (space and budgets allowing) reflecting a wide range — as wide as possible — of interests, reading tastes, subjects and points of view. Walk into one of either and there are the thoughts and feelings, beliefs and dreams and creations and discoveries of many men and women, and that is part of their never-ending excitement. If you are, say, a Christian bookshop, and advertise yourself as such, or a Middle Eastern bookshop, or a communist or a feminist bookshop,

A Berlin Wall moment for political correctness

Because we’re all so obsessed with what it was that made the Nazis tick, we tend to overlook the bigger mystery of how hundreds of millions of people, for a period considerably longer than the lifespan of Hitler’s Germany, remained under the spell of communism. This is a question that Czeslaw Milosz set out to answer in his 1953 classic The Captive Mind. Milosz was a Polish poet, prominent in the underground during the Nazi occupation, who served as a cultural attaché with Poland’s post-war communist regime before quitting in disgust and fleeing to the US, where he taught at Berkeley and achieved eminence as a Nobel-prize-winning dissident exile. What

My poster girl for free speech

Now is the time of year to take down the Christmas decorations from your front window and put up, in their place, the anti-immigration posters. Please display them prominently and make sure the message on each is suitably strident. It behoves all of us to do this, as quickly as possible, even — perhaps especially — if we are liberally minded. For this is not about immigration, per se. It is to show solidarity with Ms Anne Maple, who is aged 61 and unfortunate enough to live in Lewisham. I do not know Ms Maple personally. It may well be that, rather than a sainted individual, she is a meddlesome

Keep the press free

It is said that the case for freedom of expression needs to be restated in every generation, but things move faster in the digital era. Just three years after an attempt at state regulation of the press ended in ignominious failure, a fresh effort is being made. The government has begun a consultation on a plan to impose stiff financial penalties on newspapers who refuse to sign up to a state-approved regulator. Anyone wishing to give their opinion on such a regime has until 10 January. It is odd, for a start, that Theresa May’s government feels the need to consult on whether it has a duty to uphold fundamental

The students fight back

Last week, students at York University staged a walkout from the sexual consent classes organised by their student union women’s officers. A quarter of the freshers decided they didn’t want to be lectured to by union worthies about when it’s OK to have sex. So they got up and left. ‘These talks are inherently patronising of both genders,’ said Ben Froughi, a third year accounting student at York, who had stirred up sex class dissent by handing out leaflets telling students the classes were optional and they didn’t have to attend. But sex consent classes are mandatory at some universities, including Cambridge and Oxford. Young people are being chaperoned through

Warrant for alarm

A concerted effort is under way to make sure that, when it comes to the European Arrest Warrant, Brexit does not mean Brexit. The Police Federation, for example, will hear no ill spoken of the system. And the same might be said of the Prime Minister, who as home secretary praised it to the skies. As she put it in October 2014, without the European Arrest Warrant, ‘British criminals would be able to hop on to the Eurostar or fly to Spain, safe in the knowledge we wouldn’t be able to get them back to prosecute them.’ Without it, the UK would become ‘a honeypot for all of Europe’s criminals

Christopher Biggins and the fall of civilisation

Suppose you’d invited me round to dinner to celebrate my engagement to your daughter, which do you think would be more offensive? If a) I got violently drunk, threatened all the male guests, abused the women doing the catering, shoved my tongue in my hostess’s ear, hurled a bottle through the window, felt up all the bridesmaids under the table, then retreated to the jacuzzi to shag your daughter’s best friend? Or b) if I made a mildly tasteless quip about the Holocaust? There’s only one correct answer and it is, of course, b). We know this thanks to the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother, whose makers have peremptorily

Diary – 21 July 2016

These days, you only need to turn your back for five minutes and you’ve missed another horror. The Turkish coup may have been foiled by incompetence, Facetime and people power, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seizing the chance to consolidate his increasingly authoritarian regime. My friend Ayse Kadioglu, one of Turkey’s brave, embattled liberal intellectuals, compares the bombing of the parliament building in Ankara to the Reichstag fire of 1933 — not in the sense of being a put-up job, but as a pretext for strangling democracy. Our new Foreign Secretary needs to produce more than a rude limerick in response. In the last fortnight I have made my

Burning passions

This is a book which, as one eyes its lavish illustrations and dips into its elegant prose, looks as if it ought to come with an option to buy a cut-price John Lewis coffee table. On the Burning of Books is, in fact, much more than that. It wears its scholarship lightly. A weightier treatment of the topic for those interested can be found in Matthew Fishburn’s Burning Books (2008). Kenneth Baker? A name that rings bells. But what did he do? He enjoyed high office in the Thatcher years. At one point he was touted as a contender for Downing Street. His legacy is the National Curriculum. Best forgotten

The internet’s war on free speech

The dream of internet freedom has died. What a dream it was. Twenty years ago, nerdy libertarians hailed the web as the freest public sphere that mankind had ever created. The Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, written in 1996 by John Perry Barlow, warned the ‘governments of the industrial world’, those ‘weary giants of flesh and steel’, that they had ‘no sovereignty where we gather’. The ‘virus of liberty’ was spreading, it said. Now it seems that the virus has been wiped out. We live our online lives in a dystopian nightmare of Twittermobs, ‘safety councils’, official procedures for ‘forgetting’ inconvenient facts, and the arrest of people for being

A poem for Erdogan

At the end of last month, a German comedian appeared on German television and read a poem mocking Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey. Jan Böhmermann’s satire was directed, among other things, at the laws President Erdogan has been using to lock up his critics. Turkey — which David Cameron is still fighting to bring into the EU — now has some of the world’s most repressive speech laws. Numerous journalists have been arrested for ‘insulting’ President Erdogan and he has even been known to ban Twitter in the country when corruption allegations against him and his family have surfaced online. Yet until Mr Böhmermann came on the scene, one might