Fareed Zakaria devoted a segment of his show today to the issue of conservative speakers on college campuses. After reviewing protests against Vice President Pence, Education Secretary DeVos and others, Zakaria said it was “strange” to see this happening on colleges that should be the bastions of openness to all idea.
“Freedom of speech and thought is not just for warm fuzzy ideas that we find comfortable, it’s for ideas that we find offensive,” Zakaria said. He added that while there was a strain of anti-intellectualism on the right, “there is also an anti-intellectualism on the left. An attitude of self-righteousness that says we are so pure, we are so morally superior; we cannot bear to hear an idea with which we disagree.”
“Liberals think they are tolerant but often they aren’t,” Zakaria said. He then cited a 2016 PEW survey which found 70% of Democrats said Republicans were close-minded as compared to 52% of Republicans who said the same of Democrats. “But each side scores about the same in terms of close-mindedness and hostility to hearing contrarian views,” Zakaria said. Here’s the segment from his show:
Zakaria stated this even more strongly during his commencement address at Bucknell. Speaking of the protests that we’ve seen take place on campus he said, “these strike me as fundamentally illiberal if not unamerican.” He went on to argue that there are natural forces in the world which divide people (education, wealth, ideology, etc.) and that the liberal education should be one of the areas where all sides come together in a common conversation. Though he doesn’t say this, he suggests turning college campuses into progressive safe spaces would weaken more than just the colleges themselves, it would close off the one area of common ground left to us as a nation.
It’s interesting to note that Zakaria’s description of the intolerant left veers naturally into religious language. He describes them as “self-righteous” and seeing themselves as “morally superior.” A few decades ago that’s language the left would have used to attack the religious right, people they saw as humorless scolds and hypocrites. Now it’s the progressive left that sees itself as pure and superior and which seeks to rid the world around them of sin. It’s certainly not the same faith but it is the same impulse. And it’s now those on the right mocking the doctrine of intersectionality and choosing irreverence in response to a dogma they don’t believe in. That may even help explain how we wound up with a president who seems to enjoy trampling on all of the verities of the left.
Here’s Zakaria’s speech at Bucknell. The part about the progressive threat to liberalism starts at about 8:30: