Defending ‘Little Hitler’
In the annals of recent political purges at universities, it’s hard to beat USC for suspending a communications professor for using a Mandarin word that sounds like the n-word, but Taylor University, a liberal arts college in Indiana, comes close. These aren’t theological liberals doing this; these are conservatives.
No one is immune to cancel culture, not even Christian colleges and universities. A tenured professor of philosophy at Taylor University, a conservative Christian liberal-arts school in Indiana, has been fired for refusing to take down a music video he posted to YouTube.
The video shows Jim Spiegel in his basement performing “Little Hitler,” a song he wrote about human depravity. The refrain goes:
There’s a little Hitler inside of me,
There’s a brutal killer inside everyone,
The hatred grows inside us naturally.
Anyone with a scintilla of charity and intelligence can tell that this is no celebration of the Nazi madman — but an admittedly cheesy way to communicate an essentially Christian idea: that all human begins have a propensity to sin; that evil lurks in all our hearts.
The termination has shocked the Taylor community. Spiegel has won multiple awards for teaching excellence and scholarship and led Taylor’s Ethics Bowl team to national victories. He has been an indispensable fixture of the university’s intellectual life.
Well, guess what? An anonymous faculty member filed a harassment complaint against Spiegel, based on his uploading this video to YouTube. The Taylor administration ordered Spiegel to take it down. He refused. They fired him.
Below is a clip of the song. As Justin Lee says, it’s a gentle satire about the capacity within all of us to do great evil. It is a thoroughly Christian message. And it’s obviously a satire! Spiegel was not given a chance even to know the identity of the person who complained about him, much less given the slightest bit of due process — that is, the ability to defend himself from accusations. For all the Taylor administration knows, Spiegel is the victim of professional jealousy.
Who wants to go to a university where popular faculty (or any faculty) can be dismissed without due process for saying, or singing, something that seems perfectly ordinary and orthodox within any Christian worldview? Be warned: the firing of Jim Spiegel sets apart Taylor as a place where you have to walk on eggshells, knowing that at any moment someone could make an anonymous complaint against you, and the administration could dismiss you. Here’s what it costs an undergraduate to go to Taylor:
You want to commit yourself to taking out loans to pay for a college at which the administration will not support faculty, and presumably not students who cross an invisible line? The firing of Spiegel sends a signal to every other professor on campus, and every other student: you could be next. All it takes is a single absurd accusation, based on even the simplest joke, to ruin a professor’s life.
Some of you think I’m exaggerating when, citing the testimony of Soviet-bloc emigres, I say that life in the US is starting to resemble life under Soviet totalitarianism. Here is the connection: under the Soviet system, all it took was an accusation of disloyalty — including telling a joke that offended the Party — to lose your job and even be sent to prison or into exile. This happened over and over. Last year, I visited Rudolf Dobias, an 84-year-old Slovak former political prisoner, sentenced to 18 years of hard labor in a uranium mine on a false accusation that he had drawn a cartoon making fun of Stalin and Czechoslovak communist leader Klement Gottwald. After release from prison, Dobias and his family lived a life of internal exile; he couldn’t get a decent job, his kids suffered from their father’s punishment, and so forth. All because of a single joke, one that he didn’t even tell! After our interview, Dobias mentioned to my Slovak translator that he was in constant pain now, the result of all the beatings he took in prison as a young man.
Obviously — obviously — Jim Spiegel is not Rudolf Dobias. But he’s on a spectrum. As more than a few Rudolf Dobiases told me for Live Not By Lies, free people have to resist this stuff the moment it starts. Jim Spiegel was absolutely right to refuse to take down his satirical song. The prissy authoritarians at Taylor University ought to apologize to him and hire him back. And they had better make it clear that they have done so, because this is a black mark on the school’s reputation, and a warning to students about an emerging climate of censorship, at a time when liberal arts colleges cannot afford them.
If I were a Taylor student — presuming that they are back on campus this fall — I would gather with a group every day outside Provost Michael Hammond’s office, and sing “Little Hitler” cheerfully, to cause Hammond and the university’s leadership to reflect on the nature of what they have done to a professor who has wronged no one.