Home/Rod Dreher/Sex, Eton, And Soft Totalitarianism

Sex, Eton, And Soft Totalitarianism

Simon 'Trendy Hendy' Henderson, the woke Head Master of Eton College (Eton College video)

This ideologically cracked person is a New York Times columnist:


You can believe such peculiar things and be a featured columnist at the world’s most prestigious newspaper. In fact, I would doubt that any of the other columnists could get away with writing something in the paper that flatly denied Blow’s claim. If they did, they would probably face an internal lynch mob demanding their firing for making trans and nonbinary employees feel unsafe. In fact, I bet Douthat or Brooks would think really hard before tweeting anything contrary to Charles Blow’s claim. Who needs the hassle of an SJW mob — especially when one cannot have any confidence that institutional authorities will stand up to the mob?

Here’s an interesting case out of Eton, the most prestigious school in the United Kingdom. The school’s headmaster, Simon Henderson, fired teacher Will Knowland over a lecture that he never delivered, titled “The Patriarchy Paradox.” Knowland uses science, history, and cultural analysis to explain the significance of sexual difference, and why traditional masculinity is necessary to social thriving: because it is built into our nature. You can get the highlights of his talk in this news story, but here is the 33-minute lecture on YouTube:

What Knowland says in this lecture was common sense until basically five minutes ago. It is certainly debatable. Knowland says he wanted to give the boys of Eton a point of view that challenges radical feminist orthodoxy. Eton’s super-woke headmaster ordered Knowland to take the video down from his YouTube channel. Knowland refused. Eton sacked him.

Now over 1,000 Eton students and others have signed an open letter to the Headmaster petitioning for Knowland’s reinstatement. Here’s a link to the letter. Excerpt:

The common opinion of the boys is that Mr Knowland presented the ideas in his video with as much academic nuance and sensitivity as could ever be reasonably expected. He makes at least 41 academic citations. His video is arguably a model for how to convey a contentious argument impeccably. We struggle to identify where Mr Knowland’s video steps out of the realms of academic debate and into genuinely discriminatory private opinion. The boys have concluded from watching the video that the problem cannot lie in the way he sets out the ideas, but in the ideas themselves. This dangerous conclusion must not be confirmed by a judgement against Mr Knowland.

Second, the boys perceive a hypocrisy on the part of the school about its role in the protection of minorities. Mr Knowland is being dismissed for having a different view to the view of the majority. His view is not very uncommon or exceptional. It is simply different. Mr Knowland’s dismissal presents as a gross abuse of the duty of the school to protect the freedoms of the individual, especially where those freedoms run up against the norms held by the majority. We feel morally bound not to be bystanders in what appears to be an instance of institutional bullying.
Why has the school not extended the protection to Mr Knowland that we hope it would to any boy who voiced a similar idea, be it on religious or secular grounds?
Are the boys also bound by the same restrictions to expression? Should boys who express the same idea as Mr Knowland expect to be similarly dealt with? Is there a difference if this idea is voiced privately, or, as with Mr Knowland, in an academic context?

Third, in a meeting on the 24th of November, the Head Master explained the test that he applies to determine what kinds of ideas are illegal. For him, anything that can be deemed ‘hostile’ by any single member of one of the school’s designated minority groups will be censored. We think this test is too severe. Young men and their views are formed in the meeting and conflict of ideas. A conflict of ideas necessarily entails controversy and spirited discussion. The Head Master’s ‘hostility’ test excludes nearly all of what makes up a liberal education.

How can the school reasonably expect teachers to engage in the promotion of free thought inside and outside of the schoolroom when the consequence of overstepping some poorly-defined line of acceptability is to lose their livelihood and home? Is this not an abuse of power?

Fourth, in a previous meeting with Pop, the Head Master stated his view that female teachers would be in some way ‘compromised’ by having to discuss the video in class. This appeared to be the Head Master’s principal objection to the video. Does this not patronise female staff? The undersigned believe that women are no less equipped than a man to contend for or against the video’s arguments.

Read it all. 

Eton College isn’t just any school. The all-male boarding school is Britain’s most elite. Since the end of World War II, five Prime Ministers, including the current one, have been educated at Eton. When you cannot even challenge radical feminist orthodoxy and gender ideology at the most elite school in Great Britain, you must know that intellectual corruption has reached the pinnacle of British society. If Henderson prevails over Knowland, then the conditions under which the certain ideas can be tested through rational argument will no longer exist at Eton, apparently.

We know too how pervasive wokeness is at our top American institutions, such as our Ivy League universities. New England prep school culture is also woke. Outside of education, Charles Blow could write a column for America’s leading newspaper arguing for his bizarre gender theory (which, again, is common among elites), and it would raise no eyebrows, but I would wager that a Will Knowland would find it impossible to advocate for the commonsense beliefs in his “Patriarchy Paradox” lecture.

The good news is that Knowland’s views are based on observable fact, and cannot be suppressed forever. A society that replaces them with ideology will not survive. The bad news is that we can and will endure tremendous pain and destruction before learning our lesson. The people of the Soviet Union endured 75 years of torment until the lies of Marxism-Leninism — which claimed that human nature was socially constructed, and could be re-constructed — collapsed. When those in power within an institution, or within a social order, are in thrall to an ideology, the destruction they can cause is immense. The task in front of us is not only to fight against the Etons — those once-great but now-corrupted institutions that produce the ruling class — and the madness they promote and enforce, but also to develop strategies for keeping alive the cultural memory of what we once knew to be true. This, incidentally, is what Live Not By Lies is about. The war against soft totalitarianism is not really with the state, at least not yet. It is primarily against an ideologically militant ruling class and the institutions it controls.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

leave a comment

Latest Articles