Home/Rod Dreher/The ‘Evil’ First Amendment

The ‘Evil’ First Amendment

Imagine a progressive elite boot on the neck of journalists forever (Photo by Eko Siswono Toyudho/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

First, let me quote to you something from The Captive Mind, Polish dissident writer Czeslaw Milosz’s 1951 classic exploring the mentality of intellectuals who submitted to Communism:

It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy. Their bread, their work, their private lives began to depend on this or that decision in disputes on principles to which, until then, they had never paid any attention. In their eyes, the philosopher had always been a sort of dreamer whose divigations had no effect on reality. The average human being, even if he had once been exposed to it, wrote philosophy off as utterly impractical and useless. therefore the great intellectual work of the Marxists could easily pass as just one more variation on a sterile pastime. Only a few individuals understood the causes and probably consequences of this general indifference.

The more general point here is that ordinary people had better pay attention to what intellectual elites say and do. It is very, very unwise to laugh them off as living in an ivory tower. The lightning-fast movement of what was once ultra-fringe discussions about gender and sexuality from graduate student seminars to the center of American culture is a clear and unmistakable sign — and a warning. What happens at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and other elite universities does not stay there. The people those universities educate become the American elites, and move into leadership positions throughout US society.

I mentioned this summer being in Poland, and talking with Poles who work for the Polish branches of US and Western Europe-based multinationals. Those companies are bringing LGBT Pride policies and initiatives into their Polish workplaces. The Poles with whom I spoke are Catholics whose religious convictions rebel against having to affirm LGBT — especially the T — in the workplace. But they badly need those jobs, so they’re torn. In this way, US and Western European corporate elites are compelling a cultural revolution. If they succeed in changing the views of Eastern European elites, then they will change those countries. What started in American universities will have made its way down to everyday life in Poland and countries like it. It never would have occurred to Polish workers that the abstruse theories of, say, Judith Butler would have anything to do with their jobs, but that’s exactly what is happening, right now, all over the world.

Similarly, in a fantastic history I’m reading now, Yuri Slezkine’s The House Of Government, it is clear that the ideas that led to the Bolshevik Revolution, and ultimately the deaths of 20 million, began in fervent reading groups of messianic young Marxist intellectuals. People who do not pay attention to what intellectual and cultural elites say, or who dismiss it as eggheaded nonsense, are fools.

I say that as background to the latest insanity from Harvard, as reported by The Harvard Crimson:

Harvard’s Undergraduate Council voted to pass a statement at its meeting Sunday in support of immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream’s concerns about The Harvard Crimson’s news policies and made recommendations to make reporting policies more transparent.

The statement, passed 15-13-4, comes after The Crimson covered Act on a Dream’s “Abolish ICE” protest in September. After the protest, Crimson reporters contacted a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson for comment. More than 900 people and several student groups have since signed an Act on a Dream petition condemning The Crimson’s decision to reach out for comment.

The council’s vote approved its own statement regarding the issue to be sent out to students in its weekly email.

“The Undergraduate Council stands in solidarity with the concerns of Act on a Dream, undocumented students, and other marginalized individuals on campus,” the statement reads. “It is necessary for the Undergraduate Council to acknowledge the concerns raised by numerous groups and students on campus over the past few weeks and to recognize the validity of their expressed fear and feelings of unsafety.”

Members of several campus groups including Act on a Dream and the Harvard College Democrats have instructed their members not to speak to The Crimson unless it changes its policies.

You see what’s happening here? These Harvard students, and part of the Harvard student government, do not want the campus newspaper to practice basic journalism. It condemns the newspaper simply for seeking comment from people the students dislike. The agents of ICE are non-persons — people so horrible that they do not deserve to be heard, because they cause members of favored groups to experience “feelings of unsafety.”

The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. It is perhaps understandable (though not defensible) that elite Harvard students would oppose freedom of religion. But freedom of the press? If they’re against basic journalistic standards, this is a terrible sign for the future, and for all the First Amendment freedoms. A couple of weeks ago, a poll came out showing that 60 percent of young Americans want the First Amendment rewritten to restrict free speech and freedom of the press. (And yes, I am aware that Donald Trump’s appalling populist rhetoric about the press is adding to this hatred of the First Amendment.)

The book I’m writing now talks about the cult of Social Justice, and the messianic, militant utopianism of this new generation of progressives, who are marching through the institutions of American life. I’m thinking hard right now of this other line from Milosz’s book, about the insufficiency of making better arguments than the enemies of liberty. The “Messiah” he mentions here is Communism:

One does not defeat a Messiah with common-sense arguments.

UPDATE: At Northwestern University, home of one of the country’s leading journalism schools, the campus newspaper’s leadership has capitulated to the SJWs. In this editorial, they apologize to the campus for reporting on a public event (a speech given on campus by former AG Jeff Sessions). Excerpt:

We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward.

One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down. On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed. We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories. While our goal is to document history and spread information, nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe [emphasis mine — RD] — and in situations like this, that they are benefitting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry.

Some students also voiced concern about the methods that Daily staffers used to reach out to them. Some of our staff members who were covering the event used Northwestern’s directory to obtain phone numbers for students beforehand and texted them to ask if they’d be willing to be interviewed. We recognize being contacted like this is an invasion of privacy, and we’ve spoken with those reporters — along with our entire staff — about the correct way to reach out to students for stories.

It goes on. It’s a signed editorial, which I suppose gives future employers a heads-up about these young fraidy-cats’ complete lack of moral courage and journalistic professionalism.

UPDATE.2: A young journalist quotes the signatories of the editorial and warns about what’s coming when this generation (his own) takes institutional power:


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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