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Weimar Villanova

Villanova professor Billie Murray, a self-described 'activist scholar,' in a 2016 speech (National Communication Association screenshot)

More decline at Villanova University. This from the school’s events page:

If the print is too small to read, here’s a description of a forthcoming lecture titled, “Reimagining Activism As Combative”:

In this presentation, Dr. Billie Murray will challenge the violence/nonviolence binary that limits our understanding of activist practices. Drawing on examples from her fieldwork with anti-fascist activists, she will argue that we should reimagine activism as combative. Such an expanded understanding will allow us to better discern the efficacy and ethics of combative tactics and how they work in concert with traditional, nonviolent activism. The lecture will be held in Driscoll 134. ACS Approved

It sounds like she is going to give a lecture on why antifa is right to beat people up.

Here’s more about Billie Murray, including some papers she has written, from her Academia.edu page:

Dr. Murray’s current research explores public responses to hate speech and issues of allyship in activist communities as she participates with other activists in counterprotests against white supremacists and other hate groups. She is currently working on a book length project with the University of California Press detailing this work. More generally, Dr. Murray’s research seeks to advance understandings about the relationships between public space and the rhetoric of social protest. Her activist work has focused on human rights and peace organizations and the Occupy movement. Her work has appeared in Argumentation and Advocacy, First Amendment Studies, Western Journal of Communication, and Communication Theory. As a rhetorical activist scholar, Dr. Murray believes that her research should contribute to social justice and the public good. She strives to continuing learning from and contributing to the people who work to make our communities more peaceful and just.

She is a Social Justice Warrior. Says so right in her bio. Late last year, the Chronicle of Higher Education profiled her. Excerpts:

“I am antifa as a set of beliefs and values about the world,” says Murray, who holds a joint appointment in the university’s Center for Peace and Justice Education. “As an activist, I support antiracist action and antifascist organizing, but I draw the line at engaging in violence.” She understands, though, why antifa groups engage in what she calls symbolic violence.

“The way they understand what they do is that lighting a trash can on fire or smashing a Starbucks window encourages a group like the Proud Boys to treat antifa as the enemy rather than going down the street and beating up a Muslim or Jewish person,” she says. The Proud Boys, an all-male organization of self-described “Western chauvinists,” dispute the Southern Poverty Law Center’s characterization of them as a hate group.

Critics accuse antifa protesters of escalating violence and inflaming tensions when their tactics turn destructive. At the University of California at Berkeley last year, dozens of protesters smashed windows and started fires in an effort to stop Milo Yiannopoulos, a onetime Breitbart editor who was on a campus tour, from speaking inside the student union.

Yiannopoulos, who frequently mocked feminists and transgender people, drew particular ire at Berkeley, where he reportedly threatened to publicly identify undocumented students. Berkeley officials blamed the mayhem on black-clad outsiders known as a black-bloc group. The lines between antifa, black-bloc, and anarchist identities are often blurred.

Although Murray sympathizes with the goals of antifa, she says she does not dress in black, destroy property, or punch Nazis, a reference to a blow to the face that a protester landed on Richard B. Spencer, a white-nationalist leader, during Inauguration Day protests in 2017. “I stand back and observe that,” she says. “I don’t need to be in their way.”

In a 2016 lecture delivered days after Donald Trump’s election, Murray denounced the vote results as a manifestation of “hate,” and speculated about whether or not free speech should be respected under the Trumpening.

She appears to have resolved it. In the summer of 2017, VICE News mentioned Murray in a piece about antifa:

Billie Murray is a Villanova professor who’s been focusing on how people should respond to Nazis for her entire career. The academic, who studies community responses to hate speech, says that the events in Charlottesville throw almost all conventional wisdom out the window. She doesn’t buy that “more speech” argument.

Historically, she says, the best response to a white power rally has been to quarantine it and choke it of the attention. After all, attention is the oxygen fringe groups need to survive. But that method only works when the group is small and disorganized. The internet has changed white supremacists’ and neo-Nazis’ ability to organize, and the current administration has emboldened them to to make their views public in a moment that’s completely unprecedented.

Now, Murray says, drastic measures must be taken to stop the far right from metastasizing—even if that means altering the First Amendment.

Any time she’s mentioned banning hate speech, like many European countries do, she’s been trolled. Restrictions on free speech are regarded as anathema to lots of Americans, including powerful advocacy groups like the ACLU. But now, she says we’re at a unique moment in American history. Although even as recently as last week she never would have predicted that the United States might consider banning hate speech, she says that if there was ever a moment that people might get on board, this is it.

“If you’re really interested in free speech, think about who’s free speech is being curtailed by an armed person in the street,” Murray says. “The people who are scared to go [outside.] They’re not being allowed to participate in their democracy.”

Murray claims that she “draws the line at engaging in violence.” But judging from the description of her upcoming Villanova lecture, Murray is going to endorse violence by “challenging the violence/nonviolence binary” and arguing that we “should imagine activism as combative” — this, as a counterpoint to “traditional nonviolent activism.”

If Prof. Murray is not making an argument for beating up political dissidents, and destroying property in the name of left-wing (“social justice”) principles, then what is she doing?

To be sure, Billie Murray has a right to speak her mind. But everybody should know that Villanova University is sponsoring a professor who is going to give a lecture advocating resolving political conflicts through street violence. What if a right-wing professor scheduled a lecture to argue for why right-wingers should beat peaceful left-wing demonstrators up? Imagine that. You can’t imagine it, because it would never happen. Note well that Murray is not just theorizing this as a disinterested professorial contemplative. She repeatedly identifies herself in her public statements and writing as an “activist scholar.”

Consider that Smith College and Mount Holyoke College just put their shared new campus police chief on administrative leave merely for liking a Donald Trump tweet, and one by the NRA. 
Smith’s president claims that the action has nothing to do with the chief’s political views. That’s hard to believe, given that those views are behind the campus snowflake blizzard of protest:

Speaking in front of the approximately 500 people gathered, another of the event’s organizers — a sophomore who is undocumented and declined to give her name — said she is fearful. “I shouldn’t be up here,” she said.

“I feel unsafe with Daniel Hect being police chief on this campus,” she continued. As for the group’s broader demands, she said to Smith’s leaders: “I want you to fight for us and care for us, like we deserve.”

Right, Smith isn’t Villanova. So noted. But American higher education in general is overwhelmed by alleged concern for creating “safe spaces,” which is an excuse for policing and suppression dissident thought and expression. Now we have Villanova advertising a lecture on campus by one of its avowed left-wing activist professors, in which she plans to justify left-wing violence against right-wing dissidents. 

This is Weimar Republic stuff. One defining aspect of Weimar was the devolution of democracy into street battles between left and right activists. Here we have a professor within a liberal institution, Villanova University, advocating settling political disputes by mob force.

I know what’s coming next. When I pointed out a couple of years ago that a black philosophy professor at Texas A&M, in his public writings and interviews, advocated settling disputes over race and politics through violence against whites — read all those posts here — the educational establishment closed ranks around him. Some rotten white thugs began to threaten the professor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a long piece depicting him as the victim of bullying by me — this, simply for pointing out what Prof. Curry actually said and wrote! Many of these leftist academics want to be able to be super-radical within the academy, but don’t want to be held accountable for what they say. They’re likely to pull the same thing this time, with Billie Murray. I strongly urge people who wish to object to the stance that Murray takes to do so peacefully. Do not do to her what she is pleased to see done to those with whom she disagrees. This matters. This matters a lot.

But do speak out. There is a lot at stake. Princeton’s Robert George writes:

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You might remember Villanova being mentioned on this blog recently for its administration’s efforts to turn students into monitors of their professors for Wrongthink that violates the canons of inclusive diversity, diverse inclusion, and Social Justice. The academic left is destroying its own institutional standards. I wonder where Father Peter Donohue, Villanova’s president, and Villanova provost Patrick Maggitti, stand on the question of whether or not it is morally acceptable to solve political disputes via mob violence.

UPDATE: Billie Murray and a colleague of the Department of Communications started an open letter/petition denouncing fellow Villanova professors Colleen Sheehan and James Matthew Wilson for their op-ed protesting the university’s plan to rate professors on “diversity and inclusion,” etc. From the Murray missive:

As members of the Villanova community, we believe that ensuring that students have an educational environment free of racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ sentiments, ableism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of discrimination is essential to providing students with a liberal arts education—in fact, this is the core of a liberal education that seeks to educate the “whole person.” Thus, we believe that it is our responsibility to foster classroom environments that welcome all students regardless of individual differences or social identities. And when we fail at these efforts, we need to hear from our students through their evaluations, to help us learn and do better. We do not, however, foster environments free of difference or argument or political ideologies; such a task is impossible and antithetical to our mission as educators.

As members of the Villanova community, we believe that fostering environments that take seriously the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential for exploring differences based in ideas and for including students who historically (and contemporarily) have not had their ideas heard by virtue of their social identities. Creating such an environment is essential to everyone’s educational experience, faculty, staff, students, and administrators alike. Creating a rhetoric that portrays these efforts as silencing or as a “mole hunt” is disingenuous at best and destructive at worst, as it seeks to further silence those students who want Villanova to continue to be a place where all social identities are celebrated.

Ah. How safe do you think Sheehan and Wilson will be on campus, given that Murray et alia have identified them as against social justice, and that Murray promotes the idea that protesting against “hate” can justifiably involve violence?

UPDATE.2: Carl Eric Scott, I’m afraid, is speaking an unpleasant truth. I do believe people like Prof. Billie Murray are our enemies. I like to think that there are still old-fashioned liberals who are our friends, and who will stand up for old-fashioned liberal values. I mean, I *know* liberals like that. But they too are under fire. Mark Lilla has in some respects been un-personned by the Left for his heresy on identity politics. How many old-fashioned liberals will have the courage to stand up against the Jacobins?:

I join the many articulate commenters above who feel we have moved beyond the point where we can honestly repeat the “we are not enemies, but friends” line from Lincoln, and that something is OFF in the way Prof. George deploys it. Lincoln is a great model for how to respond to our times, as few statesmen knew better than he how to say, “here is the line past which no compromise is possible, here are the constitutional realities, here is why such-and-such actions by the slavocrats logically will lead to our taking such-and-such countermeasures.” However, the horrible truth is that even given the gulf over slavery, it may have been the case that Southern secessionists had more culturally in common with Northern Republicans than present-day progressivists have with conservatives.

And it is useless to speak of or lament “polarization.” A bloodless word implying equivalence. Rather our situation is a family fight, but of the sort where one member is not simply the striker of the first blow, but is the dysfunctional driver of the conflict. All sides will need to repent, yes, but no resolution or even workable compromise can come about until that family member realizes they are psychologically sick and that their issues are the sustaining cause of the conflict.

So, no, there is a real sense in which the progressivists (the dwindling old-school liberals are different kettle of fish) are BOTH 1) our fellow citizens to whom we are indissolubly bound to, and 2) our enemies. Friendships can happen across the divide, and we should all seek to do that kind of bridge-building, but we simply cannot convincingly evoke the classic equation of citizen = friend the way Lincoln did. And we are now entering a point where even relations with liberal friends become strained, precisely as the comment above calling for George to demand more open denunciation of and real action against the progressivist despotism of his friend Cornel West reveals. For how can your friends really be friends if over and over they don’t stand up to defend the possibility of your being employed and of your right to free speech and religion? They cannot.

The progressivist disease did come out of American democracy. The temptation to dismiss it as rooted in Marx, etc., is an error. Topic for another time, but fundamental.

So how do we conceptualize, and practically handle, the growing reality of:

1) persons who hate and persecute us, the majority of whom do not understand–by means of some media-fed but deeply rooted denial mechanism–that that is what they are now doing? Or, that that is what they are now closely allied with?

2) these same persons being our family members, co-workers, former and/or partial friends?

3) these same persons being our fellow citizens, with all the legal and quasi-spiritual (“sacred bonds of memory”) underpinnings that entails? This is the point at which Lincoln’s line still has some application–there is no removing the fact that these are our kin, and that our fate is tied to theirs.

I have no answers, and contempt for those who indulge in civil war fantasies, but this is where we are. There is no doubt that people like this professor are our (the “us” I’m speaking of are the Americans of Biblical belief and/or of non-white nationalist conservative politics) enemies. And they are the enemy at the gates, the ones that threaten us and all those we love most directly. Islamists our are enemies, and I suppose we should admit that in some potential and present-reality sense, the Chinese and the Russians are also in the classic geopolitics manner. But in America, we don’t have that much to fear from these enemies. From the likes of professor Murray and her craven Villanova enablers, we have much indeed to fear.

And a Lincoln of our day would acknowledge this. There is no healing or peacemaking power in words which deny what is right in front of us.

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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