tv Bret Stephens America in Retreat CSPAN February 12, 2018 1:00am-1:51am EST
good morning. i should just mention at the beginning i'm told there will be time for q&a but it depends on your asking questions which i can then repeat for the benefit of the production. can someone close the door. thank you. the title of my remarks this morning are notes on th our notg of liberal culture. there's a story that might be apocryphal but is too good not to share.
♪ [laughter] hi, jamie. [laughter] i'm going to begin again for jamie's benefit. there's a story possibly apocryphal but too good not to share which is told about gandhi. the leader was asked by the journalists what do you think of western civilization. he thought for a moment and replied i think it would be a good idea. [laughter] i've been pondering that for the better part of a year as i consider the state of liberal culture both in the united states and throughout the world. what do i think of liberalism i think it would be a good idea. in fact it could be our salvation as a country and as a
civilization if only we can remember what it's all supposed to be about. let's review some recent events in the news. first, president trump's to stop the publication of a book he finds insulting and embarrassing and then proposing toughening the law to make it more difficult to publish criticism made me get easier for people in power to sue. second event, the feminist professor of film studies at northwestern university writes an article in the chronicle of higher education. the warning about sexual paranoia on campus made worse by enforcement standards for title ix complaint. for using the first amendment rights to complain about title ix, she's repeatedly sued under title ix by students argue that her opinions created a chilling
environment on campus from which they are entitled to protection. donald trump offers the following view of football players who take a knee during the singing of the national anthem, and i quote wouldn't you love to see one of these nfl owners when somebody does respects the flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he's fired. fourth item, the respected expert in disaster trends at the university of colorado is investigated by a democratic member of congress because some of his research contradicts the scenarios painted by climate change activists. as you've probably noticed, i've drawn these examples both from the political left and the political right. you can probably tell this is
just an example of what could have been a very long list. they're all instances of an assault on liberalism that has been coming for a long time which is slowly but surely moved from the fringes of the politics to the center of it. just to be clear, i am not talking about liberalism in the contemporary american sense of the term as an barbara boxer and elizabeth warren r. liberals, ted cruz and nikki haley are conservatives and arnold schwarzenegger is a hermaphrodite. [laughter] it comes from the latin root meaning free to be a liberal recent pleas to believe in freedom. liberalism is the belief that
the aim of politics is to maximize personal freedom constrained only by respect for the freedom of others and the safety of society and the whole. the phrase the pursuit of happiness expresses the central liberal ideas and holds that the content of the good life cannot be imposed from above. it's fully universal and personal and requires a sense of social tolerance as well as a concept of personal response ability. above all it's something every individual must choose for him or herself alone no matter whether it leads to success and
happiness or failure in grief. we have had 242 years to get used to the words the pursuit of happiness. it is worth pausing to reflect on what an extraordinary and idea is. the fundamental conviction of ancient philosophers was the primary purpose of politics was not to make men free it was to virtue. freedom as the stoics taught is nothing more than being a dog chained to a cart. we can choose whether that is completion of circumstance or fate will take us but we can choose to be dragged by the chained or to walk willingly behind it. the modern philosophers beginning with john locke and john stuart mill and the mortals got adam smith and stretching to more contemporary philosophers
like the wonderful karl popper and frederick hayek believed that the good society cannot be based on the concept of virtue as enticing as that may seem. on the contrary, they knew that to virtue centric societies from ancient greece to the medieval monasteries of europe into 20th century communism and fascism were almost invariably despotic which crushed humanity under the implicit and forgiving concept of the good. societies based on freedom could aim to allow a great deal of sinfulness but in creating space for with most memory allowing the spirit to breathe in fresh.
it must allow for an extraordinary amount of failure, stupidity and ugliness. we start businesses that fail. we experiment with drugs and some of us end up as addicts. we burn our money on slot machine and express shocking bigotries to shameless lies and that is just the president. [laughter] adam smith said there's a lot of ruin in th a nation and in our personal lives as well the pursuit of happiness. it is moral and most to make compromises in our freedoms.
the united states, by his drug use most of the time and sex work instead -- except for nevada. in europe and canada there are so-called hate speech. welfare states put the interest of redistribution of those profit-making or quality ahead of the individual merit and excellence and achievement. it isn't the right answer as to what amount of social protection versus individual autonomy ought to be. what matters is what kind of accommodation and a trade-off different societies are prepared to make at different points in their evolution. nevertheless, there is a point at which the pro-democracy scan transform themselves through the slow and steady protective measures into something like a padded cell. that is they can cushion
themselves and the possibility of harm and error and insult an offense that they become a form of prison. from societies based on the ideal of the pursuit of happiness, we can quietly slip into a system based on the prevention of unhappiness of ugliness and hurt, and i fear this is where we may be headed to the soft tierney of the night, the well-meaning politically correct. if you followed some of the news from academia in recent years he would probably have noticed that is where the academy is leading us. this is a world of conservative speakers being shouted down and assaulted the professors living in fear of accidentally offending students with so-called micro- aggressions, something called cultural appropriations in the example of which was the wearing of ponchos and sombreros at a mexican themed halloween party.
but we give you an example. in the fall play for team fro 2t at brown university got wind of her school wathat her school wao host a debate between two women, one a feminist and the other a libertarian, which also makes for a feminist. the student feared exposure to such debate could be damaging to people in the audience, some of whom might find their experiences and validated by what they might say. so the students organized a safe space as described by judith in "the new york times" come an excellent newspaper i must say the space is equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, plato.
this is in college mind you. frolicking puppies and students and staff members trained to deal withtrauma. but the story does not end there. as noted in the essay, once you designate some space, you imply that the rest are unsafe. it quickly becomes the desire to impose a particular concept of safety on others, whether they want it or not. after all, if a college or university shall accept the principles of the safe space in a single designated room, why should the same not extend to
the classroom, the lecture hall, dormitories comic homage newspapers, social media and so on if one wants to comment, shouldn't that extend only to what one says but also to what someone says anywhere or what is allowed to be said and if it isn't okay to say certain things, should we even think them. wouldn't we be better off if the ideas that could hurt people's feelings or trigger their anxieties ever pop into our heads in the first place not long ago i heard an english novelist who knows a thing or two about what it's about and what sort of real micro or macro aggressions required of six pieces to remark that instead of making college is a safe space
for thought, we are moving towards a world in which the campuses are becoming six pieces from thought. in short, we are witnessing the disintegration of what used to be called liberal education. it's the intellectual challenge of the freedom to express unpopular thought. in a recent survey conducted by a scholar at the brookings institution, a plurality of college students today that is 44 percent do not believe the first amendment to the united states petition protects so-called hate speech when it absolutely does. they think it is acceptable for a student group to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. and an astonishing 19% that is almost one in five also agree it
is acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking. all of this is happening among students who if you ask them to describe themselves politically overwhelmingly call themselves liberal or progressive. that tells us something about how far removed contemporary ideological liberalism has become from its forbear. the more description of the attitudes might in my opinion because shifting. in all events it represents the inquiry with ideology of method and conclusion with indoctrination and an inquiry. it would be bad enough if they were confined to the college quad but i'm afraid they are n
not. we've entered a world in which would seem to matter most in the political debate the lodging where the force of one's argument is the racial ethnic or sexual sending of the person making the argument. this is the way that we speak these days. as a woman i think this and as a man i think this. as a privileged person i apologize. [laughter] it's for the future support and defense that identity politics is the politics of passion and self-assertion over thoughtfulness and common humanity. it adds another layer of action and an element of division in
our already hyper polarized pacific and i might add digital life and creates an artificial barrier and mutual understanding and causes personal offense. one of the worst aspects of identity politics is that it is a game at which two people can play. i thought identity politics was a fixation of the left with academia. the rise of the so-called old right is 20 and perhaps has taught many of us white identity politics remains a powerful driving force in american politics. we saw this and the widespread birth or movement in charlottesville at the unforgivable equivocations when
it came to condemning neo-nazis and again in the president's comments about people from these countries as opposed to the delightfully norwegians like my friend karl rove. [laughter] delightful but a little red in the face. we've seen it in a nonstop in a country by the administration and its supporters about crime and murder committed by illegal immigrants when in actual fact they are incarcerated at about half the rate of nativeborn americans. not surprisingly the adoption of conducted politics but the president gets hits with a brod pattern of thinking coming from the white house and its allies. they painted a target on the news media and called us and
enemy of the people of a sentiment that seems to be shared by the likes of our good friend in venezuela and other tyrants we consider ourselves superior to. he's devalued the truth when it comes to presidential statements replacing honesty with blond one might call a narrative truth, one that once belonged to the realm of psychoanalysis is not in fact to the realm of psychosis. consider this exchange the president have about a year ago just after he came to office with bill o'reilly when o'reilly was still a fox news. he asked, and i quote, is there any validity to the criticism of you when you say things you cannot back up factually and as a president you say there are 3 million illegal aliens who
voted and you don't hav don't he data to back it up some people are going to say it is irresponsible for the president to say that. i think the violence to the english language is on par with other things, but anyway. which the president replied many people have come out and said that i'd write. many people say the moon landings were a's and many people say jim morrison faked his own death. many people say the greatest film of the 20th century. many people say what is known as the logical fallacy that holds if many people believe so it is so. the president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact that the claim that they are supposed to have a.
they are indistinguishable from and they needn't have any purchase against the man that is insufficiently powerful to ignore them or shameless to deny them or in his case both. if some people on the left think they can assert their claims based on their status as the victims, trump is asserting his own claims based on his status as being powerful. truth is what he thinks he can get away with. if he says that one of the towers were so what can only infect 20% are, that is truth. if he needs to say the size of
his crowd was larger than obama, that is true as well. it would be bad if i were speaking of the president of the united states alone, but this also meant the rise of his many helpers from alternative facts kelly ann conway to sean hannity. the conservative movement that used to rail against this seems to find complete comfort groom it is as important as his hair. when the truth, and it is saying i might add, and it becomes relative to those in power, liberalism is in danger for free societies to flourish the need to be able to rely on the common notion of truth, the common fact an agreed set of rules on how to distinguish the truth from lies and falsehood. it is true as a function of
power, the world in which they get to decide what is true and those who lack power have no basis on which to challenge them. i would suggest you pick up a copy of george orwell 1984. liberalism is the concept whose core values individual freedom. within the family of liberalism we can have differences over whether it is organized freedom or how the balance of civil liberties or how to balance the civil liberties against collective securities. that is what liberals and conservatives have been arguing about without giving fundamental damage to the overall fabric of our liberties. now it is under attack from at least two quarters. on the left and on the right.
the toddlers want to protect people from the consequences of freedom from that everything from secondhand smoke to politically incorrect speech. they have the intellectual challenge to the way the castle is a difference from slings and arrows and they want to impose the concept of the virtue that much with its intentions to racism or sexism must inevitably have the result of squashing free speech and smothering independent thought. when the word skepticism becomes a dirty word on the political left, then there is a current environmental orthodoxy you know something is amiss. they have their own version of identity politics mainly the identity of the white majority that they are less interested in the freedom.
the rights and liberties of the individual citizens. america previously thrived as a nation because we have a cultural disposition in favor of the contrary in, the entrepreneur, the descriptor for the activist, the social nuisance, "the new york times" columnist. that is at risk when personal defense is treated as an affront to patriotism. the quarterback that wa was theo take a knee during the singing of the national anthem. i would never do anything except stand for the american flag with my hand on my heart. [applause] but when the president of the united states calls him a son of a bitch and urges that he be fired then i'm going to take the
stand that is i'm going to stand with the claim of individual conviction and consciousness however much i may disagree on those against the threats of the powerful. that is what america is about. [applause] to think otherwise is simply un-american. so there it is. how do we defend liberalism against the toddlers and travelers that is another speech that he reminds us to teach others what liberalism is, how extraordinary it is, how vulnerable it is and why it is so worth preserving. when wil will he he teac he teat getting seriously in high scho school? [applause] when are we going to require college students to take classes in western and american
political thought when will we understand more than just slaveholders and sexist hypocrites which some of them were but more importantly, as people of their time through nonetheless transcended their time with ideas that have gradually emancipated us all. when are we going to insist that an american president should set an example of truthfulness and deep respect for the institutions that sustain our liberalism beginning with a free and vigorous and sometimes rude and biased press. when are we going to drop the copout of identity politics and tell ourselves white or black, male or female, but above all, we are americans. and when will we understand
again that what makes america america isn't geography or nationality. it holds whether we were born in haiti or norway dissented from the mayflower that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. [applause] this is the challenge of our time. thank you very much. [applause]
with stalin. that is exactly it. the universities have allowed themselves to be captured archaeologically in a way that is deeply damaging to the fundamental interests of the liberal education. liberal education. it is astonishing that someone like ben shapiro would need tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of security to speak at what is allegedly but not actually the premier public institution in the state of california. that is a stunning comment on what berkeley has allowed itself to become, that someone like shapiro of all people would be considered practically persona. it is an astonishing fact that when charles murray visited
middlebury college, she and the very nice centrist democrats who sponsored his talk and invited him and moderated the talk were physically assaulted. they had a concussion and were physically assaulted bwasphysics who got for god forbid should have them on their campuses. no scholar has made a more interesting case for why donald trump would want them charles murray, who anticipated. he's worth listening to. and by the way, i should add it is also worth listening to the tickets and ideologues. you must first understand how.
[applause] the best thing janet apollo now runs the system and protects free speech on campus and number two, don't treat conservative professors debate anthropologists might treat certain tribes in the amazon as a sort of interesting curiosity but rather the mainstream of american life that found important things to say about every single field of scholarship. so thank you for the question. >> for every action there is a reaction and i think that is where we are.
they worked very hard. don't you think that is where we are. >> i've never been a marxist -- excuse me, she makes the point let me see if i am paraphrasing this correctly that what we are dealing with is action and reaction thesis and antithesis that on the one side it has gotten. extremism of the other.
as i was beginning to formulate an answer, i don't think that history moves through contradictions being resolved. i think we are capable or we don't to be capable of being intelligent critics of a particular position. i don't think that anyone if you followed my career at "the wall street journal" you know that i had plenty of less than charitable things to say about the administration of barack obama. so those of you that were upset that i'm giving it to donald trump, i give it to everyone. but that doesn't mean that intelligent people can't simply get beyond the desire to do the opposite. there is a wonderful scene in seinfeld which is my guide to
deep thinking. [laughter] george costanza and jerry are having breakfast at tom's restaurant and he says every decision i make is wrong. every time i order turkey and swiss i wish i'd gotten to him and cheese. his answer is if you did the opposite of what you think you are going to become a to becomee office it must necessarily be right. and as it plays out in that episode he says you are right that is what i'm going to do. he says my name is george, i am unemployed and i live with my mother. she looks at him and says hello. [laughter]
in real life you can modulate. by the way, i said this yesterday and i would say this to all of you in this room who are democrats ar democrats or ss addressed by this administrati administration. this country doesn't need a resistance, it needs an opposition. it doesn't need an insanity on a bipartisan basis. the answer is make america safe again. and that's what the democrats want to win, then they have to find some way of responding to donald trump that is modulated and not something like the primal scream going to 24 hours a day.
[inaudible] where did i draw th do i draw te repeated between a persons right to demonstrate against racism and the ownership rights of owners who want to set the tone of that is a very legitimate and genuine dilemma that we have that football players are at the end of the day not simply free in the public, they are employees in an organization that often owns the stadiums and free speech rights are always good to be limited in certain public settings but to the extent that it is possible, private universities do not have to observe constitutional niceties when it comes to campus
tribunals. you don't have those amendment rights, but large institutions like national football and american universities should do what they can to model themselves on the common sense of what we have to do in public places. i think because it is an education and football isn't simply a closed shop at which only those that are to pay to po watch.
we have this distinction between what we have the right to do and what we ought to do from the sense of wisdom and respect from the overall ideas of the country. [applause] with ben shapiro and where do i not? in some respects i agree with him. kind of a social libertarian or liberal in my thinking but that is neither here nor there. he is a guy with this in-depth political view and a broad
following whose interest as a dynamic speaker and it is insane that someone like him is by no means an extremist should be treated as one. all it does is demonstrate they are the people that find ben shapiro extreme [inaudible] we have to be clear there are two homonyms [inaudible] they were the communities from
ukraine, poland malabar belarus and lithuania and salon for the desperately indigent places where they were forced to live by the russian empire. when money great-grandfather arrived with his eight children and wife he had no skills, no english, and probably not the best hygiene. if you look at the literature from the early 20th century, talking about that here yiddish, you would be hearing commentary
that isn't so different from some of the comments that are today made about the haitians and nigerians and latin americans. we were poor, broken and filthy in the name you some of the people who were present. mike bloomberg. his father arrived, jonas, his parents arrived from the shuttle. if you go from some of the greatest american benefactors, philanthropic businessmen, scientists and salon and they all came from this and made the american dream their own, i think this is so fundamental to what we are as americans. we don't arrived with phd's with a handful of honorable exceptions we are not bashing
correctness and the media bias in the salon that had prevailed in the preceding years and i think that has a great deal of truth. but just because you have complaints about the past eight years doesn't mean you ought to be prepared to accept just about anything as the response. it's very important, and i say this i agree with many things that trump administration has done. i'm happy that the embassy is moving to jerusalem where it belongs. i think it is a terrific thing that apple is repatriating hundreds of billions of dollars because we have a corporate taxation of systems. when those things happen, i say it. i acknowledge it because i am trying as the colonists to the
to look at the world within and i and to accept the facts as they come to me. they said when the facts change and so do my opinions. that is what we ought to do but we also need to keep sight of the fact deeper than the matter of policy or tax policy or the location of our embassies or funding for the military or any number of issues, there is the question of the mor moral, polil and philosophical culture of the united states. and we are a liberal society. we are a freedom loving people and we need two parties, democrats and republicans who honor it excelled that tradition. what i am trying to do is make
vulgarity. the populism inevitably. it happens to be the anniversary of caesar crossing. caesar was a populist. i don't think that it's linked to populism so i think the people that yield the term would like to have a think so. i'm glad you mentioned that because it seems to me one of the fundamental objections he wears the wrong kind of ties that he likes his steak well-done it puts ketchup on it. now there are some other things as well, but i think a large
part of this aspect of the hysteria of the populism over donald trump is snobbery. good evening. it should hardly come as a surprise that colleges and universities have become flash points for the conflicts of the day. universities are now besides of the indoctrination of students and violence against conservative speakers and students, administrators literally under siege from radicalizing minority students demanding social justice payback, students wailing about progressions treatin