The Truth About “Intellectual Diversity”
There’s an old phrase, “you know someone has lost an argument when their best defense is that they have the right to make it,” that has become especially appropriate in modern times. On 6/24/2021, Nathan Robinson published an article for Current Affairs titled “What Is The Value of ‘Intellectual Diversity’?” Ironically, although “intellectual diversity” and “the marketplace of ideas” are so fetishized, it seems like there is a stunning lack of intellectual diversity regarding if a “marketplace of ideas” is a good idea.
The above is not me attempting to be humorous, it is genuinely something I’ve noticed. Dave Rubin, host of the YouTube interview series The Rubin Report and author of Don’t Burn This Book (not to be confused with Morgan Spurlock’s Don’t Eat This Book), likes to consider himself someone who allows all points of view to be heard. (The fact that almost all his guests are conservatives or libertarians is likely a coincidence, we’re told.) Yet, Rubin has never once had an anti-free speech guest on his show, nor an anti-debate guest. Why isn’t being against freedom of speech a view that deserves to be heard? If Rubin really loves to engage in debate, you’d think debate over his most central principle and the reason for his successful series existing would be a top priority.
It should also be noted that — to my knowledge, at least — Dave Rubin has never once actually defended freedom of speech as a concept in any meaningful sense. He has never debunked arguments against it, nor has he been willing to go toe-to-toe with a critic of it. The author of Don’t Burn This Book has never once actually explained why we shouldn’t burn books — seriously think about that for a second. If that doesn’t show how weak their dedication to the “marketplace of ideas” is, I don’t know what will.
Of course, the American public is constantly being lied to as to what a “marketplace of ideas” would entail. For example, we are constantly told that a “marketplace of ideas” allows the best ideas to rise to the top, but as Robinson shows, it seems more like it’s about forcing the public to listen to ideas they have no interest in:
Conservatives sometimes complain that academia does not have sufficient “intellectual diversity,” by which they tend to mean that university professors are overwhelmingly liberal. State legislators have even introduced “intellectual diversity acts” that would require colleges to bring more conservative speakers to campus so that “both sides” of an issue can be heard. Florida Republicans have passed a measure that “would require public colleges and universities to survey students, faculty and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints” to test whether campuses are sufficiently intellectually diverse. George Mason University’s Institute for Humane Studies says that “if liberal arts colleges are becoming less and less intellectually diverse, that presents a serious problem.”
Conservative complaints about “liberal bias in universities” go all the way back to the 1950s. It was 1951 when William Buckley — founder of National Review, host of Firing Lines, and the man cited as the reason Barry Goldwater became the 1964 Republican Nomination and Ronald Reagan became President — published his first book God And Man At Yale. The book serves as somewhat of a memoir of Buckley’s time at Yale University, specifically pointing out how many professors “forced” ideas like secularism, collectivism, and Keynesianism on their students. (Mind you, when Buckley wrote God And Man At Yale Keynesian economics had already spent two decades as the most believed economic theory in the United States, as well as the basis for the United States economy — but you know.)
God And Man At Yale is quite possibly the most important book written regarding conservatism after World War Two. Not only did it put William Buckley on the map (although the book was far from popular when it was released, and even many of Buckley’s follow conservatives credit its success to an introduction by John Chamberlain) but it also started the long trend of conservatives constantly trying to figure out ways the entire establishment was bias against them. As Robinson said in his article on Buckley (I really like Nathan Robinson, if you can’t tell):
God and Man at Yale, written when [Buckley] was 26, made his name, and invented the whole “colleges are being ruined by relativists” genre. (Variations on the same book have been rewritten over and over again for decades: Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals, and Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s The Coddling of the American Mind). All accepted the basic picture of the university forged by Buckley, which is that it is a place where leftist professors are waging a war on Traditional Values.
With that said, the argument many conservatives use today — the one of intellectual diversity — was not the one Buckley used. Michael Knowles, a hardcore William Buckley fanatic and writer for The Daily Wire, points this out in his 5/20/2021 article on Nikole Hannah-Jones being denied tenure at the University of North Carolina over her connections to the 1619 Project:
Buckley attacked universities for justifying their godless and collectivist curricula on the basis of academic freedom over the objections of parents and alumni. “In the last analysis,” Buckley concluded, “academic freedom must mean the freedom of men and women to supervise the educational activities and aims of the schools they oversee and support,” just as the UNC trustees have done in the case of Nikole-Hannah Jones. Buckley encouraged [Yale] alumni to withhold donations until universities encouraged Christian morality and free-market economics. Today, many self-styled conservatives relegate themselves to making piddling pleas for “intellectual diversity” in the hopes that radicals don’t run them off campus altogether.
In fact, Buckley spent an entire chapter of his book attacking the concept of “academic freedom,” basically arguing it was an excuse the liberals were using to turn your children into communists. Here’s a review of Buckley’s book in The Atlantic talking about his view of academic freedom:
The book winds up with a violent attack on the whole concept of academic freedom. It is in keeping with the rest of the volume that Mr. Buckley does not seem to know what academic freedom is. He leaps from one view to another, as suits his convenience, and his view of the facts depends entirely on their usefulness to his argument. He is upset because the Harvard Alumni Magazine gave more space to Mr. Conant and Mr. Grenville Clark, to defend academic freedom, than it gave to a certain Mr. Ober to attack it, but he himself never does any Yale defender of this cause the justice of an accurate statement of his position. He totally fails to understand the vital difference between standards for hiring a professor and standards for firing him, and he has no conception whatever of the basic requirements for attracting and holding distinguished scholars. His theory seems to be that because ex-President Seymour once said he would not hire Communists, he should therefore have fired everyone who would not teach his own religious and economic views. This is one view of a free university; fortunately it is not Yale’s or Mr. Seymour’s.
Mind you, Buckley’s dislike of “intellectual diversity” might have something to do with his failure to actually be halfway decent at debates. He infamously flubbed a 1965 debate with James Baldwin over if America was systemically racist (legend has it he was booed non-stop), and did even worse in a 1973 debate with Germaine Greer over the Women’s Liberation Movement. Although his television program Firing Lines did contain many radical left-wing voices at its start, it was more an interview program than a debate one and whenever Buckley got into debating — as he did with Noam Chomsky in 1969 over the topic of the Vietnam War — he simply fell flat. (And that’s not even getting into his infamous 1968 confrontation with Gore Vidal.)
However, Buckley’s position is no longer the mainstream of the conservative movement — instead, it argues that it simply wants to be heard by the general population. In the 1990s and 2000s, conservatives would argue that public schools should balance teachings of evolution (the idea that humans come from a common ancestor and, through natural selection and adaptation, slowly turned into what they are now) and creationism (the idea that God created everything and that no species is in any way different from how they were at creation), usually of the young-earth variety (meaning the belief that the Earth is only 6,000 years old). Penn And Teller: Bullshit aired an episode on the topic of creationists trying to enter the public school on 3/14/2003, but what’s telling is that many of the creationists did not argue they were right, they simply argued that should be heard. Instead of arguing they were right, they simply tried to poke holes in evolution and said they wanted students to “make up their own mind” and that teachers should “teach the controversy.” Here’s the late Duane Gish, one of the biggest creationists of his day, the then-head of the Institute for Creation Research, and the man for whom the term “Gish Gallop” was coined to describe, explaining what he wants while on national television:
What I would like to see done in our schools is to have all of the scientific evidence that evolutionists believe can be used to support evolution, have that presented to our students. And at the same time, have all the evidence that creation scientists believe would support creation, would actually demand creation, have the students exposed to that evidence. Have the students look at all the evidence on both sides, challenge them to make critical — to use critical thinking and to consider alternatives.
I wish to remind you all that Gish believed creationism was both the word of the all-mighty God and what every piece of evidence in the fields of theology, science, philosophy, and morality pointed towards. Despite that, Gish talked about teaching creationism as if he was angry a local newspaper only reviewed one type of movies — why can’t they review all movies and let consumers make up their own minds about what they want to see?
I’ve actually heard this argument before, it was in David Icke’s 1995 book And The Truth Will Set You Free. Icke’s argument was so controversial that it actually caused his then-publisher to drop him, causing him to have to self-publish all his books since. Although, Icke was not writing about the topic of creationism or evolution — he was writing about something slightly different:
Why do we play a part in suppressing alternative information to the official line of the Second World War? How is it right that while this fierce suppression goes on, free copies of the Spielberg film, Schindler’s List, are given to schools to indoctrinate children with the unchallenged version of events. And why do we, who say we oppose tyranny and demand freedom of speech, allow people to go to prison and be vilified, and magazines to be closed down on the spot, for suggesting another version of history.
The “fierce suppression” Icke was talking about regards laws against denying the Holocaust. Mind you, Icke’s home country of the United Kingdom does not actually have any laws against Holocaust denial — hence why the most famous Holocaust denier, David Irving, has lived in the United Kingdom for the past eighty-three years — but Icke is really concerned about all that suppression of Holocaust denial that is not even occurring.
Of course, the creationists only started making this argument after the creationist constantly lost. In 1925, the Scopes Trial occurred because a High School teacher named John T. Scopes broke the law by trying to teach evolution in class. In 1987, the Supreme Court officially ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that it was unconstitutional to teach creationism in public schools because creationism was so tied up with American Evangelical Christianity. Before then, states had laws banning the teaching of evolution and demanding the teaching of creationism. It is only when they were unable to do such a thing the debate turned from them being right to them just having a view they want to express.
The obviousness of this being nothing more than a tactic should be obvious by anyone who remembers the other big conservative movement regarding schools at the same time — the abstinence education movement. Or the idea that, if sex education is to be taught in schools at all, it must only teach that you must not have sex outside of marriage. As it happens, Penn And Teller: Bullshit also did an episode on this, and the difference between what this mainstream movement wanted and what the more fringe creationist movement wanted was night-and-day. Here, there was no delusion about “teaching both sides” and “letting students make up their own mind” about the issue of sex. Issues like condoms, birth control medication, and masturbation were only lied about, assuming they were mentioned at all. Instead, it was groups like Planned Parenthood — the perpetual enemy of American conservatives — that believed that children should have all the information and be able to make up their own mind.
Of course, I am far from the first one to notice that conservatives focus more on their right to say their arguments as oppose to having arguments that are right. In the 2004 movie Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism James Wolcott outlines this very tactic:
See one of the things that Fox [News] does and conservatives do is they don’t have to win every argument but if they can muddy the argument, if they can turn it into a draw, that to them is a victory because it denies the other side a victory.
Speaking of Fox News, they did this tactic of false diversity all the time. For many years, Fox News used the catchphrase “Fair And Balanced” to describe their network. Of course, Fox News has never been “Fair And Balanced” in any actual sense — any commentators Fox got that could even loosely be described as “liberal” were famously non-confrontational or agreed with the conservatives on many key issues — however, even if it was, the issue is that news should not be.
The fact is, the truth is not “balanced,” some things are right and some things are wrong. We as a civilization should be working to make sure we believe what is right and do not believe what is wrong. Instead, we demand that all sides — no matter how obviously wrong — should be heard, regardless of how little they actually have to say.
However, Wolcott ignores one important thing: Conservatives only do this on a debate they’re losing. There’s no point in demanding balance and fairness in a debate that you’re winning, because you might do a bad job and lead to your opponent looking better — a lesson Buckley had to learn the hard way. It is commonly said one of the things that sunk Al Gore’s Presidential Campaign was his bad performance during his debates with George W. Bush, making George W. Bush look like a bigger and better person. Richard Nixon made a similar mistake during his first debate with John Kennedy, once again, his failure at that debate was bad enough to be the thing that is commonly cited as what cost Nixon the presidency in 1960.
Take a look at the most recent right-wing boogyman, Critical Race Theory, for an example of this. Critical Race Theory is an ill-defined umbrella term basically referring to various ideas on how systemic racism has effected the United States. Critical Race Theory, especially in right-wing states, is heavily unpopular. As such, Republicans are not trying to create intellectual diversity but are instead trying to ban in outright in any states they control. They’ve also previously tried to do this with the works of controversial historians like Howard Zinn.
The fact is, “intellectual diversity” is a meaningless concept. While it’s good to hear all sides of an issue that’s still up for debate, the fact is sometimes debates are settled and we as a society have the right to declare a debate finished when the other side cannot think of new arguments. They may have the right to be wrong, but that does not mean that they have the right to be listened to.