Farewell to P.C. Anthony Esolen - JUNE 01, 2017 PRINT PAGE | SEND TO FRIEND “It is true that Professor Esolen enjoys academic freedom,” said Madame Lafarge, who now numbers among my former colleagues, “but academic freedom must be used responsibly.” The assembled students, almost all of them from the political left, cheered and clicked their “clickers,” a form of public approbation I had not witnessed or even heard of before. Bait and switch, bait and switch. I was being condemned for suggesting that you really should not talk about how much you love cultural diversity if you are at the same time attacking the most culturally diverse course that your school offers, a course that each year introduces a thousand freshmen to ancient Babylon and Israel, Athens in her golden age, the Near East after Alexander, republican and imperial Rome, the early Church, European monastic life, the pagan and then Christian Germanic tribes, the Vikings, the schoolmen, the France of Louis IX and the Italy of Dante and Giotto, then the Italy of Michelangelo and Leonardo, Tudor England, Spain under Philip II, and the Puritan revolution—with a thousand sophomores taking it from there to the current unpleasantness. It is as if Hygelac falling in his raid on Frisia were just the same as Heraclitus stepping into his river twice, and the same as Hezekiah the king watching his sundial, and holy Mr. Herbert composing lyrics in his mind as he traveled afoot to visit the sick in his far-flung curacy. All from Europe, you see; or, since the places I’ve described are not all from Europe, all from sort-of-Europe. I said that there was something narcissistic about a person who would want to replace such a course with one that focuses on what one already believes to be one’s “identity.” Leave off gazing into the pool, I said, and come with me to behold wonders. In an article written for a Catholic publication—to which my editor gave a provocative title that included the phrase “totalitarian diversity cult”—I begged to know what the heck we even mean by “diversity,” why this beau idéal seems not to include schools that are genuinely Catholic rather than secular with a Catholic tea bag, and why certain forms of sexual sin, or certain inclinations to sin, meet our acronymic approval (LGBT, etc.), but not others, such as F for fornication, or A for adultery. In another article, “The Narcissism of Campus Diversity Activists,” I invited students to join us instead in that blessed communion “in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, free man or slave, but all are one in Christ Jesus.” The students, led by their masters among my former colleagues, demanded that I be fired, and marched around campus with a bullhorn, shouting slogans about “inclusion” and “diversity.” There is something about ideology (whereof we have all too much, as opposed to ideas, which in no age are very plentiful) that seems to make it impossible for one to laugh at oneself. If only, if only that great genius filled with hatred had woken up in London one day, looked at himself in the mirror, and burst out laughing, “Karl, Karl, du dummer Mann, was hast du denn gemacht!” The world might have been spared a century of misery. “Cleopatra’s nose,” said Pascal, considering on what slender chances the history of the world might hang. Marx’s bad stomach. For it did not occur to the students, or to their masters, that, if you want to show that you are not narcissistic, marching around campus and calling attention to your offended virtue is not the way to go about it. Nor did it occur to them that, if you wanted to show that you were not Commissars of Correct Thinking, you probably should not demand the firing of somebody who has invited you to receive from him a classical education, but who is not going to take your pronouncements about diversity seriously. But back to Professor Lafarge and the clickers. Let us suppose that one Dr. Femme Fatale makes a claim about a woman’s “right” to dispose of her body as she wishes, and by “body” she includes the independent body of the child in her womb, whose eminently foreseeable existence is owing to her own voluntary action. Now let us suppose that you are interviewing Dr. Femme Fatale for a job in a philosophy department at what is advertised as a Catholic college. You believe that a moral claim invites a question about its validity. You do not attack Dr. Fatale, because you are actually chivalrous, and indeed chivalrous in the wrong place, but you ask her whether she believes feminism is or is not compatible with Catholic teaching on abortion. You have asked an obvious question, one that is as foreseeable as is the presence of the child in the womb after a night of doing the childmaking thing. Bait and switch. All at once you discover, as did my friend who asked that question, that the intellectual issue was not to be engaged at all. To engage it was to single out the woman as a woman; it was to commit “gender discrimination.” So he was subject to a complaint, filed by a member of his own department, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In my case, the issues I raised were simply ignored. It’s been over a year now, and nobody has answered a single question. Instead, I was to be condemned for my “offensive tone,” and for something called “implicit racism.” The latter had to be really implicit, a thousand-miles-underground implicit, because I explicitly welcomed all people, from all parts of the world, speaking all manner of languages, to come to see me and to learn about arts and letters. “But I paid every penny I owed,” says Mr. Doe, crumpling his hat in his hands. “I am not here,” says the tax official, “to judge the specific merits of what you claimed or did not claim as income and expenses. We are concerned rather,” he continues, leaning forward with that look of paternal care and reptilian coldness that really successful bureaucrats learn in the prime of their youth, should they ever have one, “with the general thrust of your filing, with its implicit hostility to our right to collect all that we are due. It does come across quite clearly. You see,” he says further, folding his hands like a praying mantis, “we do not believe that you have quite entered into the spirit of community that we wish to foster.” Truth, then, was set aside. Tone was all. I had to be made aware that what I said might compromise my relationship with my students. Being the object of a first-ever campus demonstration against a single human being was all right, regardless of what it would do to my relationship with my students, but my disagreeing with the radicals, and doing so with a touch of bluffness and an unwillingness to take mere undergraduates entirely seriously—that marked me out as a bad man, a very bad man. My former colleague, Madame Lafarge, who lectures the students on responsibility and passes out clickers, ought to consider: A professor enjoys academic freedom for one purpose only, and that is to pursue the truth. He uses that freedom responsibly when he pursues truth, and uses it irresponsibly when he places any other concern above truth. And here is the foul truth of American higher education: Most professors outside of the straight and narrow sciences do not pursue the truth. They do not pursue it because they do not believe in it. They have adopted a sophomoric skepticism. “Whose truth? Your truth?” they ask, raising their chins, as if they had made a hit, a palpable hit. My former colleague is not about truth; she is about political change. Conservatives are sucker-punched all the time, because they take for granted that their opponents actually care about whether, to take an infamous example, children raised by homosexual couples are as well off as they would be with an ordinary mother and father, after the way of nature and human cultures from time immemorial. The opponents do not care. Political victory is all, not truth. We might add: not truth, but preserving your therefore pointless and parasitical job, at the great expense of people whom you fleece while posing as their great champion. Marx, where the hell are you when we do need you? My friend Robert Oscar Lopez, the author of Wackos, Thugs, and Perverts: Clintonian Decadence in Academia, has told me that he no longer believes in “academic freedom.” He says that the huge, corrupt academic monster ought to be starved to death. I can see what he is getting at. A few days ago at my soon-to-be-former school, one professor who tried to get somebody (not me) fired presented a lucrative college award to another professor who tried to get somebody (not me) fired. Label it with the letter I, and not for Inquisitive. And so I will be moving on. There’s a small but extraordinarily vibrant school in New Hampshire: the Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts. They believe in things there. They are concerned with teaching and learning the true, the good, and the beautiful; not the politically correct, the politically correct, and the politically correct. My colleagues there will not be the collegiate Machiavellians one finds everywhere else, those whom Old Nick himself would scorn, not because they are pious, but because they are inept and insane. They will be—they are—genuine Catholic men and women who love the intellectual life because they love the God Who is the ultimate object of the human intellect. And therefore, they love their students, their younger fellows on the quest. I have visited several times and found the experience to be like walking into a new world; or like coming upon an oasis of beauty in the midst of a drab and glaring desert. God bless them. And I shall be happy again, as I had been for so long at the college I now call Nameless. Click, click!