Conservative author talks political climate at colleges

(Zach Moore/Daily)
Author Jonah Goldberg speaks about his book on "Liberal Fascism" at Rackham Amphitheater on Thursday. Buy this photo

By Will Greenberg, Daily News Editor
Published February 12, 2015

It was with attention-grabbing language and crowd-pleasing wit that Jonah Goldberg discussed his views on American history and politics — offering a perspective rarely seen at the University.

Goldberg, author of the 2008 bestseller “Liberal Fascism” and 2013’s “The Tyranny of Clichés,” talked misinterpretations of world history, debunking liberal heroism and political correctness in the Rackham Amphitheatre on Thursday. Goldberg is also a frequent columnist for National Review Online, and it appeared he had many in fans in the crowd.

During the lecture, he discussed the arguments of his books — that fascist movements, contrary to popular belief, are left wing at their core, and how liberals profess to be pragmatic problem solvers when they, in fact, have an ideological agenda.

Goldberg walked through his argument of liberal fascism by elaborating on the Nazi party in Germany. He asked: “Except for the murder, bigotry, genocide and war, what is it, exactly, about Nazism you don’t like?” He argued that the Nazi’s support of nationalism, condemnation of consumerism and denouncement of religion exemplified how “fascism” and “communism” were not opposites.

Additionally, going deeper into “The Tyranny of Cliches,” he discussed how clichés tend to “do our thinking for us,” and cited a favorite of his: “Violence never solves anything.”

“Violence is very useful is some specific situations — they’re called violent situations,” he said, adding how he feels the phrase is too often addressed at the respondent to violence and not the original aggressor.

Goldberg also addressed political dialog and political correctness more generally. In an interview with The Michigan Daily before his speech, he said he took issue with the idea that liberal students see themselves as “sticking it to the man” when they are surrounded by mostly liberal professors and peers.

He said it’s problematic how students assume college is a time to join protests and social movements when they have no knowledge of the conflict they’re involved in.

On the topic of campus inclusiveness and productive dialogue, Goldberg said while people generally support social change, they are not given the chance to be included or else are condemned for not joining fully. He said liberals use “moral bullying” on conservatives to attack them politically rather than create discussion.

“The same people who say we need an honest dialogue on race, we need to have an open and frank conversation on race — the second anybody takes that bait and says something even remotely ‘un-PC’ or offensive in any way — or not even offensive but that can be used to pretend that they were offended — they get beaten over the head with it,” he told the Daily.

“In a culture, the majority owes tolerance and respect to the minority, but the minority owes tolerance and respect to the majority, too,” he said. “What is not constructive is when the minority responds by simply shouting, by this sort of moral bullying and guilt tripping that says ‘you are a bigot’ for absolutely well-intentioned language that was acceptable five minutes ago.”

LSA freshman Grant Strobl, chairman and founder of the University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, said he was happy to have Goldberg on campus to bring different ideas to the forefront on campus.

Strobl mentioned Communications Prof. Susan Douglas’ December article in which she states, “I hate Republicans,” and describes conservatives as against change and social tolerance. The column resulted in backlash from Republicans across the state. Strobl said Douglas’ piece was an example of the one-sided nature among University faculty and students.

“It kind of coerces people into a certain ideology and that’s kind of where ‘liberal thought police’ comes from,” he said. “It’s deciding what gets heard rather than allowing for a fair discussion between viewpoints.”

Strobl also cited the Inclusive Language Campaign as an example of how the University professes to promote positive discussion, but excludes conservative students. Having gone through the program himself, Strobl said the ILC doesn’t highlight terms attacking conservatives — like “right-winger” or “tea-bagger” — but it should.

While he said he agrees with the end goal of promoting diversity and inclusion, he said he took issue with the idea of the program trying to manage the words students used, saying there are unintended consequences to that approach.

“I feel like we should be embracing the diversity rather than trying to be too politically correct about it because I think that almost makes us more divisive,” he said. “I think it all comes through education and I think we’re all adults here and I think we can all approach each other in an adult-like manner and discuss the real issues.”

ILC is part of the University’s larger “Expect Respect” campaign. Amanda McLittle, associate director of diversity and inclusion in University Housing, wrote in an e-mail interview with the Daily that ILC is not a political organization and does not focus on “conservative” or “liberal” terms.

“Students chose the words that we are highlighting in this first year of ILC,” she wrote. “Multiple student focus groups were asked which words they would like to see included this year. The list of words is not meant be exhaustive.”

The ILC drew national attention this week after “The College Fix” reported the campaign cost $16,000 to implement, confirmed by University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald. He said it’s difficult to put the cost of the program into perspective with other programs, but that the money went to brochures and other awareness measures, not staff.

LSA senior Derek Draplin, the editor in chief of the student publication The Michigan Review, has been vocal about the ILC and attended the speech Thursday night. He said speakers like Goldberg are important to creating opening people’s minds on campus.

“The frontlines of culture-wars, so to speak, is on college campuses,” Draplin said. “There is a lockstep belief in opinions on campus so that’s kind of why I came (to the Goldberg lecture) to challenge those establishment-type beliefs and comments and movements.”

Strobl said YAF plans to bring more speakers by the end of the semester, though the schedule is not yet set.