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Who goes Nazi, University of Florida edition


I’m sorry to report that the first clause of Silke-Maria Weineck’s essay regarding the goings-on at the University of Florida made me laugh:

It’s rarely a good sign if you find yourself wondering how to translate certain German words.

That could be the epitaph for this whole goddamned country.

Gleichschaltung is the process by which institutions are brought under the control of totalitarian ideology. It is frequently rendered as “coordination” or “synchronization,” but those terms lack the terrifying connotation of switches flipped, one by one, until the same ideological current flows through every previously independent institution.

Vorauseilender Gehorsam means “obedience ahead of the command.” The Yale historian Timothy Snyder translates it as “anticipatory obedience,” and that is close enough, but it doesn’t quite capture the scurrying servility implied in “vorauseilen,” to hurry ahead.

You will be surprised to learn that the administration of the state’s flagship university is full of functionaries who are, to coin a phrase, working toward DeSantis:

The most deeply troubling aspect of this episode is the explicit conflation of the interest of a state government with the interest of a state university. A public university is beholden to truth-seeking and truth-speaking, and neither can possibly be subject to direct political control. A university that bars its faculty from criticizing the government in court has abandoned its core mission and tossed what should be its most fundamental values to a foul-smelling wind.

The implications of the assertion that the faculty must not act in a manner adverse to the regime’s interest — “activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida” — are staggering. If you are not allowed to bear witness against voter suppression in court, why would you be allowed to study the effects of voter suppression in the first place, or to teach your students about them? Such research and such teaching are not in Ron DeSantis’s interest, either, and by the logic of Richardson’s denial, any activity that is not in Ron DeSantis’s interest is not in the interest of the University of Florida. Neither, one assumes, is research into the environmental toll of his climate policies, the human toll of his welfare policies, or the death toll of his Covid policies. A university declared an arm not simply of the state but of its partisan government ceases to be a university.

On the 80th anniversary of its publication, Dorothy Thompson’s analysis of who goes Nazi is once again more relevant than it’s been at any time in the last 79 years or so.

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