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Movement conservatives in America have always wanted reactionary indoctrination, not academic freedom


Really good story about youngish reactionaries holding true to the actual Bill Buckley rather than the imaginary Teddy Bear Bill Buckley who purged the worst elements from the American conservative movement:

A month later, John Burtka and Michael Knowles ’12, two prominent conservative figures who had spoken at the National Conservatism Conference, virtually came to Yale. They’d been invited to speak during the final day of the 10th annual conference of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, a student organization founded in 2010 by Lauren Noble ’11, who still serves as executive director. The program’s stated mission is to “promote intellectual diversity on Yale’s campus,” largely through hosting conservative speakers. It has operated as its own 501c(3) nonprofit since 2011 and claims to be Yale’s largest undergraduate student organization, with over 400 members. Burtka currently serves as the president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a nonprofit that promotes conservative thought on college campuses. Knowles, who was an inaugural “Buckley Student Fellow” as a Yale undergraduate, is a right-wing political commentator and a fixture on the college campus speaking circuit, where he gives speeches with titles like “Ban Transgenderism” and “America’s Real Injustice: Under-Incarceration.”  

This year, the conference was a celebration of the 70th anniversary of “God and Man at Yale,” the book that helped launch the career of William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, the program’s eponym and the man often claimed as the “father” of modern conservatism. The book, published in 1951, infamously portrayed Buckley’s alma mater as a citadel of secular and socialist indoctrination. Buckley attacked former Yale president Charles Seymour for failing to do enough to “Christianize” Yale, complained that there was “no bias” in favor of capitalism in Yale’s newly established American Studies program and charged a variety of academic departments with “deifying collectivism.” “Individualism is dying at Yale,” he mournfully proclaimed, “and without a fight.” 

Knowles introduced the day’s topic virtually from the Yale Club in New York City: “‘God and Man at Yale’ and the Conservative Movement Today.” 

“Today, so many people invoke William F. Buckley Jr. as this wonderful, moderate, anodyne-type figure who was so open-minded to everyone,” Knowles began.  “A lot of self-styled Buckleyists say that we need to be very open and tolerate all sorts of points of view,” he continued. “This would have been news to William F. Buckley Jr.,” who “hated academic freedom” and “did not support the open society.” 

Knowles didn’t have to do any fine-grained exegesis to reach this assessment: the very subtitle of “God and Man at Yale” is “The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom.’”

And America’s conservative politicians are very much sons of Buckley in this respect:

Knowles wasn’t spinning a fantasy. Spurred by widespread conservative backlash to the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, Republicans have advanced a deluge of state legislative initiatives that restrict how K-12 teachers and university professors can speak about racism and U.S. history. Since January 2021, over 100 of these bills — dubbed “education gag orders” by the free expression nonprofit PEN America — have been introduced in dozens of state legislatures across the country. “Schools and universities are being threatened today to a degree that has no recent parallel,” Jeffrey Sachs, a historian and political scientist who writes frequently on campus speech issues, wrote in February. “There is a willingness, and even eagerness, to bring the weight and power of government to bear on controlling classroom speech.”

That eagerness has been epitomized by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ’01, a likely 2024 presidential candidate and frequent Buckley Program donor, whom both Knowles and Burtka offered as a model for how conservatives should approach education. In June, DeSantis backed a Florida school board initiative that banned The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project from public schools and forbids teachers from teaching that “racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems.” Yale Richard C. Levin professor of history Timothy Snyder called the ban a “moral catastrophe” and argued that it would “make it impossible to teach basic elements of U.S. history, such as redlining, segregation, voter suppression, the racial cleansing of neighborhoods and counties, not to mention slavery itself.” Two weeks later, DeSantis signed a bill requiring public universities to survey students and faculty to ensure “intellectual diversity” and threatened that schools could lose funding if they were found “indoctrinating” students. “We know the results of government officials policing educators: paranoia, persecution and the opposite of the free speech Republicans say they want to protect,” wrote the Miami Herald’s editorial board in response. 

The ability of Republicans to sell mainstream journalists on the idea that their opposition to academic freedom and the existence of LGBTQ people is really just opposition to “cancel culture” is a con comparable to William Buckley selling the idea that he wouldn’t tolerate kooks in the Republican Party.

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