Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bargain Basement Fascism

Austin Bay links to an opinion piece written by Paul Campos, a professor of law at the University of Colorado, describing his fellow faculty member Ward Churchill as "a pathetic buffoon" peddling a fascist ideology. The most interesting part of Professor Campos' article lies in his description of fascism, all the elements of which, he argues, are present in Churchill's work.

As a political inclination and an aesthetic style, fascism is marked by, among other things, the following characteristics:

  • The worship of violence as a purifying social force.
  • A hyper-nationalistic ideology, that casts history into a drama featuring an inevitably violent struggle between Good and Evil, and that obsesses on questions of racial and ethnic identity.
  • The dehumanization and scapegoating of opponents ... demands that the evil in our midst be eradicated "by any means necessary," up to and including the mass extermination of entire nations and peoples.
  • The treatment of moral responsibility as a fundamentally collective matter.

Campos argues that these propositions would probably have been intolerable if uttered by a white man but were possibly countenanced because they emanated from an oppressed Native American who may happen to be -- oops -- a white man. But despite its potential for comedy, Professor Campos finds nothing funny in the matter. He asks how such a ridiculous situation could have arisen in the first place.

The question of whether a serious research university ought to hire someone like Churchill is laughable on its face. What's not so funny is the question of exactly how someone like him got hired in the first place, and then tenured and named the head of a department.

That, in the end, is a more important question than what will or ought to happen to Churchill now. Churchill is a pathetic buffoon, but the University of Colorado is far from alone in having allowed itself to toss intellectual integrity and human decency overboard in the pursuit of worthy goals. ...

That through whatever combination of negligence, cowardice and complicity we have allowed Ward Churchill to besmirch those ideals by invoking them in the defense of his contemptible rantings is now our burden and our shame.

While the University of Colorado is casting the Churchill controversy as a freedom of speech issue (that's simplifying it a little. See Eugene Volokh for a real lawyer's take) some thought ought to be given to University's obligation to provide a reasonable standard of instruction to students. Students attend a university to receive a sound education and a credential. There is an implicit contract between the student and university that a reasonable education will be provided in exchange for the time, effort and money spent studying. It is hard to see how the University's end of the bargain will be kept if it allows it students to be instructed in ethnic studies by a fake Indian teaching fascism. One might be forgiven for wondering whether the students aren't being shortchanged.