Fresh from pontificating on the principles at stake in allowing Lord Christopher Monckton to receive the support of a university in his inane ramblings, I find myself unable to let go of the subject.
My comment on an article by Anson Cameron at The Drum
didn’t apparently make it has now past moderation1. (That might seem like poetic justice, perhaps, given that the letter I supported was widely characterised as an attempt to deprive poor Monckton of his right to free speech. Except, of course, that I was trying to point out that the letter was no such thing, and that I myself support Monckton’s right to free speech.)
Cameron is clearly not a fan of Monckton, and does an admirable job of listing the Lord’s many and varied acts of ignorance, dishonesty and outright madness. However, then comes this paragraph:
I implore the academy not to add Viscount Monckton to the long and distinguished list of the gagged and banned. He does not deserve to stand alongside Aung San Suu Kyi, Mandela, Darwin or Mick Jagger. If the Academy gags Lord Monckton it will reward him with a wholly undeserved gravitas, and afford him the glow of the messiah among his flock. Censored by lefties and eggheads sponging off our tax dollar, the things he wasn’t allowed to say will take on an unwarranted profundity. The flock will be whispering of NATO, a world government, thought-control, and only fearless mavericks like the Viscount standing in the way of a global communist dystopia.
I’m not sure what Cameron thinks academia can possibly do to place Monckton in such a hallowed (and inexplicable) company. Academia is not the Burmese military junta; it does not have its own private army waiting to whisk away those who dissent. You might think I’m being a little patronising here, but really – stopping someone speaking at a university compares to locking them away for decades as a political prisoner? You don’t get to compare yourself to Aung San Suu Kyi or Nelson Mandela just because you’ve been declared a fruitcake by a group of lecturers and researchers. That sounds rather too much like the Galileo Gambit. Cameron’s further mention of Mick Jagger sounds rather too much like taking the piss. You think academia is going to turn Monckton into a rock star? I’m not sure that’s how it normally works.
The next bit is also a bit of a giveaway: “the things he wasn’t allowed to say will take on an unwarranted profundity.” That’s logically impossible. How can anyone know what things Monckton would have said but didn’t? He would have said them regardless, of course, as Cameron no doubt realises. That means, of course, that Monckton was never in danger of being silenced – a fact that ought to be perfectly obvious, but nonetheless has been shoved aside in order to perpetuate the censorship narrative. Cameron’s concerns are also rather redundant, since Monckton’s words already have taken on grossly unwarranted profundity, through no fault of academia. It’s hard to see how his Lordship’s blatherings could be inflated further still (without sending those involved into a coma of self-righteousness).
Cameron goes on to conclude:
If a person can be banned from University for speaking ignorantly and superstitiously Jesus will have to set up his soapbox across the road from Notre Dame when he returns and shout through the chain-link fence with a bullhorn.
“Ban” is rather misleading here. Except in matters of criminal law, as I understand it, you cannot really be banned from a university (at least, not the kind of university I’m familiar with). Any member of the public is free to stroll across campus and even attend lectures. There just isn’t any chain-link fence to be self-righteous behind. The intent of the letter was simply to not give Monckton the podium at a university. Most people do not and will never have that privilege anyway, so it’s hardly a matter of fundamental rights. Monckton (or Jesus) can set up his own soap box, but he’ll look a lot less dignified gesticulating by the roadside than in a university lecture theatre.
Moreover, in spite of Monckton’s lecture going ahead as planned, I’ve heard barely a whisper of information on what was actually said. The whole event was essentially self-censored (it was invitation-only), irrespective of the letter itself. We ended up with the worst of both worlds: a quarantined lecture, and the symbolism of a university lending its podium to a raving self-promoter and purveyor of nonsense. Free speech indeed.
I’m very slightly suspicious of the fact that only 18 comments did appear, when such controversial topics often seem to attract a hundred or more. Perhaps I’m being overly suspicious, though, and people really do have better things to do.The comment count suddenly jumped from 18 to 195, presumably thanks to some mind-bendingly tedious and thankless work by overwhelmed moderators. [↩]