The Eternally Radical Idea

The Eternally Radical Idea

(Gasp) Conservatives on Campus Problems & Cancel Culture

July 28, 2020

A lot of people come to me wondering how to educate themselves on a whole host of topics relating to my work and FIRE’s work in free speech on campus and in general. To that end, I have collected three separate lists of must-read books, speeches, documents, and a podcast to help you understand:

      • Free speech culture, where it came from, and how it exists today;
      • Cancel/Call-Out/Outrage Culture, its contours, and its recent origins; and
      • The conservative perspective on campus speech issues.

This list will be updated in the future as I come across and read more books that are thoughtful on the subject. It should also go without saying that I do not agree with everything said in each of the linked sources. I’ve tried to ensure everything included offers something unique, and has something that will make you think.

As far back as when I was at Stanford Law School twenty years ago, I was taught that if you could prove someone was conservative, that was sufficiently discrediting that you didn’t have to address any of their arguments. Because conservatives bore the brunt of what would later be called “cancellations” on campus, some of the earliest takes on what would become cancel culture came from the right. While my other list on cancel culture was intentionally curated as perspectives from the left to the center, I wanted to highlight some conservative perspectives on the issue in this list.

  1. “The Closing of the American Mind,” Allan Bloom (1987). You might not like Bloom’s prescient and challenging book about the cultural shift away from debate on moral issues, but you will be surprised by it. The title had become so well-recognized in American culture that the editors at The Atlantic decided to riff on it when they titled our article “The Coddling of the American Mind” (to my and Jon’s chagrin). Others have appropriated Bloom’s book title as well.
  2. “The Hollow Men,” Charles J. Sykes @SykesCharlie (1990). A very readable record of Dartmouth’s evolution from the 1950s to 1990 that predicted how those changes might ripple outwards.
  3. “Tenured Radicals,” Roger Kimball @rogerkimball (1990; updated 2008). Kimball delivers a stinging critique of the intellectual rigor of modern humanities departments.
  4. “The Shadow University,” Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate @hasilverglate (1998). This entry perhaps deserves an asterisk, as while Kors is a conservative, Silverglate is a liberal. Still, the first sentence in the introduction highlights the path the authors follow: “Americans think a great deal about colleges and universities, but they do not examine them very closely.”   
  5. “The Diversity Delusion,” Heather Mac Donald @HDMatMI (2018). Through a study of data and outcomes, Mac Donald questions whether the well-intentioned initiatives to make universities more inclusive are having the desired effects. 
  6. “The Madness of Crowds,” Douglas Murray @DouglasKMurray (2019). Murray catalogs some of the ongoing culture fights while highlighting the contradictions inherent in the arguments.
  7. “Unjust,” Noah Rothman @NoahCRothman (2019). Drawing a line from identity politics on the left to the alt-right, Rothman argues that retributive identity politics undermines the intended function of the American political system.