A hard case to make a good law: the ideological impurity of David Starkey

The original saying I paraphrase above, from Oliver Wendell Holmes, is “hard cases make bad law”, meaning you shouldn’t erect general principles based on extreme cases. But in this instance, regarding the defenestration of scholars who say things unpalatable to their peers, or odious things in general, these are the hard cases that should be the basis of a general rule: academic institutions should not punish scholars who exercise their right to free speech.

Sadly, as Benjamin Schwarz—former literary and national editor of The Atlantic—shows in the new Spiked, this rule, which used to hold in the UK, no longer holds, at least with respect to historian and television presenter David Starkey. Starkey, it has to be said, uttered a statement that is reprehensible, unworthy of a thinking person. But it’s still free speech. Read what happened to him by clicking on the screenshot below:

First, Schwarz reports what Starkey said, giving Schwarz’s own take:

‘Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?’ With that sentence, in a video interview posted earlier this month, David Starkey, the Tudor historian and documentarian, destroyed his career. Defenestrated by the institutions that had honored his scholarly achievements (Lancaster University; the Royal Historical SocietyFitzwilliam College, Cambridge), that had given him an academic home (Canterbury Christ Church University), and had paid him (his publisher, HarperCollins), Starkey, age 75, is now, and will certainly forever be, adrift and unemployable. No one has publicly defended Starkey’s comment, and Starkey himself has called it ‘clumsy’ and ‘deplorably inflammatory’. And surely it is entirely a private matter, if, because of that utterance, Starkey’s acquaintances and colleagues should choose to upbraid or to shun him. However, in the case of the above institutions, with one partial exception, the only appropriate response would have been no response whatsoever.

Because of this, Lancaster University is contemplating revoking Starkey’s honorary degree, the Royal Historical Society and Cambridge University are deep-sixing his fellowship, and, most unjustifiable of all, Canterbury Christ Church University has ended the Starkey’s visiting professorship. His publisher said not only that it wouldn’t publish future books by Starkey, but might also dump his backlist, punishing both him and the public by simply erasing his published (and acclaimed) scholarship.

Now nobody is going to defend Starkey’s statement. While slavery wasn’t genocide (or, at least, actions designed to wipe out an entire people), it was designed to enslave, degrade, and mistreat an entire people. Starkey’s words were deeply stupid, but should he be punished for it? It depends. A publisher might sever contact with him (there’s no academic freedom in publishing, as we learned with Hachette and Woody Allen’s memoirs), but ditching all previous books is, to me, a ridiculous and indefensible way of virtue signaling. Schwarz declares that most of Starkey’s punishments were not justifiable, on the grounds that scholarly institutions should not take ideological positions and punish those who transgress them:

The sole purpose of any academic institution is – or should be – to pursue and advance knowledge and understanding. This requires a forum free from official censure, so that scholars may pursue any question and consider any view, however despised. Such institutions cannot, therefore, apply any political or moral litmus test to the ideas and speech of their constituent scholars. Thus, in a controversy that heralded the Free Speech Movement, Ernst Kantorowicz, the German emigre medievalist and deeply conservative anti-Communist (and anti-Nazi), famously argued in 1949 that, by requiring a loyalty oath to weed out Communists and Communist sympathisers on its faculty, his adopted institution, the University of California at Berkeley, would destroy itself as an academic community. For the academy to serve its proper function, Kantorowicz recognised, the only criteria for membership must be professional competence and scholarly ability – not the forswearing of any creed, however apparently reprehensible. Furthermore, because academic ability is the only basis by which scholarly institutions can judge their scholars and students, and because those institutions must provide an unfettered environment in which the individual scholar can pursue truth as he or she sees it, these institutions must, themselves, be strictly neutral on political, social and moral questions, no matter how right and settled the answers to those questions may seem.

Schwarz cites a document I’ve mentioned frequently, the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, one of the foundations of the philosophy underlying my school. (You can find it here.) Sadly, as my University is slowly beginning to take ideological positions that don’t comport with the few exceptions Kalven allowed, the principle of institutional neutrality on politics is eroding even here.

Schwarz continues:

The most forthright and eloquent argument for such institutional neutrality remains the 1967 statement drafted by the great constitutional scholar, Harry Kalven Jr, for the University of Chicago. The ‘Kalven report’ states that ‘a university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices and institutions’. But, the report explains, ‘the instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.’ Because a university must ‘maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures’, it is ‘a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.’ And because the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, the Kalven report argues:

‘It is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favour a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues… It should not, therefore, permit itself to be diverted from its mission into playing the role of a second-rate political force or influence.’

In short, as the Kalven report explains, scholarly institutions must refrain from deciding social and political questions on behalf of their students and faculty, and they should simply not concern themselves with the views of their students or faculty, no matter how deplorable some or most may find those views.

One by one, academic departments at the U of C are contemplating putting up statements at odds with Kalven, not just affirming that our institution does not discriminate on the basis of race of gender (an appropriate statement since it’s part of the University’s mission), but also asserting more dubious statements from Critical Race Theory. Sadly, Kalven’s report appears on the way out because of pressure from the woke.

It didn’t used to be this way, at least in Britain. Schwarz mentions the case of renowned art historian Anthony Blunt, who, while working for MI5, was also a Soviet agent who passed nearly 2000 documents to Stalin’s Russia. He was, in other words, a traitor. If that isn’t worse than what Starkey said, I don’t know what is. Yet he wasn’t treated nearly as badly as Starkey. (Blunt, in fact, was given immunity from prosecution. As Schwarz notes:

Although some academic institutions with which Blunt was affiliated, revolted by his treachery, disassociated themselves from him, the most important ones did not. Oxford did not withdraw Blunt’s honorary degree (unlike Lancaster University, which is set to withdraw Starkey’s honorary degree). London University, where Blunt was an emeritus professor, held that his position there had been conferred solely for his academic achievements, achievements that were unaffected and undiminished by his personal, moral and political transgressions. The British Academy took a similar line, its fellows voting by a 3-1 majority that Blunt should remain a fellow. As another fellow, and the director of the London School of Economics, Ralf Dahrendorf explained, ‘the British Academy is about scholarship, and that was the decision we took – by a handsome majority’. The arch-Tory historian Hugh Trevor-Roper justified his vote not to expel Blunt more crudely: ‘The Academy is not a tribunal of morals. If we say we’ll expel so-and-so because he’s a shit, we’ll have to have a whole new set of rules.’

Apparently that new set of rules has been applied to Starkey. It’s not exactly that British academe has forgotten the old rules, it just applies them selectively. Although a chorus of critics called for Cambridge to punish its professor Priyamvada Gopal for proclaiming on Twitter ‘White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives’, Cambridge responded – rightly – that ‘the university defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial’. Cambridge’s stance on Gopal’s academic freedom also reflects the law. The Education Reform Act of 1988 and the Higher Education and Research Act of 2017 require that universities ‘ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions’.

Note that it’s not just jobs, but “jobs or privileges”, like Starkey had at Cambridge.

Now this isn’t a cut-and-dried situation, for there are cases in which some sort of revocation is necessary. For instance, when J. D. Watson made racist statements, he was forced to resign as director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). One could argue that, as director, part of Watson’s mission was to ensure racial equality and equal opportunity, and that was compromised by his statement. On the other hand, CSHL also revoked his  honorary titles, which is far less justifiable.

And if a professor at the University of Chicago said what Starkey did, he might have been censured privately or publicly by colleagues as individuals, but the University itself would not pronounce on his statements one way or another. (To that extent, at least, the Kalven Report is still applied.) The principle of ideological and political neutrality of academic institutions is a precious ideal, one that protects freedom of speech by not penalizing non-conformity. Sadly, it’s on its way out in most American colleges. I hope it’s not on its way out at Chicago.

 

36 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    sub

  2. jezgrove
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Starkey’s statement was stupid, but I can’t help wondering if the forum in which he made it – a YouTube channel hosted by a somewhat controversial young Brexit campaigner – might have played a role in the subsequent outrage.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 14, 2020 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      If so, likely yes. I was watching a very old UK talk show, when they referred to one of the liberal hosts having remarked in another show on a female politicians visage, despite often having claimed that it shouldn’t matter for politicians.

      Turned out he was smitten with her, immediately realized his gaffe, and apologized. No harm done (except that he was the butt of the talk show joke).

  3. DrBrydon
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I’ll defend Starkey’s statement: Slavery is not genocide, it’s slavery. We have two difference words for two different things. It would not have been in the slave owner’s interest to eradicate his slaves (Fogel and Engerman showed this in Time on the Cross), and, by extension, it would not have been in their interest to destroy the source of supply. In contrast, when the Germans used Jews as slave labor, they did so with the intent of working them to death. That is genocide. I think the mistake in Starkey’s statement was the word “damn,” which turns an observation into an objection to blacks. That I won’t defend, beyond saying that it is no excuse to case him into the outer darkness.

    • Posted July 14, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Well yes. The phrase “… otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks …” suggests that he rather wishes that slavery had been genocide.

      I generally defend free speech, but I can see why academic institutions want to disassociate themselves from him.

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted July 14, 2020 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps I would depend on his general manner of speech, or lecturing.

        He may be inclined to grumpiness or to spice up his utterances.

        It is still problematic to condemn someone on one utterance, in my opinion.

      • chrism
        Posted July 15, 2020 at 5:39 am | Permalink

        I have no technical issue with the ‘slavery was not genocide’ part of the comment. That would conform with most people’s understanding of the words, and it’s obviously bad for your business as a slaver to kill off your stock in trade. Reinforcing a point with an expletive is completely a Starkey trait, but he positioned it so carelessly – if he had said “there wouldn’t damn well be so many of them” we would take the point. As it is, we are left wondering who or what is damned in the thought – and it looks more like it’s the blacks rather than the point he was making that are to be damned. At the very best, that was careless, thoughtless and plain stupid. At worst, clearly racist. And all for such a silly point – we don’t care if slavery was or wasn’t genocide; it is so abhorrent to us that it doesn’t matter.
        Mind you, Darren Grimes must take some blame. As a sympathetic (even simpering and fawning) interviewer, he still ought to have paid attention and asked Starkey to clarify, rather than grinning mindlessly as he hung his hero out to dry. You get some idea of why it all blew up when the BBC news described Grimes’ YouTube channel as a ‘far-right website that is a safe space for racists and homophobic views’. They don’t like Grimes for being prominent in the Brexit movement, and seem to be willing to overlook that he is gay and unlikely to be homophobic. He will win his suit against the BBC. But poor old Starkey can only blame himself. A shame, as I’ve learned a good deal of history and constitutional nuance from him.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 14, 2020 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Be that as it may, slavery meets the criteria for “genocide” under Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of which the UK is a signatory.

      • Adam M.
        Posted July 14, 2020 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        Does it? I’m not seeing it.

        [Genocide is] any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

        (a) Killing members of the group;
        (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
        (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
        (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
        (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
        — Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2[5]

        I suppose slavery usually incorporates some of those actions but they’d still have to be committed “with intent to destroy … [a] group”. I suppose it depends on the definition of “destroy”, but I wouldn’t count exploiting people for unpaid labor as destroying them.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 14, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

          You don’t think kidnapping people from one continent, bringing them across a Middle Passage with knowledge that a large percentage would not survive, selling them into slavery (enforced by rape, murder, whippings, and dismemberment) in a completely foreign culture, then breaking up generation after generation of families on the auction block satisfies the Article 2 definition of “genocide”?

          Well, I suppose neither does the narrator of Randy Newman’s “Sail Away.”

          • Historian
            Posted July 14, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            I think the Convention’s definition of genocide is too broad and vague. It can be used to call any action by one group against another as genocide. It reeks of wokeism. Below is my analysis why slavery doesn’t qualify as genocide, but is still horrific.

            Britannica has a definition of genocide that is more precise, which would exclude slavery from it: “Genocide, the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion, or race.” Hitler’s war on the Jews was genocide. Slavery was, in fact, the opposite of genocide for a simple reason: the enslaved were an investment of the masters. People do not destroy property that they expect a return on investment. Thus, it was in the masters’ best interest to keep slaves alive and working. In addition, the offspring of slaves were an additional bonus for the masters. Thus, increasing the number of slaves was something masters always wanted. In the U.S. South, the masters were always seeking to increase their “property” and, hence, their wealth. Note that this completely contradicts section (d) of the Convention’s definition.

            The fact that slavery was not genocide in no way diminishes that slavery, at least in the antebellum South, was an immoral, cruel, and horrific system. Families could be separated at the masters’ whims. Punishment of slaves could be extreme without the enslaved having any recourse of appeal. When the masters’ were allowed to import slaves through the international slave trade, it was understood that a certain portion of the “stock” would be lost through death during the Middle Passage. Conditions on the slave ships were beyond what most of us today could comprehend. Below deck, the slaves were chained and packed so close together that they couldn’t move. Just imagine how that area smelled. When slaves died, which was common, they were simply thrown overboard.

            • savage
              Posted July 14, 2020 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

              > I think the Convention’s definition of genocide is too broad and vague.

              I would agree with that, since it includes forced assimilation and other measures that should not make the cut. Forcing schoolchildren to abandon their native language is not the same as murdering them!

              > In the U.S. South, the masters were always seeking to increase their “property” and, hence, their wealth.

              Slave traders would not want to run out of people to enslave. But this does not necessarily mean that they would want to keep their slaves alive as long as possible.

              Of course, unproductive slaves could expect little mercy. And contrary to an Afrocentrist myth, merchants did not intentionally kill their human property on the Middle Passage. The death rate among the crews was often higher than that of the slaves.

              Yet economically, the great advantage of slave labor is that you do not need to expend the resources necessary to nurture and feed humans until they reach adulthood. Lawrence Keeley wrote that that small tribes were sometimes kept alive as slave breeding grounds by larger tribes.

              In the Old South, slaves nevertheless have been encouraged to raise children. Yet this was not necessarily due to economical factors, but also cultural and moral considerations. It was perfectly possible back then to support slavery and oppose the slave trade.

              • GBJames
                Posted July 14, 2020 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

                If by “slave trade” you refer only to trans-oceanic trade.

              • Tim Harris
                Posted July 14, 2020 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                Of course the slave-merchants did not intentionally kill the their human ‘property’ on the Middle Passage. They wanted to sell them.

                I should be interested in hearing more about this ‘Afro-centrist myth’ you speak of, as well as details about the relative death-rate between slaves and the poor crew-members.

                Re genocide, I recommend Philippe Sands’ ‘East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity’, terms that were proposed by two of the Nuremberg prosecutors, Hersch Lautertpacht and Rafael Lemkin, both of whom were Jewish and whose families suffered greatly in the Holocaust 8as did Sands’ own family).

                I wonder, too, as someone has already below, what the reaction would have been had Starkey declared that the Holocaust wasn’t really that bad because there are too many ‘damn Jews’ around now. I shall add here that I think that Keir Starmer was absolutely right in removing Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow Labour cabinet in the UK after she shared a story on the internet that contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and slur. Or should he not have done so?

          • Michael Waterhouse
            Posted July 14, 2020 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

            “Knowledge of” , does not equal or imply, “intent to”.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted July 14, 2020 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

              No, it doesn’t. I’m sorry, but what is your point?

          • Posted July 15, 2020 at 4:25 am | Permalink

            any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group

            I’ve highlighted the bit you seem to have missed.

            Actually, this whole talking point utterly mystifies me. Slavery is morally repugnant whether you call it genocide or not. You don’t have to call it genocide to acknowledge it’s a pretty horrific thing to do to another human being.

  4. Joe Dickinson
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of institutions taking official positions on political issues, I’m sorry to say that my undergraduate alma mater, UC Berkeley, did exactly that in officially supporting the continuation of DACA. I wrote to the chancellor in protest, including a brief and less eloquent statement of Starkey’s argument. Not surprisingly, I have had no response.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Were I the bartender at a Lancaster University faculty cocktail party, I would take a principled stand by refusing David Starkey a refill on his ice cubes, but I think neither Lancaster nor any other university with which Starkey has an official affiliation has any business imposing academic discipline on him — for the same reason I thought it was wrong for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to withdraw its offer of a faculty position to Steven Salaita based on his anti-Semitic tweeting.

    Freedom of expression and academic freedom either stand for something or they don’t, however repugnant one may find the ideas being expressed.

  6. Steve Gerrard
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t there a difference between academic freedom and freedom of speech?

    “so many damn blacks”
    “so many damn jews”
    “so many damn women”

    I don’t feel like this guy deserves any of my tears. I am inclined to think that institutions are fine to defenestrate someone who speaks publicly this way. If he spoke them, would we be expected to tolerate obscenities? An obscene replacement for damn, for instance?

  7. Dick Veldkamp
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    It is all a matter of degree.

    I do not think that having a position at a university grants you license to say anything you want. One should always be allowed to say anything that has some academic merit (widely construed). If Starkey had built an argument that slave trade is not genocide according to the definition, all would have been OK (it would have been obnoxious, but no grounds for dismissal I’d say).

    It is the way he said it, the “damn”. As you long as you stay within certain limits of civility you are fine.

    We do not tolerate sexual harassment at the university, and I do not think that either the “free speech” or the “academic freedom” argument would wash if some professor persistently was demeaning women in his utterances, however good his academic record.

    To counter the slippery slope argument (“And who is going to decide what you can say?”): in my opinion the fact that it may be difficult to draw a line does not mean that it is practically impossible.

  8. Dick Veldkamp
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I see that Historian made just such an argument. I realise I should not have written “it would have been obnoxious” – it does not matter if one likes it or not. So please disregard that sentence.

  9. hazur
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Jerry: “While slavery wasn’t genocide …”
    I’m with Ken Kukec here and I think it is important to emphasize it, genocide was a direct consequence of slavery, total elimination as a goal is not a requirement to be classified as genocide. You can have genocide without slavery but not the other way around, unless you discount how slaves were obtained in the first place.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted July 14, 2020 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Genocide needs intent.

  10. Jon Gallant
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Aside from the semantic question of
    slavery ≡ genocide, Professor Starkey’s offense was of a religious nature: it at least bordered on heresy against the current established Church of Anti-Racism. He was thus excommunicated as surely as a European scholar in the 1500s would have been if he expressed doubts about transubstantiation, the Trinity, or the virginity of Mary. Professor Starkey can count himself lucky that no heap of dry wood around a stake was proposed for offenders like him, but perhaps, in this age of rapid technological advance, that will be coming soon.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted July 14, 2020 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Starkey’s offence ‘was of a religious nature’? It is surely an offence against simple human decency, as was the recent Windrush betrayal in Britain, which destroyed lives and is still destroying them as the Conservative government drags its feet on dealing with the aftermath. Things do have a historical and social context, you know. It might be remarked that both those quasi-religious institutions, Communism & Naziism, regarded disagreement with their goals as heretical, and the ‘perpetrators’ therefore to be treated in ways not dissimilar to the way the Church treated those who disagreed with its tenets. Are you seriously saying that being anti-racist constitutes membership of something like those insitutions?

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted July 14, 2020 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        Being anti-racist is far from sufficient to
        receive the blessings of the new established Church—as the case of Bret Weinstein, among others, demonstrated. The Church demonstrably requires obedience to its clerisy (as was expected at Evergreen State) and adherence to its doctrines (as shown by the “Diversity Statements” required of U. Cal. faculty applicants). These examples show, by the way, that the Church considers its doctrines so
        universal as to be binding on everyone.

      • Posted July 15, 2020 at 4:50 am | Permalink

        There’s quite a large difference in degree between deporting people who have lived here for almost their entire lives and referring to an ethnic group as “damned”.

        And there can be religions that do not have any kind of official organisation. Religious zeal is a state of mind, not carrying the Catholic Church’s official membership card.

  11. Tim Harris
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    So was or was not Starkey’s remark an offence against simple human decency?

    Yes, the treatment of Bret Weinstein was deplorable and despicable. I do not think that Starkey’s was. The cases are very different.

    It is sometimes better to consider things case by case than to assume that everything has a monolithic nature. You appear to be falling into the same sort of Church-like habits as you accuse your opponents of doing.

  12. AlTazim
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    One of the things about the coining of the term “genocide” is that it described a distinct phenomenon, the total or intended total elimination of a people. “Gens” meaning people, ethnicity, civilization, race, whatever, “cide” meaning to kill. If a genocide is complete, there’s no coming back from it; peoples can come back from slavery, and they frequently have, stronger than ever. Stretching the notion of “genocide” to something like slavery, while a reprehensible institution in its own right, simply because it destroys the social relations and cultures that had previously existed in the peoples which had been enslaved then reduces and cheapens the concept of genocide. At that point, most of human history is genocide, and indeed then there is little especially evil about what befell the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis or what befell the Armenian people at the hands of the collapsing Ottomans. The tribes of Israel in the Bible? Genocidal. Muhammad? Genocidal. The Romans? Genocidal. The Ottoman conquest of the Byzantines? Genocidal. The Mongol displacement of the Song Dynasty with their own Yuan? Also genocidal.

    However, Starkey’s phrasing was horrific, and stating “so many damn blacks” makes it sound like the only thing he thinks was wrong with slavery is that the slaves weren’t all killed. But on the other hand, I’ve heard plenty of scholars of “whiteness studies”, critical race theory, gender studies, make similarly horrifying remarks about men or white people with little academic pushback against them, and frequently their fellow professors and administrators rallying to their defense when criticized from outside. It’s hard to get too up in arms when the shoe is on the other foot. Maybe Starkey being banished will get some of those other academics jettisoned as well; hypocrisy can only be stretched so far.

  13. Tim Harris
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Again, regarding Priyamvada Gopal proclaiming on Twitter ‘White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives’, what she was saying was wilfully misunderstood. (Her tweet has been taken down by Twitter.) In no way is what she wrote equivalent to the obvious racism in Starkey’s remarks – quite the opposite, in fact, and it is disingenuous of Schwarz to pretend otherwise. A subsequent tweet about being from a Brahmin family has not been taken down: ‘I’m from a Brahmin family. That makes me a Brahmin.

    I will say this too then, since Brahmins are the whites of India.

    Brahmin lives don’t matter — not as Brahmin lives.

    Abolish Brahmins and the upper castes.

    Still unclear to the petitioners asking Cambridge to fire me?’

    • Tim Harris
      Posted July 15, 2020 at 3:21 am | Permalink

      And of course those calling for Priyamvada Gopal’s dismissal were the ‘woke’ right.

      • AlTazim
        Posted July 15, 2020 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        I am just now learning about this Gopal controversy. Her rhetoric, and your example of “Brahmin lives”, sounds a lot like those fin de siecle anti-Semites of imperial Europe who, when Jews and non-Jews alike looked on with fear or alarm at their rhetoric which suggested massacre, stated that all they wanted was for the Jewish people to cease being Jewish and instead “become human.”

        That said, they had the right to say such things, Gopal has the right to say what she said, and Starkey has the right to say what he said. I’m with benjamin_schwarz, academics should generally have an absolute measure of freedom to expound crazy or very offensive theories. There may be dire consequences to such ideas, but I suppose we shall have to live or die with them so as to keep our society open rather than closed.

    • Posted July 15, 2020 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      No, AlTazim and Tim Harris. You have willfully misunderstood me. I did not suggest that Gopal’s and Starkey’s remarks were “equivalent,” as you put it. I said that Cambridge’s *correct* defense of Gopal did not–and should not–rest on an argument regarding the degree of the “offensiveness” of Gopal’s Tweet. It rested–and rightly should have rested–on the simple, blanket assertion that (to quote Cambridge): “the university defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial.” The freedom of legal speech from official censure, according to this point of view (a point of view I share), is absolute. It cannot be applied according to the degree of distastefulness, nor according to the degree of deviation from right thinking. I am not in any way defending Starkey’s remark, or asserting that his speech is any more or any less “offensive” than any other speech. That is not the point.

      • Posted July 16, 2020 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

        Very, very sorry, AlTazim–I didn’t mean to include you in that reply.

  14. Marou
    Posted July 16, 2020 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    A few points here:
    1. UK universities which used to be very select have opened their doors and as a result are now businesses. Damaging the brand, which Starkey has indubitably done, is a sackable offence.
    2. Had Starkey, who has long revelled in the sobriquet ‘the rudest man in England’ disclaimed his remarks sooner than he eventually did, he might have held on to his honours if not his reputation.
    3. Presumably an academic who extolled and promoted sexual activity with minors wouldn’t be confident of keeping his post. Quite right too many would think. Even in these times outraging public decency is no small matter.


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