Victor Davis Hanson and BPALC’s bad-faith grift

John Davidian, Contributing Writer

Next month, Victor Davis Hanson, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover institution, will visit Bucknell. The Bucknell Program for American Leadership and Citizenship (BPALC) invited him to give two talks during his March 24th visit, one based on his recent book, “The Case for Trump,” and the other called “America’s Identity in the World: The Korean War, 70 Years On.” The former is a standalone event and the latter is part of BPALC’s “Questioning American Identities” series.

Victor Davis Hanson seeks to elevate and normalize racist ideas in academia. BPALC’s affiliates will demand that he be taken seriously because he offers a ‘diverse’ perspective. These demands are disingenuous. They are made in bad faith in the purest sense of the phrase, meaning they purport to do one thing – support universal free speech – while actively doing its opposite: in this case, silencing criticism and resurrecting a past in which hateful and exclusionary ideologies were given more time and space to be cultivated and aired. It is a narrow and self-serving conception of free speech that privileges bombast and vitriol and shuts out meaningful critique as being hostile to free speech.

Hanson is a prolific writer who tries to intellectualize white nationalism. He’s done so for years. In 2002, he wrote an essay for City Journal asking of his fellow Californians, “do we want Mexifornia?” In that essay he claimed with anecdotal evidence that “unchecked illegal immigration and multiculturalism” are a “lethal mix” that cause crime and foment anti-American sentiment. More recently, in a October 2019 interview with Die Weltwoche, he explained his racist belief that California now resembles a “third world country,” thanks in part to the immigrant populations who “live in trailers,” individuals whom he suggests are dirty, poor and violent. In 2013, he wrote a column for the National Review explaining, based also on anecdotal evidence, his racist belief that young black men are inherently dangerous, and that white children should be taught to keep their guard up when in their company. Hanson advances these views not based on rigorous evidence, but on racist and white nationalist ideological preferences.

BPALC states on its website that it is firmly committed to “viewpoint diversity” and has a “special interest in supporting lecturers and other opportunities that offer perspectives not often heard at the modern liberal arts college — particularly conservative, classical liberal, culturally traditional, or other ‘off-diagonal’ views.” In this spirit they invite people like Hanson. After almost four years as a student, I know that what Hanson and other conservative BPALC guests argue for is not materially different from what many students and some faculty say here on a daily basis. But as Hanson’s visit approaches, it’s worth at least pausing to consider what “viewpoint diversity” means and whether it is a premise that BPALC asserts in good faith.

Viewpoint diversity is usually presented as a universal good, but that understanding needs qualification. As philosopher Jason Stanley has pointed out, hearing different perspectives does not automatically lead to knowledge production. Such thinking is fallacious because it incorrectly assumes that everyone is willing to argue in good faith and seek common knowledge. But demagogues exist. And those who fetishize “viewpoint diversity” fail to account for these malignant actors who pervert public discourse – or, in other words, argue in bad faith. If I were, for example, a geologist who believed the Earth was flat, I wouldn’t expect to be invited to speak here. It wouldn’t matter how cogently I could make the case that the Earth was flat, nor how many humans or bots on the internet agreed with me; it would remain a ridiculous idea that would not be worth paying someone to teach to undergraduate students. Just as Hanson suggests that black men are dangerous based on scant evidence, I, a flat-earther, suggest that the world is flat based on scant evidence. Would inviting me to speak on campus foster a culture of viewpoint diversity? Absolutely. Would it make anyone smarter? No.

But Hanson, unlike the flat-earther, is a real person who was invited to come speak at Bucknell. His “book talk on Trump” will not be an academic exercise because Hanson is not a scholar of political science or modern U.S. history. He is a trained expert in classics and ancient military history. When Hanson speaks and writes about Donald Trump, he does so only in his capacity as a pundit. His punditry, while not unlike that of other commentators on the political right, should not be conflated with actual scholarship and his viewpoint should not be given added credence merely for being “off-diagonal.” Whether Hanson should be allowed to speak on campus is an altogether separate conversation than that of whether he should be taken seriously and treated as an authority. He should not, and neither should BPALC.

As it did in November when Heather Mac Donald came to campus, BPALC will gaslight the Bucknell community under the guise of “viewpoint diversity” and express performative outrage at those who ask questions or offer critique. BPALC uses viewpoint diversity as a way to open up space for racism, sexism, white nationalism, xenophobia and other ideologies that, for good reason, have been widely criticized in higher education today. It’s a bad faith exercise. College campuses are places where we articulate ways to make the world better and more just, not where we attempt to reinstate the injustices of the past.

If you want to hear racists spew drivel, there are other platforms you could consult. YouTube would be a start.

But college is for getting an education.

(Visited 472 times, 1 visits today)