A few years ago, a Polish statesman and philosophy professor with a hard-to-spell name, Ryszard Legutko, captured the imagination of many with his claim that “liberal democracy,” as it was being practiced in the west, is turning totalitarian. How could democracy begin to mimic Communism, minus Soviet-style brutality? It was an intriguing thesis.
Like many readers of Legutko, I was mesmerized by his book, “The Demon in Democracy.” In 2016, when the book was published, democracy-turned-despotic still seemed a remote possibility, more like a small dark cloud on a distant horizon.
This past week, on the campus of Middlebury College, students and faculty proved Legutko’s point without him having to speak a word. Actually, he didn’t get to deliver the address that Middlebury invited him to give because after his plane landed, he received notice that he had been “disinvited.” The same campus that assaulted Charles Murray a few years before missed the chance to redeem its reputation as a place of academic inquiry.
What was Legutko’s crime? He’s not a big fan of multiculturalism, this is true. He holds the same traditional views on marriage to which faithful Catholics have subscribed for centuries. These and other thought transgressions mark him guilty. He must be silenced. Punished.
“He’s a f-cking homophobe,” students protested. Marginalized students would have their “academic freedom” compromised because Legutko’s presence causes them so much pain they cannot learn. Professors at Middlebury declined to exercise the courage of right-sizing students’ perspectives on the nature of academic learning, which always includes a variety of viewpoints. An audio tape of the student-faculty meeting records professors docilely agreeing with students, promising never to make this mistake again. “You should be outraged,” one adds.
Legutko was eventually ushered into one professor’s class, where about 40 students got the privilege of hearing him. Small ripples of applause could be heard as Legutko made comparisons and drew irrefutable parallels between liberal democracy and communist practice and ideology.
The vilification of those who differ, the use of social engineering and social control to punish, dividing all issues into victims and oppressors—what Legutko describes is no longer a small cloud on the horizon. It’s the air we are breathing. Legutko simply does the work that only someone raised in a communist state can do well, which is to name “liberal democracy” as old-school totalitarianism in modern garb.
Sadly, the larger consortium of Middlebury students missed out on hearing a true intellectual whose breadth of knowledge in history, economics, philosophy, and religion would normally send a person scrambling to take notes. Legutko is the embodiment of a genuinely educated person.
Legutko has been a prophetic voice warning that liberal democracy is a rigid orthodoxy determined to create a political mechanism for selecting people, organizations, and ideas that subscribe to its grand march of progress. He traces in detail how a hyper-focus on “equality” becomes a most clever means to garner power for the state. Sexual politics, he explains, is the major weapon used to destroy the old order and the instrument to forge a new one in which the individual is “coerced into the freedom” of the libertine life.
In decades past, professors from western universities were quietly smuggled into Soviet classrooms. Now, we are the ones spiriting the divergent voice into our midst through the back door, hoping we are not called out by a new version of secret police.
The irony must be particularly rich for Legutko. The students and faculty of Middlebury College provided a live demonstration that profoundly proved his treatise: only a narrow band of thought will be allowed in the brave new world being crafted in the name of “democracy.”
Legutko never got the hearing he deserved at Middlebury. But his rejection proves the utter truth he writes, “In its essence, liberalism is unabashedly aggressive because it is determined to hunt down all non-liberal agents and ideas, which it treats as a threat to itself and to humanity.”
When he’s invited back to this country, to some American university courageous enough to practice academic inquiry, perhaps he can address the question behind the question: so where, exactly, shall we go these days to learn?