Unsafe Spaces

We should be designating specific Unsafe Spaces within university campuses. These would be places where people – including professors and students – could meet to discuss any topic at all, in any way they chose to speak, in English or any other language. With a view to weather, some of these places would be located indoors. I further propose that smoking be permitted, as a pregnant symbol of our traditional freedoms.

But I am not naïve. Even Unsafe Spaces need to be patrolled. This has been the human experience since Adam. The old-fashioned, uniformed police would be allowed in, to provide security against, e.g., violent, progressive “demonstrators” or thugs, who would be escorted back to their Safe Spaces, or to jail, as appropriate.

How would these Unsafe Spaces be created? In the usual way, I suppose. The federal government or some other huge bureaucratic authority would cut off funding to any university that failed to create places, where teaching and learning could be openly pursued.

Alternatively, they could just cut off funding. Third-rate and tenth-rate universities would close, to great public advantage; the rest would return to that ancient happy arrangement, where people who wanted universities funded would be free to fund them. Given tax savings, they’d have more money at their disposal.

Under the new regime at large, campus radicals would tend to disappear, and surviving universities would tend to become, as they once were, Unsafe Spaces throughout: where challenging and difficult, even eccentric ideas might be espoused, and debated; even in the cafeterias, and especially in the lecture halls by professors who, once they had tenure, could not be fired.

Salaries would drop, too, among the teachers – given the competition for remaining positions – and non-teaching staff, especially “administrators,” would be laid off in droves. This would, of course, make tuition more affordable, and improve academic standards at the same time. For of old, schools had almost no administrative personnel, and teachers shared out the necessary duties.

Verily, as I find from reading some history, there must be an inverse relation between cost and productivity in all educational endeavors. I write this from the Province of Ontario, where for decades we have had about the highest per capita spending on education in the whole world, and some of the lowest standards – driven constantly lower by new spending programs to address our innumerable failures.

A Heated Debate by Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1800 [Southeby’s]

The views expressed above mark me as a libertarian, but really I am not. I am, on extended self-examination, rather a Christian Reactionary. I only embrace libertarian proposals as good means to the good end of a higher civilization; and in the confidence that the higher we go, the more Christian we will inevitably become. For all profound thinking leads that way.

Where, on the other hand, libertarian means can only lead to bad ends, I’m for despotism. For instance, I am for the despotic enforcement of laws against murder, physical assault, theft, arson, and a few other things. Too, I favor the social enforcement of the universal principle of “do as you would be done by.” God made this law, which everyone who is not a psychotic can easily understand. You don’t even have to be Christian.

And as Chesterton, among many others, points out, once such a Big Law is ignored, a society becomes infested with little red-ant laws, that start biting everyone for no particular reason. This is how “political correctness” got started, and how it spreads — through a society that has lost touch with its own most elementary principles, and where motherhood and fatherhood are “progressively” obviated.

Children aren’t raised to fear the Lord. Soon they don’t fear anything, except the loss of some morally demeaning pleasure, and become in effect juvenile delinquents. And if they weren’t that already in high school, they will be by the time they have graduated from a Safe Space university.

Moreover, since almost everyone today passes through one drive-in university or another, instead of the few who could genuinely benefit, we have what we see from the political class down: delinquency with the pretense of knowledge, goaded by vague and contradictory notions of “democracy” and “human rights.”

We have people never trained to think anything through, leaping to their grimly predictable conclusions, with the strange complacency of a seething mob, animated by demagogues, and monitored by pollsters.

This is exactly what “higher education” was meant to prevent; and why, in the past, universities were a conservative force. They were places where truth and consequences could be thought through, justifying God’s ways to Man. It is why, when she had great worldly power, the Church had always been favorably disposed towards high learning.

Now, the democratic idea of a university is to take people who are stupid and make them smart; to give the ignorant knowledge. But I tend to entertain undemocratic ideas. To my mind, the purpose is to take people already smart and give them discipline. To knock the blather and nonsense out of them, rather than instilling more.

The difference in result should be obvious to all observers. The contemporary university turns out people who are smug. Formerly, it turned out people who were humbled by encounter with manifestations of truth, beauty, goodness. The new values training for a practical function; the old was concerned with educating “the whole man.”

For more than a generation, universities have been judged by their success in getting people the higher-paying jobs. But that is what technical schools are for. The purpose of a university was to make that man (or woman) wiser, more thoughtful, broader in approach, regardless what job he might take later. To equip him as guide.

It seems to me we have reached an impasse, where we’d be better off to destroy the monster we have created, and start over building civilization again. And that a plausible way to start might be with a few Unsafe Spaces.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.