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 Boyd D. Cathey Archive
Freedom of Speech, the "Brain Robbery" of Conservativism, and ISI
A Response to Christopher Long
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I have before me as I write this piece a letter from Mr. Christopher Long, President of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, dated March 2. It purports to be a letter to thank those who have encouraged the work of ISI to “teach a new generation to move forward that ‘one agenda’ that Ronald Reagan, Bill Buckley and Frank Meyer first espoused” (in Long’s handwritten note at the end). Actually, the letter is a soft-appeal for financial support from those who have in some way been associated with the ISI, either in the past or presently.

I have no problem receiving such solicitations for financial support; indeed, occasionally, when I have a few extra dollars (which is rare these days), I will contribute to political or religious organizations that I wish to assist. Normally, such communications I’ll read, then either file them away or toss them—no problem. But the content of Mr. Long’s letter sent me through the roof in disgust. Maybe I should have expected it given the collapse of what I might call “establishment Conservatism,” but, still, I didn’t think my old friends at ISI had gone that far over the cliff into politically-correct egalitarianism and worshipping at the altar of what Russell Kirk once called “democratism.” What Long writes in his March 2 letter strikes me as both a rejection of what the ISI once held to be true, and also of its own history.

I should state here in the interest of full disclosure that I am a former Richard M. Weaver Fellow, the fellowship awarded to me by ISI in 1972, and that I have been on ISI’s mailing list since before then. After finishing an M.A. at the University of Virginia, where I was a Jefferson Fellow, I spent a year, 1971-1972, in Mecosta, Michigan, as the late Russell Kirk’s assistant, and it was Kirk (and Frederick Wilhelmsen) who suggested that I might alter my graduate school plans, apply for a Weaver to study in Spain, which is what I did, earning my doctorate there in October 1975.

Over the years, I have been a faithful reader of The Intercollegiate Review, once ISI’s student-oriented journal of serious opinion (it recently changed format entirely). On a couple of occasions I have participated in ISI-related seminars, most notably one held back in early 1993 in Savannah on the legacy and thought of Richard Weaver, under the tutelage of the late Mel Bradford. I dare say such a seminar held today by ISI would probably not acknowledge the existence of Bradford, perhaps the best writer on and historian of Southern culture of the final quarter of the twentieth century, and certainly the finest prose stylist.

Most of Long’s letter is a defense of free speech in reference to the Charlie Hebdo attack and another attack in Copenhagen. He fully admits that the editors at Charlie Hebdo and Danish artist Lars Vilks had engaged in what he calls “the sin of ‘blasphemy’ for daring to sketch the Muslim prophet, Muhammed….” After that he continues with the following:

In the aftermath of the attack in Paris last month, Je suis Charlie became the rallying cry of demonstrators around the world. Yet are we in the West truly willing to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion….The terrorists who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Copenhagen seminar wanted to strike a blow against the very idea of free speech—an idea that our Founding Fathers and countless patriots throughout history struggled to win and preserve.

But Long doesn’t stop there. No; a page later he proceeds to harshly criticize those on the Right who were prescient enough to look deeper into the Charlie Hebdo incident, at the vicious and unprintably vile attacks on Christianity, and on the Catholic faith, in particular. He carefully omits any reference to the cover page of an earlier issue that pictured the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost sodomizing each other; he fails to note the countless other pornographic depictions of traditional Christianity, and specifically, Charlie Hebdo’s rabid hatred of the Catholic Church because of its opposition to abortion and same sex marriage:

…I was shocked by some responses from the Right. Although many condemned the attacks and the hostility toward the very idea of free speech that the attacks represented, others insinuated that the satirists had brought the violence upon themselves.

Indeed, they had! For years Charlie Hebdo has been a staunch advocate for “open borders” in France, that is, inviting just about any and all Muslims into the French homeland, to the point today that there are whole banlieues in most major French cities where Sharia law rules and French police try not to enter. Estimates are that with the declining birthrate among French citizens, within a few decades Muslims will be the dominant ethnic group in France (and several other European countries are not far behind).

Charlie Hebdo welcomed that change, endorsed it, all the while viciously assaulting the vestigial conservatism of the Catholic Church in France, that since the disaster that was Vatican II had assisted “the eldest daughter of the Church” to slink into both a poverty of Faith and a lack of real opposition to the ongoing decay and defection.

Unfortunately, for the editors at Charlie Hebdo those very Muslims they so readily invited in and embraced did not take kindly when the magazine decided to take a pot shot at their revered prophet. Unlike the supine response by most Catholics to the vile, pornographic bigotry aimed at their faith, Muslim zealots took violent and bloody action.

While condemning acts of terrorism, what happened with Charlie Hebdo it is certainly understandable.

Perhaps even more egregious in Long’s letter is his assertion that somehow the American Founders envisaged “freedom of speech” to include sickening displays of blasphemy and pornography, and attacks on the religious faith of citizens. Does anyone seriously believe such tripe? That the founders, even the most libertarian of them, would have included such practices in their idea of “freedom of speech,” stretches incredulity.

In 1789 almost every community in the new American nation had statutes of some sort forbidding blasphemy and the mockery of the Christian religion. Various states, dating from Colonial times, incorporated laws making such outrages punishable by everything from fines to prison time. Examining the court records of municipalities and counties, as I have done for many years, one finds countless examples of offenders being sentenced for violating such statutes.

The Founders fully understood that “freedom of speech” was limited; indeed, each state had laws erecting religious tests for holding public office. My own state, North Carolina, required office holders to be “of the Christian faith” until a post-War Between the States constitution revision in 1868.

For Long to assert the opposite flies in the face of the historical record, and, if I may say so, seems to latch onto the faulty Neoconservative view of American history, which, like its cousin on the hard Left, admits to its historical canon only those “facts” that fit the view that “America was founded on propositions of equality, freedom and democracy; all else is to be discarded or denigrated.”

Of course, this is nothing new. I mentioned that seminar in Savannah back in 1993, under the guiding hand of Mel Bradford. Mel was a dear friend and mentor; yet, most assuredly today he would not be permitted to write for Modern Age, which the ISI now runs. Back in 1976, Mel was an editorial advisor for the journal, and that same year his very impressive essay, “The Heresy of Equality,” appeared in its pages as an answer to the Jacobinism of Harry Jaffa. Bradford, you see, was what the Left (and the Neocon “right”) call a “neo-Confederate.” He had already been “dismissed” by the newly-turned National Review, and he had been blocked by the Neocons and condemned by the ugly and vicious writing of George Will when he was put forward as Reagan’s possible nominee to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. Alas, his most serious fault?—to have attacked Abraham Lincoln, albeit in a very scholarly fashion, but still, an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the Neocons.

Indeed, it is very likely that Russell Kirk, the founder of Modern Age back in the late 1950s, would be denied a platform in that journal today. When I worked with him in Mecosta, one of my tasks was to prepare issues of The University Bookman for publication. On more than one occasion, Kirk accepted reviews and articles on cognitive differences between the races, including an approving piece on Dr. Audrey Shuey (Randolph-Macon College), the author of The Testing of Negro Intelligence, which found that Negro IQ levels did not improve with enhanced schooling.

Kirk—the acknowledged “founder” of post-World War II Conservatism—rejected egalitarianism and liberal democracy outright, as anyone who cares to read his books and essays will discover. Not only that, he scornfully dismissed the globalists and increasing Israeli Lobby-control of “Conservatism, Inc.” Recall his famous remark about the Neocons that too often they seemed to mistake Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States, which merited the proverbial charge of “anti-semitism” from Midge Decter.

More recently, my good friend Dr. Paul Gottfried was dropped by Christopher Long from the editorial advisory board of Modern Age, where he had been a fixture for a number of years. Paul is an accomplished scholar, whose brilliant trilogy After Liberalism, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, is a classic and profound diagnostic of—if I may paraphrase Chesterton—“what’s wrong with the world.” What was Paul’s sin? As president of the H. L. Mencken Society, he participates in a group of intellectuals and scholars that occasionally discusses cognitive disparities and racial differences. Oh, my—it seems that “freedom of speech” for Christopher Long only applies for “some” folks.

The appeal to “freedom of speech” as an absolute turns history on its head. Moreover, the appeal in that March 2 letter addressed to me demonstrates the utter corruption of what goes under the name as “modern conservatism.”

I am not ashamed at all of my Weaver Fellowship, or the many years of association with the ISI, or reading Modern Age. But I do lament the blatant hypocrisy and the collapse of serious thinking and the willingness to throw long-time associates “under the bus” in the name of a surrender to political expediency and an ersatz philosophy that in no way is genuinely “conservative.”

As Aaron Wolf so eloquently put it in the March issue of Chronicles magazine, “Je ne suis pas Charlie.” To the ahistorical advocates of unlimited “free speech” on one hand, and the Muslim extremists that they coddle, I say “a pox on both of their houses.”

If you want to see a real, vibrant response to Islamic extremism, go buy or rent the film The Day of the Siege, chronicling the famous siege if Vienna in 1683. Back then European Christians—specifically Catholics—were willing to defend the religious truths that they believed worth fighting and, yes, dying, for. They did not die for some nebulous “freedom of speech,” but rather for the liberty to accept God and believe as He prescribed.

Our blasphemous and defecated culture claims “freedom of speech” when it is convenient, but it rejects the necessary underpinnings of truth and order that make such a foundation tenable.

No, Mr. Long, you will get no contribution from me.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, ISI 
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  1. Dr. Cathey has called attention to a problem that needs to be more widely known. ISI illustrates the quandary of what was once an independent Right trying to survive in today’s PC culture without funding from the usual suspects. Christopher Gray’s example should serve as a warning to those who wish to remain what ISI used to be in less than favorable circumstances. By the way, going on ISI’s website is similar to being bombarded by the PR turned out by the Republican National Committee. So much for the “permanent things.”

    • Replies: @Boyd D. Cathey
  2. @paul gottfried

    I thank Dr. Gottfried for his comments. He has seen–and suffered from– this process of “conservative degradation” first hand over the years while daring to maintain traditional ideas on egalitarianism, liberal democracy, and tradition. “Mainstream conservatism” these days is the not-that-far-removed twin of Leftism and its push for across-the-board equality, which increasingly encompasses same sex marriage and worship at the altar of the radical civil rights Revolution. Sadly, journals and organizations that once were clarion symbols of sanity, tradition, and realism, have succumbed, in effect denying their earlier history and spinelessly recanting views that a Russell Kirk thought essential. The “conservative world” has been turned upside down, and the result has been its (deserved) rout and the continued and rapid decline of our culture. If all we have is a Rush Limbaugh or Fox News or Wall Street Journal, then there is no REAL opposition to the continuing devastation because the basic premises of these worthies is essentially the same as those of the egalitarian Left….B.Cathey

  3. I distinctly recall “Blasphemy” as a violation in New Jersey Law until the criminal code was revised around 1980. It was a dead letter, never enforced but it was there, a reminder that not so long a go, even New Jersey had respect for it’s traditions and the faith of it’s citizens.

    • Replies: @R. J. Stove
  4. Stogumber says:

    Might Dr. Gottlieb perhaps explain the allusion to “Christopher Gray”, please? Is this the architectural historian? And what happened to him?

  5. @Thomas O. Meehan

    I cannot prove this, nor am I a lawyer, but I have a clear (if alas not nearly clear enough) memory that Australian governments – both at a federal and at a state level – kept various anti-blasphemy laws on the books till an astonishingly late date. In other words, 1993 or thereabouts. Does any reader of these words have relevant information?

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