As someone who was de-platformed at the university of Western Australia in 2018, when about to launch my book Transgender: One Shade of Grey, I concur with Claire Lehmann (The Australian, 23 March, 2021) that “a moral and political monoculture” is antithetical to “academic freedom and open inquiry [that] are foundational principles on which the modern university is built.”
However, I go further. What happens on university campuses today is an omen as to what society could be like in the future.
Lehmann was commenting on the spate of open letters censuring academics:
Last month, more than 100 academics at the University of Melbourne signed an open letter demanding “swift and decisive” action against one of their colleagues. At the end of 2019, 40 law academics from the University of Queensland signed an open letter calling for disciplinary action against their dean. Again in 2019, 50 academics at the University of Sydney signed an open letter directed to their president, rejecting a new degree program that was in negotiation.
Lehmann cited the Melbourne University of Associate Professor Holly Lawford-Smith, who:
‘…set up a website for women to anonymously report conflict in women’s only spaces. Concerned by the uncritical acceptance of “gender identity theory”, Lawford-Smith built a website in order to collect anonymous stories from women impacted by having to share change rooms, fitting rooms, bathrooms, shelters, rape refuges, prisons and so on with biological males who now identify as female. Naturally, Lawford-Smith’s website has been described as transphobic by her peers. Yet the open letter that calls for her punishment also denounces her academic coursework on feminism because she does not hold appropriate credentials in “gender studies”.’
It is one thing to have open and even heated debate on issues, it is another to apply only one ideological rule issues, in this case gender idenity rights that replace sex-based rights, particularly the rights of women, and shut down debate.
As I said in my book, the mark of a modern tolerant democracy is respect for the inherent right to freedom of belief, religion and speech, that is, the tolerance of all ideas. The neutral state (or university) is essential for keeping the peace in a diverse, pluralist society.
I said in Chapter 19 of Transgender: One Shade of Grey:
The modern tolerant democracy and codifying of inherent rights didn’t just happen. They were forged from … the 16th and 17th century Wars of Religion … that cost millions of lives in Europe and Britain. The combatants were influenced by rival religious beliefs, although the divisions were not solely religious and, in most cases, religion was only one contributor to the conflict.
These wars ended with a series of treaties, which profoundly affected the shape of emerging democracies over subsequent centuries. Either people tolerated each other’s beliefs and lived alongside each other peacefully, or countries would face endless wars.
“Tolerance” … derives from the Latin, tolerantia, meaning to bear with, or endure with …
A tolerant democracy has no established official religion or belief. The state remains neutral and maintains an open public square in which all beliefs and faiths can be held and manifested. Or, if there is an established religion, the state does not discriminate against other religions or beliefs.
As British philosopher and theologian Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has explained, a tolerant state “aims not so much at truth but at peace. It is a political necessity, not a religious imperative, and it arises when people have lived through the alternative: the war of all against all.”
If today’s “moral and political monoculture” is not fought in the universities today, then it threatens to become an imposed, secular state religion in the future. It threatens to devolve liberal democracy into authoritarianism, threatening a legal and cultural war of all against all.
You can read more about gender identity laws usurping sex based rights in my chapter “Gender fluid laws: cancelling sex, women, parental rights and threatening democracy”, from the book ‘Cancel Culture – and the Left’s Long March’ edited by Kevin Donnelly. Publication due next month.
Pre order your copy today.