a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
Annotated by: Rebecca Travalja ’19 and Travis Sanderson ’19
On Wednesday at 4:30 PM, the Alexander Hamilton Forum at Middlebury will host a lecture by Ryszard Legutko, Professor of Philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Prof. Legutko is an “accomplished” scholar of classical political philosophy. His most recent book is The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies. It has been hailed as “the indispensable book about the current crisis of liberalism” by Harvard University’s Adrian Vermeule, Ralph S. Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law. Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen calls it “the most insightful work of political philosophy written during this still young, but troubled century” – a work of “scintillating brilliance.” This book is the subject of Prof. Legutko’s talk at Middlebury.
In addition to his work as a scholar, Prof. Legutko is a Member of the European Parliament representing Poland as a member of the right wing PiS party, or Law and Justice party, which has been working to erode Poland’s democracy and has engaged in xenophobic rhetoric. Over the past few years, Freedom House has downgraded Poland’s freedom ranking as a result of PiS’s increasing control over the electoral commission, politicization of the judiciary, and legislation against claims of Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Who better to teach us about the crisis of democracy than someone whose party is actively working to disrupt democracy? He has served in the Polish government as Minister of Education, when he called student activists “spoilt snots” and was subsequently ordered to pay damages, and [as] Secretary of State. With Britain’s Syed Salah Kamall, Prof. Legutko now leads the third-largest group in the European Parliament, representing millions of people across Europe.
As a young man, Legutko defied the dictates of the Soviet-backed tyranny in Poland when he served as editor of an illegal scholarly journal, Arka, which does not excuse him from criticism of his subsequent homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia. He risked much for liberty and has a unique perspective on what it is like living under a tyrannical regime, as do many activists and figures who are not virulently homophobic and disparaging of womxn.
You will not be surprised, then, to learn that Prof. Legutko has recently addressed audiences of faculty and students at major U.S. universities without any controversy, and that he will speak to students at Colby College on Tuesday evening, all of which is irrelevant to the discussion of what happens on our campus and does not mean Middlebury students have no right to feel infuriated.
At Middlebury, some would prefer that we not
have the chance to hear and to question Prof. Legutko and other heterodox scholars. give a platform and an audience to bigots … yet again.
The Hamilton Forum takes a different view. We treat all Middlebury students as independent thinkers with a right to and capacity for free and open inquiry unless they disagree with us or care about political and social justice, in which case we label them snowflakes and describe them as the real threats to free speech on campus, rather than the actual illiberal politician whose party has presided over the decline of freedom of speech in Poland. We are committed to viewpoint diversity and freedom of thought. We believe that through the competition of ideas, each of us can better understand our own deepest convictions and make progress in the pursuit of truth, since some of us don’t understand homophobia is bad unless we go out of our way to invite homophobic politicians to campus. We believe that Middlebury students deserve to hear a multiplicity of perspectives, including the views of influential scholars and specifically of far-right politicians who have said gay people are not discriminated against, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, with whom we might disagree strongly.
In short, the Hamilton Forum has no ideological litmus tests or moral backbone. Rather, the Forum prefers to go out of its way to violate its own mission statement to engage the community in discussions about the “creation and development of the American polity” by inviting an authoritarian and xenophobic politician from Poland. That’s why, this past year, the Hamilton Forum hosted the most prominent Marxist economist in the country, Richard Wolff. We also hosted a learned critic of President Trump’s judicial nominees; he denounced Brett Kavanaugh in the strongest possible terms from the Hamilton Forum’s podium. For next fall, we have invited one of America’s foremost civil rights leaders, none of which is relevant to the discussion about whether or not this particular speaker should be invited to campus.
This week, Prof. Legutko will speak on the relationship between liberty, democracy, and totalitarianism. Does western liberal democracy provide a one-size-fits-all model for the rest of the world? Should it? Is it possible for a people to maintain its traditional way of life and values while embracing western-style democracy and equal opportunity for womxn and gay people? Are there totalitarian temptations in free societies? These are the sorts of questions Legutko will tackle in his lecture.
Perhaps you have already seen a number of quotations from Prof. Legutko being circulated around campus. Some are doctored and others accurate, some in context and others not. Many are taken directly from his work and this statement is here to discredit those criticizing his talk and our involvement in it. For my part, I find in these quotations the words of a man who has been sharply critical of the methods of activists in the EU, like believing in gender equality (“feminism”) and gay people deserve rights (“homosexual activists’), and who holds the same position on same-sex marriage once held by President Obama, President Clinton, and Secretary Clinton, whose records deserve equally critical assessments and should not be used as a heavy-handed and logically fallacious reason to excuse Legutko of homophobia.
Although this is not the subject of his talk, it is up to you to decide whether you would like pose frank questions of Prof. Legutko on the topic of same-sex marriage and gay rights. This could lead to an interesting exchange about the role of western values in Poland, the most Catholic country in Europe, a land at the edge of the West, and a nation not fully persuaded that western-style liberalization spells Progress an exchange that could have happened with any other Polish thinker, perhaps one that is not a bigot, and is not the purpose of the Hamilton Forum anyway, which is ostensibly supposed to be about American politics. No questions are out of bounds at Hamilton Forum events. Tough and incisive questions are the coin of the realm unless they come in the form of protest unacceptable to the PSCI department. I look forward to seeing you on Wednesday because I expect you to sit through your own dehumanization for the sake of the ‘intellectual development’ of others.