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JOHN RAINE: It is Time to Resist a New Totalitarianism

On 24th January 2024, the Hoover Institute at Stanford University hosted an interview “The Treason of the Intellectuals” [1] by Peter Robinson of historian Niall Ferguson in the Uncommon Knowledge series. This was a stark reminder that in 1924 in the German Weimar Republic, university academics (with lawyers and doctors) were contributing to the development of extreme antisemitic policy used later by the Nazi regime. The politicisation of German universities such as Heidelberg and Tübingen during this period led eventually to their losing their standing as the world’s very best.


In a strange way, history seems to be repeating itself with a different politicisation of universities throughout the Western World. An ideological shift has occurred away from institutional political neutrality, and away from a focus on excellence in teaching and research, towards the critical social justice (CSJ) politics of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but including a new race-based oppressor ranking where whites, Asians and Jews are the oppressors. The recent USA Congressional hearing involving the Presidents Gay, Kornbluth and Magill of Harvard, MIT and UPenn, respectively, into antisemitism on university campuses, was followed by the resignations of Gay and Magill (although Gay’s case deflected towards being framed around her mediocre publication record containing multiple instances of plagiarism). More importantly, these events helped to lift the lid off a septic tank of DEI politics that has now affected the reputation of America’s finest universities.


The ironically oppressive and exclusionary DEI politics in Western universities are more sinister and less easily overcome than an isolated movement because of their very pervasiveness. Adherents have a messianic belief in the rightness of their cause, and there have been numerous instances of academic staff being “cancelled’ (loss of advancement and funding, even employment) for refusing to undergo DEI training or otherwise align with their institution’s DEI policies. Repression of freedom of speech is now widespread.


Students are also very much the targets of this movement. In February 2024, Shaun Christie, a final-year Law student, has been provisionally expelled from the Christian North-West University, South Africa, for objecting to a compulsory LGBT orientation session for first year students because they weren’t given the same opportunity to speak of their Christian faith. Several hundred first-year students walked out of the session, a number later telling media LGBT was being pushed as an ideology. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKugbv6jp9o)


Russian academic Alexander Barvinok [2] has likened the new DEI regime to the oppressive environment he experienced in communist Russia before emigrating to the USA. In this changed environment, a reminder is again due of the 1967 University of Chicago Kalven Committee Report [3] which reaffirmed the role and functions of the university in the modern world. The Kalven Report states, in particular:


“To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures.”


In the USA the green shoots of pushback against totalitarian DEI institutional politics are now appearing, but in Australasia we appear to be embracing DEI, if anything, more strongly. I have earlier [4] noted the critical importance of New Zealand universities maintaining political neutrality at the institutional level while fostering open debate on all matters within the academic community. In our case, CSJ/DEI pressures have come from both gender and identity politics, the latter significantly through university affiliations to Te Ao Māori (the Māori world view) and the Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


Senior staff appointments that meet DEI objectives have not necessarily met criteria of high academic merit. Indeed, Grant Robertson, just appointed as Vice Chancellor at the University of Otago, is known for being the Deputy Prime Minister of the last Government (which championed DEI causes) rather than for his academic standing. He has a BA(Hons) in Political Studies. As bluntly pointed out by Rob McCulloch [5], such appointments show New Zealand in a mediocre light. Our universities will maintain their international standing only if they refocus unambiguously on excellence in teaching and research and have the leadership with the academic credentials and experience to drive this.


Not confined to education, DEI pressure is also widespread in business, an example among many being the threatened dismissal of real estate agent Janet Dickson who refused to attend mandatory Te Ao Māori and Te Reo training.


Why has New Zealand been fast to adopt DEI politics, but slow to moderate them? A key factor has to be the lack of well-researched investigative journalism where current issues are examined from all angles. Instead, the media mostly deliver opinion pieces that thrust apparently non-negotiable positions at us, for example whether it be on climate change, education for young people around gender identity and related medical interventions, or around the Treaty.


Over the past 20 years, failures in our education system and our left-leaning media have resulted in too little critical appraisal, and consequently too little informed public discussion of key issues or of egregious aspects of political activism. We need another public media outlet which is not philosophically harnessed to the former Labour Government - Australia’s Sky News and The Spectator only occasionally carry NZ-related articles. In New Zealand, there are few who present counterviews to the mainstream media (MSM) narratives other than Sean Plunket on the Platform, and Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB providing counterpoint to TVNZ’s John Campbell. Breaking Views NZ, the Bassett, Brash and Hide website, the BFD, Reality Check Radio (RCR), and various private mail-outs, help counter DEI doctrines but these capture far fewer readers than the MSM.


The MSM should feature excellent well-researched content such as Professor Elizabeth Rata’s interviews on the Treaty Principles debate with the NZ Herald’s Thomas Coughlan, and with Paul Brennan on RCR. Another vital example is the Rodney Hide interview of Professor Paul Moon on his review [6] of the misleading, historically highly inaccurate, and decolonisation-focused Human Rights Commission Maranga Mai Report on the Doctrine of Discovery. (Incidentally, the HRC refused to reveal the author names for Maranga Mai.) Vibrantly refuting disinformation, such interviews underline the need for David Seymour’s Treaty Principles Bill to have wide and informative public discussion, regardless of whether it achieves any change.


New Zealand society is overdue for a clean-out of DEI politics, particularly from our education institutions, and from Government ministries. Universities have been fostering DEI agendas for more than 20 years and must regain their neutrality if they are not to travel further down the same path that Germany universities took 100 years ago. Restoring balance and quality journalism in the media is critically urgent. In our propaganda-heavy environment we have been sliding towards a form of cultural totalitarianism that must be avoided.


John Raine is an Emeritus Professor of Engineering and held Deputy and Pro Vice Chancellor roles in three New Zealand Universities.


References

1. Niall Ferguson “The Treason of the Intellectuals” – Hoover Institute interview with Peter Robinson 23 January 2024.

2. Conor Friedersdorf “Why This Maths Professor Objects to Diversity Statements” The Atlantic December 2023. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/12

3. Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action, University of Chicago, 11th November 1967

4. John Raine, “Can our Universities Rescue Themselves from Politicisation?”, Bassett Brash and Hide, 15th December 2023. https://www.bassettbrashandhide.com/post/john-raine-can-our-universities-rescue-themselves-from-politicisation

5. Rob McCulloch: “Vice Chancellor Grant Robertson? He's not Qualified & Does not Deserve the Job. What an Awful Message to Send Kiwi Students: NZ is not a Meritocracy” Bassett Brash and Hide, 20th October 2024 https://www.bassettbrashandhide.com/post/rob-macculloch-vice-chancellor-grant-robertson-he-s-not-qualified-does-not-deserve-the-job-what?

6. Paul Moon, “Challenging History: A Review of the Human Rights Commission report Mai Maranga Mai! The dynamics and impacts of white supremacy, racism, and colonisation upon tangata whenua in Aotearoa New Zealand, on the Doctrine of Discovery”, Auckland University of Technology, 2024.


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69 Comments


In reply to Cameron Hunter:

  1. Many DEI initiatives have began with good liberal intentions but critical social justice politics have caused a transformation into dogma, which is when more balance is called for. It is a stretch to call this totalitarianism now, but the level of intolerance in this movement is a real concern. Nowhere am I suggesting that some other totalitarianism should be there instead. On the contrary, we need a healthy democracy in NZ.

  2. The MSM that are Government funded should show more impartiality. To some extent they have been bound by the requirements of the PIJF but their journalists/commentators also largely lean to the left. I do not advocate State censorship of editorial freedom or academic debat…

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If indeed the time has come to replace what Mr. Raine believes is a form of totalitarianism, it is an even worse time to replace it with another. While he articulates a compelling case for government to moderate academia, MSM and broadcast TV on the grounds that these have become too diverse, equality focused and inclusive, such attributes appear to be the antithesis of the totalitarian exclusivity and oppression he professes to abhor. Lamenting MSM for his perceived ' left wing' stance, then cataloguing a series of unashamedly 'right wing' protagonists for their stance is counter productive. Both have their place in democratic society and equally serve its function. Advocating state censure over the editorial freedom of the press and…

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Replying to

Cameron, this needs a reply that I will put in the main comments stream. JR

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What a thoroughly welcome respite from the opportunistic hypocritical tripe that Rob MacCullouch spun in his recent article on the same subject. BRAVO John!


Cheers from Colin Maxwell

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Pooh Bah, with meat cleaver in hand, quality academic.

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Thomas Jefferson's quote 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance' has been proved again. In the West we have taken our eye off the ball for the last few decades as the fifth column has marched through our institutions, so to speak. If we act quickly enough our strong men will be able to bring us back from the precipice..

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