Massey academic laments deplatforming

Jonathan Tracy, a classics lecturer at Massey writes:

As a humanities lecturer in Classical Studies at , I am disturbed by the recent push toward censorship – or, in the current euphemism, “no-platforming” or “de-platforming” – of dissenting viewpoints, both at Massey and in New Zealand and the Western world as a whole.

It is interesting he explicitly recognises it has happened at Massey. Presumably he rejects the official propaganda that the decision had nothing to do with the views of Dr Brash, and was just a security issue.

This illiberal trend is a betrayal of the heritage of free thought, inquiry, speech, and debate bequeathed to us from the ancient world. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the key distinguishing feature of life under good emperors – as opposed to bad, tyrannical emperors – is that a good emperor leaves you “free to think what you like and to say what you think”.

We owe Tacitus a lot. A lot of what we know about the Roman Empire comes from him.

Nero’s reaction was a gag order banning Lucan from all public speaking, including recitation of his works. Incensed by this attack on the free expression of his poetic voice, Lucan ended up joining a conspiracy to assassinate Nero. The warning for us today seems clear. If heretics, misfits, and troublemakers are denied the right to communicate peacefully with interested audiences – and that is exactly what “no platform” means – they may eventually feel justified in resorting to more drastic measures. acts as a vital safety valve for the discontented members of society.

And the reason hundreds or thousands of people are willing to pay money to hear Lauren Southern speak, is basically because so many people try so hard to deny her the ability to speak.

From the early Church onwards, some Christian fundamentalists stridently insisted on a complete break from this whole classical culture, demanding that “no platform” should be given to such dangerously pagan authors. One famous example was the Church Father Tertullian, with his dismissive rhetorical question, “What has Athens (i.e; pagan Greek philosophy) got to do with Jerusalem?”

It would have been very easy for the monks just to let Classics die, on grounds of its obvious deviance from the ideological consensus of medieval Europe. But we would be much poorer today as a civilization if all the beautiful, dissident, dissonant voices from classical antiquity had indeed been systematically and permanently “no-platformed” into silence during the Middle Ages. The Renaissance would certainly never have happened, nor – in all probability – would the scientific revolution or the rise of modern democracy.

Instead, the monks made the active choice to pass on to future generations – including us – the perspectives of classical authors with whom they often vehemently disagreed. They had the full courage of their convictions, believing that if their Christian faith was true, it could stand the test of exposure to non-Christian – and even anti-Christian – opinions and arguments. And thanks to their enlightened stance, we continue to read and be enriched by Homer, Plato, Ovid, Lucretius et al.

An interesting observation that had not occurred to me before.

As a modern institution of higher learning, Massey should strive to be at least as open-minded and tolerant of diverse viewpoints as a monastery from the so-called Dark Ages. After all, as long as we can discern the truth clearly, love it passionately, and defend it vigorously, we have nothing to fear from open debate; and if we can’t do those things, then why are we claiming to be a university at all?

That is Massey’s challenge?

Will it retract and apologise for the ban on Don Brash, and labelling his advocacy hate speech?

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