Is College "The Incubator of the Nanny State"? Nick Gillespie Talks with FIRE


In a short yet wide-ranging discussion with some of the folks from the great Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), I talk about my experiences as an undergraduate (1981-1985 at Rutgers University) and graduate student in literature (1988-1993 at Temple and SUNY-Buffalo) when it comes to shifting conceptions of free speech on campuses. The short version: At some point during the 1980s, the idea of the university as a place where you not only could discuss all sorts of crazy shit but were encouraged to argue and disagree and seek uncomfortable truths was replaced by the idea that dialogue was little more than a form of repressive tolerance that maintained a stultifying status quo. The idea of the university as a center for debate was replaced with the idea of the university as an incubator of the nanny state, where orthodoxy and conformity is the order of the day.

Along the way, I spill the beans about some of my intellectual heroes, at least one of whom may surprise regular Reason readers:

The people who are my intellectual heroes are really people like Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek. And the other person, who I had the honor of working with SUNY Buffalo, was Leslie Fiedler, who was a renegade leftwing thinker who had been kind of dispatched from decent society because in the '50s he said what everybody on the left knew to be true, which was that Whittaker Chambers was obviously telling the truth about Alger Hiss — that the Rosenbergs were obviously guilty…. Fiedler wasn't a right winger, he was an anti-communist….

And he paid a price for that in his academic career.  And so, I always think, that intellectuals—they need to fight hard for their ideas because ideas — new ideas are never popular.  And you know, it's good.  It's good to fight for your ideas because you make them better and you win more convincing arguments. 

Click above to watch the interview and go here to read the transcript.

A while back, I channeled Fiedler in a discussion of Django Unchained.

NEXT: U.S. Gets Censor-y on Public Records, Soda Ban Blocked, Veterans Screwed: P.M. Links

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  1. like Pamela implied I’m surprised that a mom able to profit $4489 in a few weeks on the computer. did you read this page…

    1. Goddamn Pamela never just comes out and SAYS anything, does she?

  2. Why did universities become bastions of intolerance and censorship? The assholes who enjoyed free speech in academia in the 60’s took over higher education in the 90’s and found there’s no reason to argue for your ideas when you don’t have to do so.

    1. They didn’t? This is nothing but a stereotype/conspiracy theory invented by people whose ideas suck too much to be taken seriously at universities.

      1. Obviously you haven’t visited a college campus lately. Most of the schlock liberal arts departments are putting out are only taken seriously by retards.

        1. Sorry if I don’t take the word of a libertarian on what constitutes schlock.

          1. Well it’s better than you making shit up.

          2. apparently it’s never crossed Tony’s mind that people become libertarians because much of what they hear from liberals and conservatives IS schlock, especially when tested on real people.

            1. People become libertarians because they stop reading books in middle school. Or they read middle school-level books at some later age and then stop reading.

      2. Mhmm. Feel free to check FIRE’s speech code guides. And their list of legal cases.

      3. Yeah, that’s right. The fact that the Rosenbergs were actually guilty just “sucked too much” to be taken seriously in academia.

        1. Who gives a fuck about the Rosenbergs…? Is that a prominent question in academia right now? Were the Rosenbergs guilty? And the answer was not obvious at least until 1995, and Ethel’s role is still at least a little unclear (which is not the same thing as “obvious.”)

          1. How did that dumb jury back in the 1950s manage to convict them without the benefit of an admission from their Soviet spymaster? Just dumb luck, I guess.

    2. Re: Fist of Etiquette,

      Why did universities become bastions of intolerance and censorship?

      Having tenure means never having to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

  3. Isn’t Gillespie a PhD? Doesn’t that make him part of the problem?


  4. This reminds me of my elderly differential equations professor who always managed to end up talking about the plight of the working class.

    “Lotka and Volterra’s predator-prey equations? More like capitalist-worker equations!”

    1. Of course, he never did have an answer for why capitalist systems grow and socialist systems decay.

      1. That’s certainly the kind of rigorous, subtle thinking wanted at your modern-day university. Capitalism good, socialism evil!

        1. Growth and decay have nothing to do with good and evil, you twit.

          Rigorous thinking my ass.

          1. Everything decays. If you ask me, the best way to figure out the best type of society is to devise some measures of human well-being and see which systems perform the best.

            1. News flash, Tony: socialism has been tested and failed, benevolent dictatorship has been tested and failed. For some reason, countries that respect freedom have survived and grown wealthy.

              1. Which countries would those be? Are we differentiating between the various forms of mixed economies in the present-day world, or do they all count as capitalism, Finland the same as the US? If so, why can’t we have some of what makes Finland superior?

                1. Russia and its satellites under Lenin and the Communists, China under Mao, various South American shit-holes with their leaders trying to emulate Lenin and Mao, etc.

                  These are countries who attempted a socialist society, one that was powered by socialism. Finland’s government can have all the socialist-lite policy it wants, but everyone knows their programs are funded by capitalism, not socialism.

                  1. Sounds like we agree on pretty much everything then.

                    1. Developing split personalities Tony?

                2. Re: Tony,

                  Which countries would those be?

                  Who’s talking about countries? Tom mentioned systems. All you have to do is compare the different states in the Union.

                  1. Let’s do that why don’t we? States run by politicians with antigovernment ideology are net takers of federal dollars and evil liberal bastions on the coasts are net contributors. Without massive federal subsidies in agriculture and defense, there would be no Southern economy. It’s almost as if they either lack the resources or the intelligence to do capitalism without slavery or government handouts.

                3. Tony, like most leftists, seems to think USA=capitalism, and that any flaw in American society is due to capitalism. In reality, according to actual studies, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have overall higher levels of economic freedom than the US. Even Denmark is about the same. Just because a country has universal healthcare doesn’t mean they don’t have more economic freedom in other areas to balance out.

        2. Socialism can be capitalistic, you nitwit. Why, just look at all the good things that Amtrak has done since the government ruined privately owned passenger rail service with communistic roads (which have proven to be a boon for green energy capitalists looking for a government handout).

          Granted, the railroads were no paragons of unrigged commerce. In fact, can not we pin government subsidization of railroads, and other interventions loved by people like you, on the reckless clearcutting that destroyed many of the old growth forests?

          Now, let us discuss how Fascism is green creature of the right that developed in a womb called leftwing politics.

  5. Nick may believe that the transition occurred in the 80’s, but unbending political correctness was deeply entrenched at Berkeley, Cornell, Antioch, and Harvard, etc. at least in the early 70’s.

    1. Consider that the Berkeley free speech movement was in the 70’s, and at least at that point, the students were fighting FOR free speech.

      Then, when those same students became the people in charge, they clung to the concept that speech was bad and to be censored if it made people feel badly, etc. They essentially invented the right not to have others make you feel bad. That’s the concept behind all the political correctness etc. on campuses, the idea that nobody has the right to say things that could make you feel badly about yourself or your (racial, gender, religious etc.) group.

    2. As a fellow UB grad (1993) I can confirm that Buffalo is always a little late to the party. I never heard of the term “PC” until 1991 or so, and then only from a friend of a friend who never shut up about it. Coincidentally, he was the only male Women’s Studies major I knew.

  6. Well, sure, but so what? The eagerness for parental government long preceeds the establishment of colleges and universities, and the most traditional such eagerness is that of rightwingers, including those who don’t believe in Sky Daddy.

    In other words, the problem is communitarian conservatism, which wants a stern, powerful foster parent to keep the plantation from being plunged into chaos by [gasp!] anarchists. This foster parent is to hold a monopoly over any given territory (the planatation), and the communitarian do-gooders who clamor for it often want to legislate against vice, like the Sky Daddy does. So practically the whole seed of the nanny state is right there in the heart of every flagwaving, cop-loving, rightwing blowhard.

    1. Re: Domestic Reagent,

      In other words, the problem is communitarian conservatism, which wants a stern, powerful foster parent to keep the plantation from being plunged into chaos by [gasp!] anarchists.

      Are… are you suggesting… Am I hearing this clearly? Are you suggesting that Academia is full of… of… reactionaries????

      Say it ain’t so, Shoeless!

      1. Shhhh…Beware of frightening academics. Most of them think that they’re liberal when in fact they’re basically just like every rightwing fool.

        Ok, I know, I know. There’s no reason to type ‘rightwing fool’ when the concept of foolishness is already present in ‘rightwing’.

        1. give me a break. You are nothing more than a leftist apologist griefer looking for cover in a site that is no more enamored of the far right than the far left. Most academics are tools of the state, with govt replacing the big sky daddy. The religious zealots often pray for guidance, but they don’t expect their deity to steal from someone else to give to them because of some claimed right.

          1. Re: wareagle,

            but they don’t expect their deity to steal from someone else to give to them because of some claimed right.

            Well, some may, but that doesn’t mean they’re not disappointed every time they ask. What makes those that worship the state more dangerous is that their prayers are often heard…

            1. and the prayers to the state usually have an effect on the rest of us. Those of the faithful tend to be confined to themselves and/or families, and usually do not involve screwing someone else.

  7. For a while I’ve been wondering if korporayshuns aren’t the incubator of the nanny state. They’ve conditioned a lot of Americans to taking orders and letting someone else make difficult choices for them (such as investing for retirement and paying for medical care).

    1. Re: Soda,

      They’ve conditioned a lot of Americans to taking orders and letting someone else make difficult choices for them

      That explains the acquiescense of Boobus Americanus who has been trained to think that government is there to keep the trains running on time. But not the rise of technocratic government; that requires a bureaucracy made of convinced zealots stripped of any hint of morality or qualms, and that can only be achieved by 4 years of indoctrination and keg emptying.

      1. Good point. Acquiescence alone would not give the beast life.

    2. They’re also fine incubators of hyperspecialization, which leaves many people dependent upon large organizations. The hyperspecialization also retards the imagination and stunts the growth of the decision making faculty, esp. when it comes to taking risks. (The ratio of decision makers with wide authority to employess is lower in large organizations.)

      Granted, lots of people in korporayshuns get to be imaginative decision makers, but I found through experience that most employees are just dull, greedy cogs, like the rabble without whom there’d be no socialistic despotism.

  8. The short version: At some point during the 1980s[…]

    During the 80’s????


    Excuse me if I laugh. Those that were teaching the students of the 80s were themselves students in the 60s whose teachers were students in the 30’s and so on. This has been going on for MANY DECADES, not just a couple of. And it all started with professors that received their education in Europe, in the middle to late 1800’s, taking over the universities in America.

    1. During the 1800s?????


      Excuse me if I laugh. This all started 75 million years ago, when Xenu brought billions of his people to Earth (then known as “Teegeeack”) in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs.

      1. Old Mex may have a point, though not exactly for the reason Old Mex supposes. The problem of anti-intellectualism in colleges and universities precedes the 1980s and was lampooned by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged which, though published in the 1950s, was inspired by problems extant before then.

        1. the academy’s problem is not anti-intellectual; it is its clinging to its own dogma even mounds of evidence that liberalism fails outside of the campus petrie dish. People look at self-proclaimed intellectuals as degreed individuals with a paucity of common sense and real world skills.

          Outside the cocoon of tenure, the sinecure of the state, and the occasional class they suffer to teach, a good many academics would rot on the vine on the private sector. It’s not anti-intellectualism, it’s anti-bullshit when allegedly learned individuals like Krugnuts and Robert Reich keep insisting that things repeatedly proven to be wrong are, in fact, right if only performed by the correct Top Men.

          1. Do you people have any idea how much like sour grapes this sounds?

            Academia is not taken over by a leftist conspiracy. Your ideas are just too dumb to rise to the level of academic interest. Which you guys would know if you’d ever set foot on a university campus and sat in a class that wasn’t engineering or computer science.

            Because that is what we’re dealing with here, right? Ideas, political science, philosophy, some amount of literary criticism of the two books you’ve read? If you want to learn how to think in those fields, don’t you think you ought to be educated in those fields?

          2. I mean I’m not going to some engineering magazine and telling them how to build their shit.

            1. If you think you know better, go right ahead. Of course, you’d get laughed at. You don’t know any more about science than you do about economics.

              1. Engineering isn’t science, and I said I don’t go there because I don’t know better.

                But every hillbilly on his porch has an opinion about how society should work.

                1. And Tony, ensconced in his leftist bubble, clearly knows how to run the lives of people who are nothing like him.

                2. Engineering is based on scientifically discovered knowledge, the same as most everything we do.

                  Trolling rating: 1/10

                  You’re not even trying anymore.

                3. Right Tony, it’s not like you need to know advanced physics to be an engineer.

  9. Now why didnt I ever think of that? Wow.

    1. Because there is no “you” to “think”. You’re not sentient.

      Vous ne pense donc pas que vous n’?tes pas.

      1. I post, therefore I am?

  10. “Fiedler’s thesis”, claims Wikipedia, was “a Marxist reading of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde”. So I wonder when it was that he gave up communism without making the common mistake that we have seen expressed in the politics of people like Mussolini and the neocons.

  11. FIRE is truly doing god’s work. And their website has awesome examples of ridiculous campus censorship, and then FIRE steps in, and almost always there is a positive result. I’m reminded of one case where a student was ordered to remove an AMERICAN FLAG from his dorm room window, as it could “offend people”. Seriously. Needless, to say FIRE took the case, and the flag stayed.

    I worked on the program board in college, so I had a lot of personal experience with the campus censors. We had Angela Davis come speak, you know the typical whitey is the devil, the rich are evil, communist rabble rousing speaker. That was fine. It’s “good” hate speech. Otoh, Sam Kinison was questioned by several members of the board because he was homophobic and insensitive and…

    FIRE rules!

  12. I thought it was shortly after they released PC U.

  13. Here’s a good case, a good example of the kind of crap FIRE fights against…

    1. I thought it would be the Firefly poster issue, but this one’s just NUTS.

  14. I’m not surprised at Nick’s admiration of Leslie Fiedler. I liked him as well. He spoke at my State College on Gone With the Wind as great literature and in the Q&A afterward I asked the professor about his essay on Phillip Jose Farmer and he closed out the lecture with an amusing anecdote about the science fiction author.

  15. This reminds me of an episode in my college career, in the seventies. I was taking a philosophy class, and a question was posed about “investigating” some oddball concept. As the question was posed, there were no adverse consequences involved; it was fundamentally an exercise in curiosity.

    So, I said, “Sure- why the hell not?”

    I got swarmed (by the professor, too) for my “anti-science” heresy, or some such bullshit. It still pisses me off.

  16. Sorry if I don’t take the word of a libertarian on what constitutes schlock.

    Says the guy who routinely bombards us with retarded nonsense such as his idiocy in the “electric car” thread yesterday.

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