Free Speech

Georgetown Law Prof. Lama Abu Odeh on the "Progressoriat" and "Georgetown's Cultural Revolution"

"Terror and dread fill academic workers, professors, and staff alike, and it is everywhere."


Published Friday at Quillette, and much worth reading; an excerpt:

Progressive liberals are blind to the fact that there is a regime take-over apace everywhere in academic institutions. A new ruling elite is taking over academic institutions by using its "minority status" to exercise a "soft" coup and is appealing to the minoritarianism of progressive ideology to legitimize its coup—or, if you like, to "manufacture consent." I will call the adherents of this ideology the "progressoriat."

The reason that challenging any aspect of this dominant ideology is taboo is because it leaves you vulnerable to the charge that you are uncomfortable with the project of empowering minorities—not just the transfers of power from traditional elites to historically disadvantaged groups that has already begun to take place in the academy, but further transfers of power. The only acceptable response when confronted by any aspect of the ideology that has facilitated this coup is to enthusiastically endorse it—to celebrate it. If you're not a minority, anything less risks being interpreted as dread at the prospect of your own imminent loss of status—or, if you are, as evidence that your soul has been "colonized" by white supremacists. As I said, virtue as the other side of dread.

The position of the progressoriat in relation to this coup is akin to that of communist activists in relation to a communist takeover. At first they see it as representing what they always fought for; then with time they find themselves having to decide whether its first atrocity is to be criticized or understood as necessary; then, when the next atrocity takes place, they feel they must tolerate it because they didn't object to the first atrocity and, before long, a time comes when any objection can only be made at a huge cost to themselves. The unfolding history of the new coup is being written every day across the domain of academic institutions in the US as the progressoriat watch muffled, hesitant objecting in private, and then, when someone makes their reservations public, finding themselves at risk of being suspended or losing their jobs.

The new elite taking over academic institutions has at its disposal an arsenal of tools to perpetuate its rule. It not only postures as representative of others in the way communists did—the "intelligentsia" representing the worker or the peasant in the latter's case and representing victim groups in the former's. The new elite can also represent itself as victims, an opportunity even communists would have baulked at. Members of the new elite have no hesitation at weaponizing their feelings, silencing opponents by claiming they've offended them. And, of course, such claims are readily accepted by the progressoriat because of their acceptance that minorities are necessarily oppressed.

In this way, the new power elite can present itself as being victims, as well as representing victims. In other words, it has the power to make itself The Cause. This is why the insistence on the ubiquity of unconscious bias is important: it allows the new elite to consolidate their status by continually self-referencing as victims. Bias being everywhere means that the new ruling class, in spite of having seized power, can continue to present themselves as being oppressed. By constantly claiming to be offended, triggering Pavlovian apologies and vows to "do better" from the progressoriat, who appear to have endless reservoirs of self-abnegation, the new elite establishes rituals that renew its rule and solicit ongoing consent to this rule….

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  1. Pretty roundabout way to call folks you don’t like communists. Which they are not. Nor are they totalitarians of any sort. They are mostly folks without much power, other than the power of their opinions.

    Why does anyone suppose those opinions have achieved the imposing effect that Lama Abu Odeh complains of? If they were nonsensical, groundless opinions, what would have happened? What has made those opinions so hard to deal with—on campus and elsewhere—is that there is too much truth in them. Professor Odeh’s absurd resort to the, “communist,” slur is illustration.

    There is room for plenty of legitimate push-back against campus speech excesses. Would-be pushers-back need to take care not to become in the process the proof of accusations they deplore.

    1. Haha, your funny. It’s almost like you aren’t aware that objecting to anything being pushed won’t get you fired not only in academia but in much of the workforce.

      1. Even worse, it might get you published in Quillette. Where does it all end?

        1. If you’re a female Palestinian (as the author Lama Abu Odeh appears to be), you get a pass when you publish in Quillette. If you aren’t a member of any of the new privileged classes, you are punished.

          As long as you basically don’t mind people, particularly white people, being threatened and punished for even questioning the new Anti-racist orthodoxy, you can fly above it like you do. (You might read “The Power of the Powerless” by Vaclav Havel to understand the process by which the many insidiously subordinate themselves to the signals of a theoretically “virtuous” but not-really-representative ideology.)

          1. Like for instance who was punished for publishing an article in Quillette?

          2. This…does not appear to be getting a pass.

            1. Regrets for my wrong presumption.

    2. If the opinions weren’t true, the people in charge wouldn’t be able to impose them on people? That’s a hell of a claim.

    3. There are certainly a lot of communists in this country. This probably shouldn’t be a “slur” since that only obfuscates things.

    4. I believe the author is saying that the progressariat’s (as used by the author) tactics are “akin to” those used by communists. As stated by the author: “No hesitation or nuance is allowed: nothing but unequivocal loyalty oaths.”

      That is certainly *like* tactics used by communists, but does not necessarily make the progressariat communists. Whether communists or not, their approach betrays a complete disinterest in reasoned debate. One might suggest that’s because they recognize that reasoned debate would be poisonous to their victim tactics.

      1. She never said they were communists.
        Her language actually is nuanced with strong historical underpinnings. Your “reading” is actually as misreading.

    5. Georgetown should lose all government privileges, its non-profit status, its loans, its grants, its subsidies, its accreditations. The media should be shut down, and the tech billionaire owners should be visited at home.

    6. Why does anyone suppose those opinions have achieved the imposing effect that Lama Abu Odeh complains of?

      Because your premise is utterly wrong; they are folks with all the power.

      1. How’d they get that power? Academe used to be a quite conservative place. Contrary to the insanely over the top language used in the OP there was no ‘coup’ or battle, more and more people just were convinced over time.

        1. Yeah the word “coup” bothered me because it implies that there is something inherently illegitimate about current academic administrations and trends. That some group replaced another group who actually had a right to rule. But really it’s just a trend, whether for good or ill. No one has a legal or moral or natural right to be in charge of a university’s culture. Indeed, the medieval universities from which our current ones descend were dominated by the students themselves, and they could even choose faculty.

          1. “Yeah the word “coup” bothered me”
            Don’t be so squeamish. Those seeking revolutions either hard or soft are not.

            1. Still not a coup.

        2. “How’d they get that power?”

          By firing the people that disagree with them, apparently. If they’re so convincing, why do they need to do that?

          1. How’d they get into the positions to do that? Again, academe was once quite conservative in this country. They had all the firing power. Liberals couldn’t fire their way into power…

            1. “How’d they get into the positions to do that?”

              How should I know? Probably not by promising to fire people that disagree with them.

              Your unsupported claim that people in a position to punish other people for their viewpoint must have gotten into that position through to power of the viewpoint that they wish to impose is just bizarre.

              1. They convinced enough people. They didn’t have the power to fire and there was no ‘coup.’ They won in the marketplace of ideas.

                1. You know who else “won in the marketplace of ideas” under your argument?

                  1. By your logic all social change=the Nazis or something. There was no coup, they did not fire their way into power, people’s minds and institution’s norms changed.

                    1. By your logic, J. Edgar Hoover won in the marketplace of ideas.

                    2. They simply made the long march and can now expel medical students who question a progressive pedagogue’s definition of micro-aggression.

            2. Hi, Queenie. Start paying attention. All PC is case. Universities and other agencies are afraid of ruinous litigation, and have gone overboard to avoid charges of discrimination.

              1. You are nuts.

            3. Academe hasn’t been conservative in at least a generation. When I was in college the professors were generally liberal, but not ideologues. They simply recruited like minded people gave them credentials and promoted them as people who were actually conservatives retired. In recent years the pendulum has continued to swing further left to the point where the leftists hold sway in most institutions. As they gained numbers their power grew.

        3. “the insanely over the top language”
          What is over the top is your irrational response to an analysis that can explain equally well how Daesh managed to commandeer Sunni discontent in Iraq and Syria.
          Read her comments without any historical background and it seems outlandish.
          But the dynamic has played out many times before, even in the part of the world from which she originates

      2. David,
        Did you read her entire essay?

    7. Stephan,
      You’re incorrect. The dynamic that is described has been commonplace of all mass movements from ancient gnosticism to 18th century French republicanism to Comptian progressivism in Brazil, to Boshevism and Fascism and Nazism. The beginnings are always with an elite that consider themselves to be the vanguards of change and to enmesh the majority of the relevant population in the revolutionary process, if need be by active suppression.
      In Leninist Marxism that was called the dictatorship of the proletariat (a deliberate ply on words).

    8. “Stalinist” is more appropriate.

  2. Not sure how long she will be a GULC Professor, but today’s “Glengarry Glen Ross Alec Baldwin’s Character’s Brass Balls in the Coffee Is For Closers Speech” award goes to Professor Lama Abu-Odeh.

    1. Really. At most schools you can get cancelled just for reading Quillette.

    2. Nothing will happen to her because the moral panic over PC run amok in academe is just that, a panic. Academe remains one of the most free to speak your mind workplaces in the world.

      1. QA,
        That is not my impression, at least if you are unwilling ti suffer social ostracism.
        My experience at a top university is that people are ither full-throated advocates or they are very careful about what they say.

        1. Everyone watches what they say at every workplace. Try telling off color jokes at Hobby Lobby or Target, either on the white collar or blue collar side of both enterprises. They’ll show you the door swiftly.

          At the college I work at faculty routinely criticize the administration and nothing happens to them. Anyone who thinks that would fly at other workplaces is fooling themselves.

          1. ” routinely criticize the administration”
            I am not talking about commonplace griping. That kind of thing is usually ignored. I’m speaking of comments concerning DEI and restructuring of the norms of university standards

            1. Would you concede that at most workplaces publicly criticizing the boss will get you punished rather quickly? That’s speech. And if the company decides to have DEI policies you’ll get show the door at a Fortune 500 much more quickly if you criticize those policies than you would at most academic institutions (look at what happened to that guy at Google for example).

              I mean, this piece kind of refutes itself (here she is, a full time academic worker and she’s certainly pulling no punches in criticizing DEI policies.

              1. “Would you concede that at most workplaces publicly criticizing the boss will get you punished rather quickly? That’s speech”

                Of course that is speech, but speech of a very different color. If you go around calling your boss a rapist, you’ll be disciplined. But that is not what this OP-ED is talking about. And you actually know it.

                1. I addressed the other speech as well.

              2. “I mean, this piece kind of refutes itself (here she is, a full time academic worker and she’s certainly pulling no punches in criticizing DEI policies.”

                Your pointing out that silence concerning DEI is not absolute, does not show that there are strong social pressures to go along to get along and enjoy institutional perks

                1. She seems to be doing quite well for herself.

                  1. Yes, because she is a person of coloro with an extensive and distinguished background. Perhaps that is why the campus left repudiates her.

          2. Hi, Queenie. What subject do you teach?

      2. “Academe remains one of the most free to speak your mind workplaces in the world.”

        Sure. In general, I can pay you to say that the world is flat, and if you don’t say that the world is flat, then I can fire you.

        I was under the impression that that’s not what we wanted at universities.

        1. They have to operate as workplaces and groups just like everyone else.

          1. Shut them down. They are treason indoctrination camps.

            1. They are also worthless and fraudulent. They are worse rip offs than for profit schools.

          2. “just like everyone else.”
            Even that is a distortion. Nt completely false, but far from the whole truth, at least for top tier universities.

      3. “free … in the world.”
        I’d watch that hyperbole.
        Should I give you a list of countries in which that is far from true?

      4. And unicorns exist…

    3. “Not sure how long she will be a GULC Professor”

      Female Palestinian. Supports a “one state solution” to the Jewish problem.

      Enough “woke” points to survive I think.

      1. Bob, Niether you nor I have any real idea of her career trajectory.

  3. Well one thing is for certain. Law professors are the worst.

  4. True affirmative action would be inconsequential to whites…which is why “diversity” replaced affirmative action so liberal elites could discriminate against whites. Diversity has harmed African Americans by giving seats to children of recent Black and Latino immigrants. Using race in admissions also harms African Americans through mismatch which leads to fewer graduating with valuable STEM degrees. What we really need is to pay reparations to descendants of American slaves in 2021 because paying reparations would be a great way to do a “helicopter drop” in order to increase aggregate demand. A reparations package would also include simply giving a few billion dollars to HBCUs endowments specifically to cover tuition and expand STEM programs that successfully graduate descendants of American slaves.

    1. Oh good grief. Why in the world do you think ‘liberal elites’ want to ‘discriminate against whites?’ Administrators at colleges are often the least political people there. Here’s why diversity and affirmative action exist on college campuses: demand. Many families want their children educated at places that look like the workforces and customer bases of the real world, administrators know that and they want to have a diverse setting to meet that demand.

      1. You are quite delusional you know. Literally everything you post is wrong.

          1. Queenie is just fey, a real hysteric.

      2. I support affirmative action…”diversity” is socially acceptable racism towards white in order to benefit children of recent immigrants of color.

        1. Affirmative action struggled in courts, so was replaced with diversity, which passed the test.

          However, when people talk about it without thinking, it is used as a euphemism for affirmative action, correcting racial injustice, rather than cheering the joys and benefits of representative differences.

          The legal aspect of the issue forces a slightly off-kilter worldview. It is similar to the absolutist first amendment’s nature forcing claims of harm to rise up as justifying punishment. The powers would prefer to just outlaw speech straight away.

          I make no claims as to the validity of any actions, merely noting this twist in passing.

          Dangerous talk even at that.

  5. Most of the people complaining loudest about ostensible problems involving expression are on the side that practices ardent vote suppression.

    And some of them are quite accomplished censors when they have the opportunity . . .

    1. I don’t know anything about this Professor, other than her Georgetown bio says she’s an Islam/Feminism scholar. That combination alone has me intrigued, but in any event neither it, nor her school, scream right wing. So I’m a bit interested in learning more.

      1. Nick,
        Start with reading her entire essay.

    2. RAK,
      Please stay on point.

      1. If you don’t see the connections, ask a modern, educated person to try to explain.

        Republican who moan about “cancel culture” engage in vigorous voter suppression.

        This blog, which whines a lot about conservatives being censored, imposes viewpoint-driven censorship.

        1. “modern, educated person”

          That’s a euphemism for “Anti-racist indoctrinated leftist”.

    3. Let’s check on her qualifications as a voter-suppressing clinger:

      “LL.B., University of Jordan, Ammam, Jordan; LL.M., University of Bristol, England; MA, University of York, York, England; S.J.D., Harvard. Prior to joining the Law Center, Professor Abu-Odeh was a consulting assistant professor at Stanford Law School, where she taught Criminal Law, Comparative Family Law, Islamic Law, and a seminar entitled “Nations, Races, and Religion.” Professor Abu-Odeh was a writing instructor in the Graduate Program and Coordinator of Special Academic Projects, Islamic Legal Studies Program, at Harvard Law School. She worked at the World Bank as legal counsel in the Middle East/North Africa Division, Legal Department. As an elections observer for the United Nations, South Africa, Professor Abu-Odeh participated in voter education, party monitoring, and election supervision during the period leading to the first democratic elections in South Africa. Professor Abu-Odeh has written articles on Feminism and Islam.”

      Wow, Artie, did you see that last part? “participated in voter education, party monitoring, and election supervision during the period leading to the first democratic elections in South Africa” – she must be some deep-cover operative from the voter-suppression conspiracy.

      Either that, or you’re talking out of your ass.

      Which is more plausible?

      1. What does that have to do with her whining about consequences for offensive speech, or whining about how conservative students at a university come to her and complain that right-wing views are unpopular on campus?

        1. You tell me Rev, you’re the one whose worldview depends on dividing the world between the enlightened Harvard graduates and the clingers, rather than considering any given person’s arguments on the basis of the argument’s own merits, not the person’s identity.

          1. My worldview relies on education and science (over ignorance and dogma), inclusiveness and tolerance (over insularity and bigotry), reason (over superstition), progress and modernity (over backwardness and pining for illusory ‘good old days’), freedom (over authoritarianism), and the reality-based world (over gullibility and delusion).

            I tend to like people who favor those things, regardless of background, education, profession, and the like. I tend to disfavor clingers, of any stripe.

            1. So, perhaps you could explain what makes this professor a supporter of ignorance, etc., and which good old days this professed Islamic feminist is pining for.

              1. Surely you aware that you are attempting to argue with a troll; you’d do better to stroll over to your neighborhood pub and discuss life with the barflies.

              2. She seems a proponent of bigoted, ignorant speech without consequences. She also seems focused on the feelings of conservatives who can’t understand why their opinions make them unpopular on strong, modern, reasoning campuses. She also whines a lot.

      2. She is a person of color with a distinguished background.

    4. “Most of the people complaining loudest about ostensible problems involving expression are on the side that practices ardent vote suppression.”

      Geez. I wouldn’t exactly call Islam a “side”, Arthur, and not all Muslims support or practice vote suppression.

      Your comment is quite bigoted.

      1. I was not thinking or writing about Islam.

        I was thinking and writing about America’s conservatives, who make common cause with bigots (with varying degrees of enthusiasm).

        Carry on, clingers . . . but only so long and so far as better Americans permit, as has become customary.

        1. “I was not thinking or writing about Islam.”

          Why not? This article was written by a scholar of Islamic law. You just want to erase her existence? Still bigoted.

  6. Great piece … but too many words to be effective. She should summarize it in 500 words or less and post it in a public venue.

  7. Hi, Eugene, you denier lawyer, you know what. All PC is case. No correction can happen until the lawyer filth hierarchy is arrested, tried, and imprisoned. Endowed professors are included, indoctrinating intelligent young people into supernatural doctrines, and a bunko scheme of fraudulent rent seeking. You are too blinded by the rent to see your own toxicity.

    1. LOL. For a second I thought you were talking about Eugene Volokh.

  8. What a ridiculous pile of hyperbole. What’s almost more incredible than that a professor wrote this is that Eugene thought it was so good he had to pass it along. This is more suited to Glenn Beck University than Georgetown University.

    1. QA,
      That opinion overlooks a wealth of historical precedent. The dynamic described has worked (at least for a good while) on numerous occasions.
      I withhold a value judgement about its aims and vision of parousia.
      (I know that the cracked pots will complain about another word outside the vocabulary of their Orange Pope.)

      1. I’m not talking about a historical point but rather one about prose. I mean, come on, you don’t think that’s some overheated rhetoric cooking in that post? Academics should strive to be careful and measured in what they write not ‘coup!’ and ‘Commie!’ and such.

        1. I mean, “ruling elite,” “taking over,” “legitimize its coup,” and that’s the first paragraph!

          She sounds like Glen Beck, not Russell Kirk. Talk radio can be fun, but we need institutions where people don’t talk like talk radio. Academe is supposed to be one of those places.

        2. No it is someone talking about a social revolution. I am amazed that your eyes are not open to that, whether you approve or disapprove. At my university I routinely get messages from top administrators about the needs to restructure the social fabric of the institution.

        3. “Academics should strive to be careful and measured in what they write not ‘coup!’ and ‘Commie!’ and such.”

          To be sure commie would be our of line. But I see ‘coup’ in the same ballpark as calling the January 6th riot as an insurrection or attempted coup. However I expect hyperbole and try to look beyond it to the substance.

          The vanguard of social movements is always minoritarian; after all that i was it means to be a vanguard. The thrust toward remaking the social fabric of top 10 or top 20 campuses is likewise unmistakable and aided by the fact that there is much wrong that needs fixing.
          The October revolution would have failed had thee not been a wealth of legitimate grievances against the ruling class

          1. The October revolution was people shooting each other in the streets, this is not close to that. It’s imprecise language, sloppy and hyperbolic.

            1. You side-stepped my point that no matter how well the Bolsheviks were armed, it would have failed were there not serious grievances within the working classes.

            2. The only bit of possible hyperpole is that the action “akin to that of communist activists in relation to a communist takeover.”
              In other words, it is a soft action promoted by an intellectual vanguard.

            3. “The October revolution was people shooting each other in the streets”

              True but it was a culmination

              The Cultural Revolution ended in plenty of killings but it didn’t start out that way, as the Red Guards got alway with more things, they got more and more violent.

              I think she wants to avoid the shootings by stopping the progression.

  9. David,
    Take your meds.

  10. Oh boy will are the chickens coming home to roost. Much of this cultural marxism/anti western civ stuff has been rolling around academia for decades. When I attended a private NE research university in the early 80’s even some of my hard science profs pushed this marxist crap..but especially in the “social sciences”…at the time I chalked it up to distrust of Americans of European background who were not Jewish (Irish, Italian but esp Eastern European ..and Catholic) as most of the profs advocating this view were Jewish. I still think this movement was to some extent born of jewish immigrants/academics who had “old world ” grudges (many for good reason). Now my university is being torn over the BDM movement…and divesting its billion dollar investment portfolio.

    Funny but I thought we won the cold war…

    1. America won the cold war.

      America’s liberal-libertarian mainstream has won the culture war.

      1. Hi, Artie. Once the lawyer profession is crushed, the purges will start.

  11. I’m on the record as all for affirmative action for conservative academics. It is undeniable that there is bias.

    But redbaiting doesn’t help things, it just sucks all the air out of the room.
    Look at this comment thread.

    1. But S_0,
      This professor was not red-baiting. That is a gross misreading of her essay. She was only pointing out an historical similarity that would have been well known to anyone who had studies political mass movements of the past two centuries (and longer).

      1. Again, look at the comment thread. Choosing that point of comparison is not going to be productive.

        It’s like criticizing an architectural style by comparing it to what the Nazis built. Maybe true. But no one will care.

        1. Isn’t that the point, to pattern match this vs. the early days of communism-qua-dictatorship, or Nazis for that matter?

          Having shucked off the thousands of years reign of religiousity, rather than achieving, finally, a quantum of freedom, it is replaced with a new orthodoxy. Hint: the enforced orthodoxy was always the problem, not who wielded it, or why.

    2. Leftists/liberals/Democrats are as much anti-American, Soviet-sympathizing Marxists as Conservatives/Republicans/Trump-supporters are white supremacists: it’s only a small fringe in each camp.

      The rest of each side get tarred and name-called with various individual levels of unfairness.

      The main difference is that (most of) the right disavows the white-supremacists while the left makes room for and runs interference for America-hating (and often racist) Marxists.

      1. When you have Tucker Carlson talking about replacement theory, you maybe need to check yourself.

        1. The more you point at people and say boogeyman!, the less smart you seem. Tucker’s horrific crime: talking.

          1. Talking…about the Great Replacement Theory, something that white supremacists and white nationalists believe in.

    3. I support the purges of all disloyal cultural Commies from all government supported agencies. Deport them to Venezuela, even if born in the USA.

  12. So, here is the Achilles Heel:

    “In this way, the new power elite can present itself as being victims, as well as representing victims. In other words, it has the power to make itself The Cause.”

    But oppressors can never represent their victims. Pretending to do so makes them even more of an oppressor.

    Which means, for example, that when a white person tries to represent a black person and speak out against racism, they would in fact just be showing themselves as racists.

    So the challenge is a simple one: any time a woke person speaks, we must demand that they establish their bona fides. If not, then they must cancel themselves.

    So if anti-racist white people can’t speak, and racist white people can’t speak, then only POC can speak — and only to each other.

    It’s the perfect segregation of conversation. Separate but equal. The circle is unbroken.

    Welcome to the real “Jim Crow 2.0”.

  13. “Weaponizing feelings”—boo, that’s a bad way to make an argument!

    Meanwhile, “terror and dread” amongst faculty and staff is invoked—yay, that’s a good way to make an argument!

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