It's great fun to be a commissar, Megan McArdle reminds us:
Revolutionaries and reformers, working from outside the system, can't force people to renounce wrong-think by threatening to strip them of their livelihoods and drum them out of the public square. Those weapons are available only to the powers-that-be.
To advocate such tactics is therefore to admit that you are no longer fighting the system, but that you are the system -- that in the centers of cultural production, at least, Rosa Luxemburg is giving way to the commissars, and Martin Luther to the Grand Inquisitor.
McArdle is referencing recent events at Middlebury College, but she could have just as easily used any number of other liberal arts colleges, including my own alma mater. To get a sense of what's going on, consider the demands of the Middlebury student government:
Any organization or academic department that invites a speaker to campus will be required to fill out a due diligence form created by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in coordination with the SGA Institutional Diversity Committee. These questions should be created to determine whether a speaker’s beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards, removing the burden of researching speakers from the student body.
Heterodox opinions need not apply. There's more:
Additionally, administrators will ask Faculty Council to require all academic departments to have Student Advisory Boards which will have access to a list of speakers invited by the department at least a month in advance. The Student Advisory Boards’ purpose will be to ask the student body for potential community input when necessary.
They won't really be asking, though.
One tradition that many schools have is to assign a book to all incoming freshmen. I might suggest future Middlebury students ought to be given a copy of Lord of the Flies and a mirror. But in the meantime, there is the matter of all the undergrad commissars and their enforcement of woke orthodoxy. Back to McArdle:
Woke-ism may have some of the emotional tenor of church, but it lacks the supernatural beliefs and cohesive ritual of a real faith.
As for cultural socialism ... what could "collective ownership of the means of production" mean when applied to culture, which is collectively produced now and always has been?
I suspect that both sides are searching for a different word, one associated with both religion and Marxism: What they are trying to describe is an orthodoxy, a received wisdom enforced not by argument but by social, economic or even violent coercion.
So how do you enforce it?
Existing orthodoxies are largely self-enforcing, transmitted by a million little social signals you absorb without noticing.
Adopting a new orthodoxy, however, is messy. And while the new orthodoxy gropes toward its final shape, people living under it experience a special, debilitating terror: the fear that anything you say might be held against you, that what is mandatory today might be forbidden tomorrow, with ex post facto justice meted out to anyone who failed to anticipate the change.
It's a clear case, Herr Kommissar
'Cause all the children know
They're all slidin' down into the valley
They're all slipping on the same snow