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Subsidized Consensus

April 20, 2000

Sometimes you realize the truth only when you encounter its direct denial. Something crystallized for me when I read a commentary on the recent verdict against the English historian David Irving in his libel suit against the Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt, over her charge that Irving is a “dangerous” Holocaust denier.

Attempting to explain the persistence of Holocaust revisionism, the commentator observes: “There is a crank element in democratic culture, people who enjoy ‘special knowledge,’ theories opposed to ordinary thought and not accessible to the mainstream. For example, there are people who believe that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays, or that history is a Masonic conspiracy, or that Franklin Roosevelt plotted Pearl Harbor.”

These examples contradict the writer’s thesis. The authorship heretics (including me) who deny that “Shakespeare” was the legendary William of Stratford don’t claim to possess “special knowledge”; they cite evidence everyone can read and assess for himself. There’s nothing esoteric about it. The “crank element” who reject the standard account has included Henry James, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, and many others. The heretics are eager for debate; the orthodox want to shut them out of academia and the “mainstream” without a hearing.

[Breaker quote: How to 
handle a heretic]Historians of distinction have argued that Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance about Pearl Harbor and welcomed the attack as a casus belli at a time when most Americans wanted to stay out of war. One recent book by a Roosevelt admirer — Day of Deceit, by Robert B. Stinnett — offers a strong case for this, with startling new evidence from official sources to support it. Far from blaming Roosevelt for his deception of the public and his own military command, Stinnett argues that he had to do it!

Even Holocaust deniers don’t claim “special knowledge.” They make detailed arguments from official documents and records. Whatever the merits of their case, they want to debate. It’s their opponents who want to shut them up, even urging legislation to make their views punishable by imprisonment!

To take a different example, AIDS heretics who doubt that the HIV virus causes the disorder find themselves shut out and shouted down by establishment medical scientists. Why? Because the medical establishment is wedded to the HIV theory, drawing heavy government subsidies they would lose if that theory were ever abandoned.

Dissenters from Darwin’s theory of evolution get the same treatment from the academic establishment, no matter how cogent their objections. Science is supposed to be a disinterested search for knowledge, but subsidized scientists in the academic world are not disinterested parties. They have heavy investments in Darwinism.

Such examples could be multiplied many times. Conservatives and libertarians have long found themselves excluded in such academic fields as political science, history, and economics — not to mention journalism and the entertainment industry.

On many subjects, as George Orwell pointed out, there is a “prevailing orthodoxy,” and he who dissents from it is apt to “find himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.” The dissenter may be ignored, denounced, or in some cases prosecuted; but he won’t get a hearing, if those in power have anything to say about it.

Of course liberal professors hate to think that they are engaged in suppressing free speech or academic freedom; so they usually justify excluding dissenters on grounds that they are maintaining “professional standards of scholarship” and “academic integrity.” They pretend, in other words, that they object only to the shoddy methodology of the dissenters, not to the content of their views.

But in many cases, the “cranks” are those who disregard authority, pursue the evidence to rational conclusions, and — above all — have no stake or investment in the established orthodoxy. If that orthodoxy is wrong, they don’t stand to lose money — especially government money. They are more truly independent than the scholars they oppose.

The problem of liberal orthodoxy is compounded by the involvement of government in education, which tends to produce what might be called subsidized consensus. When the “prevailing orthodoxy” is supported by tax money, the stakes are raised enormously. The heretic becomes a grave danger to the incomes and privileges of the subsidized orthodox caste, who naturally try to cut off the “’free competition of ideas” they profess to desire.

In short, your freedom of speech ends where my government check begins.

Joseph Sobran

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