When William Blake coined the phrase “dark satanic mills,” it is thought he was referring to the universities.
I recalled that thought when, last Friday evening, Jacob Rees-Mogg was at the centre of an ugly scene as he was ambushed when about to give an address at Bristol university. Masked protestors tried to prevent Rees-Mogg from giving his talk. The mob roundly abused him. calling him – among the more printable epithets – Nazi, Fascist and racist
Rees-Mogg may have been shaken but he was certainly not stirred to overreaction and he played down the disturbance: “All it was was a handful of shouty people who wanted to disrupt a public meeting I was about to address. It was not really a fight, just noisy. They did not want me to have a platform and were not willing to discuss any specific concerns.”
He added, “No one seemed likely to hit me but I am a weed.”
We are going to see a lot more of this sort of thing because the Left’s idea of democracy is not to allow freedom of speech for anyone who disagrees with them. Violent disruption of public meetings is the political modus operandi of the Corbynistas and particularly of his storm-troopers in the 300,000 strong Momentum gang. They know no other method – for they have always lost every reasonable argument that ever was.
We expect no better of Corbyn’s sort, but that this kind of violent protest is a regular feature of university life these days should make us ashamed.
I have had some personal experience of this and I shared this experience with the philosopher Roger Scruton, the founder of The Salisbury Review.
The year was 1985 and I was teaching a philosophy course in York. When I heard that Dr Scruton was coming to speak at the university, I went along with some of my students. Attendance was not routine and we had a bit of bother trying to find the precise location of the talk. It had been advertised to take place in the chemistry lecture theatre but at the last minute we were all redirected to the physics theatre because there had already been threats from the mob.
When I say “the mob,” I mean of course the lumpen intelligentsia, the York university students.
When we arrived, the atmosphere in the physics theatre was – let me put it mildly – unwholesome. In the front few rows members of the public sat awaiting the start of the talk. In the middle and at the back, the student mob yelled and swore and catcalled and shook their fists. The sort of stuff Rees-Mogg had to endure: “Fascist, Nazi, racist” – along with other unmentionables.
At the appointed time, Roger appeared on the rostrum. The thugs became louder and more bellicose. The noise was such that there was no possibility the talk could take place.
Roger managed only one sentence: “But I’ve come to talk about free speech!”
Ironical eh? But that pampered rabble wouldn’t have understood a piece of irony if it had leapt up and bitten them on the bum.
Things deteriorated so far that clearly Roger’s safety – and perhaps even his life – was in danger. He was bundled out by the stewards and, like the Three Wise Men before him, warned to return to his digs another way.
Next day I took the matter up with the university authorities and asked how they intended to deal with the perpetrators of the near riot.
The written reply from the vice-chancellor would have done justice to Halifax, Chamberlain, Rab Butler or any other arch-appeaser of totalitarianism you can think of:
“What could I have done?”
I wrote back: “You could identify the thugs and send them down.”
There was no reply to that.
And so, as the rabble’s attack on Rees-Mogg, reminds us, this is now our inheritance. The university was for a thousand years throughout Europe the place for the civilised exchange of ideas and the most rigorous public debate. Now it is run by grossly overpaid vice-chancellors and their sycophants, the mindless thickos of the intellectual left. From their first day, the snowflake students are ushered into their safe spaces where they will remain for three years protected against any idea they might find uncongenial.
Thus our universities have outlived their useful purpose – that is the sacred duty of rational exchange.
The only remedy is to close them down.