Over at Public Discourse today, Matthew Franck provides a perceptive analysis of a recent episode of politically correct intimidation: “Same-Sex Marriage and the Assault on Institutional Integrity.”
A gay rights group put pressure on King & Spaulding, a prominent Atlanta law firm, to drop its representation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act—and succeeded. By Franck’s analysis, the fact that the law firm caved is unfortunately typical. He’s certainly right about academia. As he writes:
In all except the most resolutely religious colleges, there is no doubting that the default position of the American academy is to dismantle the institution of marriage and remake it on a new basis. The result is a good deal of self-silencing—self-exile into the “new closet” on issues involving sexuality—not just by students but by faculty, too. The path of least resistance turns out to be the path of no resistance. For institutions that claim to be homes of diverse views and free inquiry in the pursuit of truth, this creeping orthodoxy is a sign of wounded institutional integrity and failed leadership.
I’m not in favor of an approach to university culture or the public square that rejects all standards and adopts an anything-goes mentality. But there is something very wrong with our establishment institutions when, as Franck points out, a widespread, venerable, and commonsensical view gets driven into the closet. And what could be more conventional and more normal that the view that marriage is between a man and a woman? Perhaps the progressives are right. Perhaps traditional views of marriage are without foundation. But it’s patently absurd to imagine that they are irrational or extreme or somehow a threat to civil society (all legitimate reasons to censure and perhaps even censor).
As Franck also suggests, we undermine our democratic culture when the views of the majority of citizens are silenced or excluded for the important institutions that are essential for the health of our nation. We need an academic culture and legal culture that responds to democratic realities rather than kow-towing to factions that want to gain the upper hand and disenfranchise their opponents.
For many decades the Liberal Establishment has provided responsible leadership for important institutions in America. But it seems to have become enfeebled and decadent, often unable to resist the intimidating (and often puerile) behavior of extremists on the Left. (The universities provide the clearest examples. Political correct extremism commands very little loyalty, but it reigns because the dominant liberals acquiesce.) To a very real degree, the Liberal Establishment is collapsing into liberal political activism.
That’s why we need to consolidate a Conservative Establishment, a mentality committed to political and social goals, of course, (as was the Liberal Establishment) but also able to take responsibility for running institutions that transcend the political debates of the moment and provide space for the necessary give-and-take of civic life.