Running the Gauntlet With Paul Gottfried at Hamilton College

I taught college for twenty years and can’t imagine walking down the hallway to class past a phalanx of students holding signs accusing me of such things as “racism,” “hate,” and “fascism.” I did not even want to be confronted about their grades on papers and routinely told students to wait until after class to discuss such matters.

I was therefore quite impressed by the way Paul Gottfried, Horace Raffensberger Professor of Humanities Emeritus, Elizabethtown College, handled such students lining the hallway of the Kirner-Johnson building on the Hamilton College campus last October. I accompanied Paul along with Bob Paquette, Executive Director of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), where I am a resident fellow. Paul at the invitation of AHI gave guest lectures in AHI resident fellow David Frisk’s “Modern Conservative Politics” course and in Hamilton College Professor Alfred Kelly’s “Nazi Germany” seminar.

Paul is an internationally recognized scholar on inter-war European history. One of his recent books is about fascism, so it’s doubly insulting that one of the signs said, “Students Against Fascism.” Paul is funny, mild-mannered, and incredibly learned. As I wrote in my article for the AHI website, he chatted with one student in German, and had there been students who spoke French, Italian, Polish, or Hungarian, he could have done the same with them. He also could have given them lessons in classical Greek, a subject he used to teach.

Paul was never thrown off his game by the accusatory questions from protesting students who were allowed into the classes. There was not a bit of hostility towards the self-righteous students in the hallway who pinned him, repeating the quotations attributed to him that they pulled up on their cell phones.

Predictably, the student newspaper, The Spectator, that week indicated that Paul Gottfried, who was accused of “espousing hateful opinions,” should not have been allowed on their campus. On December 7 the paper published an essay “Too little, too late, too tolerant: President Wippman fails to condemn Gottfried,” by Katherine Barnes. College President Wippman, in her opinion, should not have permitted the disseminator of “hate speech” on her campus; nor should the Student Assembly have defended free speech. She seconded Marcia Chatelain’s argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education “’that by defending the First Amendment to the point of openly allowing hate speech on campuses, universities and faculty are endorsing white nationalist ideologies and putting marginalized students at great risk for mental health issues and self-harm.’”

By “marginalized students” I assume that she was referring to students of “color,” at least two of whom listened to Professor Gottfried and asked him some good questions. These young men (one who is on the football team) did not seem to me to be on the verge of tears or suicide. They seemed quite capable of defending themselves both physically and intellectually. In fact, there was a friendly repartee between Professor Gottfried and them and all students.

Ms. Barnes claimed that those who engage in “hate speech” “incite violence.” According to her this is what Professor Gottfried does. But I saw no violence. I didn’t even hear a bad word. To the contrary, students received two scholarly presentations about an interwar European political movement and an American postwar political movement. Some continued the conversation over dinner at AHI. Photos are on our website.

But Barnes, connecting far-flung dots, tied Paul Gottfried to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and claimed that he had inspired a terrorist group–serious charges, indeed. No doubt, were someone to try to sue her for defamation, Ms. Barnes would argue for her First Amendment rights—the very same rights she would deny to others.

Rather than attending the lectures or even reading my article, Ms. Barnes chose to smear the character of an incredibly accomplished scholar. Had she done either of those, she would also have learned that Professor Gottfried, in response to a student’s charge, expressed concern about the direction of his old friend Richard Spencer, now 39 years old, who has, Professor Gottfried pointed out, gone off the rails.  He described Spencer’s current views as repellant. Spencer was to be the speaker at the Charlottesville rally in protest of the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. Had the domestic terrorist group Antifa not shown up or had the police done their job, the rally would likely have gone on without incident. A 220-page report described the failures of the police department, including the police chief reportedly telling his assistant, “’Let them fight,’” so unlawful assembly could be declared, and then pushing the Unite the Right group into the area where the larger Antifa group was assembled.

The tragic events in Charlottesville, which included one death, to which Barnes tied Professor Gottfried did not arise from words of “hate.” Violence is the result of actions. And Paul Gottfried had nothing to do with any of it.

Rather than listening to what Professor Gottfried had to say, she and her fellow censors stopped up their ears like two-year-olds and demanded that Paul Gottfried and those like him not ever be allowed on a campus reserved for special people like themselves.  Alas such demands for “protection” are common in that newspaper. More recently, the newspaper ran an article by a female student whining that the Pub on campus has too many white men patronizing it. The student writer and her female friend felt so uncomfortable that they had to leave. So delicate (or intolerant) are these students that they now suggest that people of certain races and sexual orientations are imposing on them by their mere presence. Other pressing student concerns include the lack of tampon dispensers in the men’s rooms (“Menstrual Hygeine (sic) Initiative struggles to find funding following a year of Student Assembly financing”), and sex (“Sex & the Campus: doing it on antidepressants”).

The editor-in-chief of that newspaper is Charles Dunst.  He apparently did not like the fact that some people felt that the protestors’ behavior was inappropriate and wrote about it. In his article, “’Liberal’ Campuses, Conservative Media, and the First Amendment” in the American Prospect, he charged back at the article written by Paul, whom he laughably called a “conservative firebrand.” The subheadline accused the “right-wing media,” including National Review, of going into “overdrive” to discredit Hamilton students exercising their free speech rights.

A few corrections to his claims of what he calls “right-wing ideologues” who “egg on” others to believe that conservatives on campuses are “besieged truth tellers” are in order. Dunst, like Barnes, has failed in his journalistic duties on several points.

#1: AHI is not a “largely conservative think tank,” as he claims. In ten years’ of existence AHI has never issued a formal statement on an issue of public policy, nor does it intend to. AHI focuses on undergraduate education in the great books.  On our walls are framed posters from speakers who ranged from Marxist to varieties of conservatism. A member of the board of academic advisors is the lawyer Marc Elias, one of the most prominent Democratic attorneys in the U.S. today. I recall an event when two of our AHI undergraduate student fellows joked about the fact that one had served as an intern for now-Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, a Republican, and the other for Senator Kirsten Gillebrand, a Democrat. There are few places where people with such divergent views can engage in conversation.

One certainly cannot do it on the campus of Hamilton College, judging by the stories I’ve heard from students and from attending some student events. Last year, Liz Barry, AHI undergraduate fellow, president of the campus Republican Club, and editor-in-chief of the AHI-sponsored student newsletter Enquiry, described what it was like for the right-of-center student on campus: copies of the publication were stolen and destroyed, she received anonymous notes in her campus mailbox demanding she stop publishing “offensive and inappropriate pieces,” and during the 2016 election season she and other conservative students were harassed by professors, fellow students, and teammates. She had even feared for her physical safety while walking across campus as a male close on her heels shouted “racist, bigot, homophobe.” The Republican Club is now defunct. And we know that it’s because of intimidation that some students stay away from the AHI.

#2: Charles Dunst in using the Southern Poverty Law Center to make the charge that the H.L. Mencken Club (founded by Gottfried) is a “hate group” apparently doesn’t know that the SPLC, purportedly a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and bigotry, has been in the news recently for putting millions of dollars into its offshore accounts. It routinely smears law-abiding citizens who do nothing more than advocate for the English language and immigration enforcement. He links back to article at the SPLC that quotes one its own “researchers” who calls the H.L. Mencken Club as a “’kinder, gentler Klan’”—a ludicrous characterization of an organization that includes various races.

#3: Dunst did what the students cornering Gottfried did: he apparently pulled up a quotation on Google that said Gottfried argued in a 2008 article that “’one would have to be blind or struck insane by the gods not to notice that some races and ethnic groups have a greater capacity. . . .” This came after Dunst’s libelous charge that Gottfried “cultivated bigots.” He could have contacted Paul Gottfried for an explanation. Paul explained to me,

The only article in my fifty years of publishing that has been cited to show my “white nationalist” leanings is something I imprudently agreed to write for the race realist American Renaissance in 2008. This commentary is mostly a critique of white nationalists, whom I accuse of not recognizing that whites are entirely at fault for the victory of Cultural Marxism throughout the western world. The paragraph that the Left has thrown in my face notes disparities in civilizations and suggests that “cognitive abilities” may have something to do with civilizational achievements. This was added in response to another attack on white nationalists by John Zmirak, which seems to deny the role of general intelligence in the building of civilizations. John is a fervent Catholic anti-racist; and it seemed to me that he overshot the mark by denying the role of the cognitively gifted in the creation of high culture. In retrospect I should not have stated my views as openly as I did, but ten years ago it was still possible to make certain arguments that since then “we have all agreed,” in the words of George Will, “not to permit any longer.”

#4: Dunst charged that an AHI article claimed that “’disruptive protests greeted Gottfried’ at Hamilton, with the word ‘disruption’ in the headline signaled (sic) that rabid protestors showed up to make trouble.” The word “rabid” is Dunst’s fabrication. “Disruptive” is not the same as “rabid.” And, yes, to get back to my earlier point, having to walk past a line of students holding up big signs calling you a racist and a fascist is disruptive. It felt like a gauntlet to me, and I wasn’t even the one being attacked. Activists don’t have to be howling and screaming to be disruptive and intimidating.  At least several students in the morning class told the professor that they felt intimidated.

It’s funny how students are so sensitive to language, down to the use of preferred pronouns, yet call someone they have never met or whose works they have not read some of the most vile names in current discourse.

#5: Dunst quotes the director of campus safety who for the time he was there said the protest was peaceful. Yes, by police standards it was. But that does not mean it wasn’t disruptive or that students didn’t, as I saw them, corner Gottfried in the hallway and speak to him in an accusatory manner. I listened in. These quotations took Paul by surprise, so out-of-context were they. Those student protestors who attended the lecture did in a very disrespectful way make all kinds of accusations and take away time from the lecture topics.  One person, Professor Paquette, attended Paul Gottfried for virtually every second Paul Gottfried was on the Hamilton College campus, and Paquette informed me that he had to extract Professor Gottfried from an animated conversation with an outraged student.  Paquette can identify the student.

Some students later accused Paul of making racist statements, a charge that was then circulated by the Government Department. I listened to both classroom lectures as well as to the dinner talk, and nothing, absolutely nothing, Paul said could be deemed “racist.”

#6 Dunst claims that Professor Gottfried’s assertion that a professor “was fired” for bringing him into the classroom is “false. . . . . The person in question was an adjunct hired to teach a single course in the fall semester.”  But according to Professor Paquette, “It is true that the person affiliated with the AHI was “hired as an adjunct to teach a single course in the fall semester.”  But there was an operative assumption, that if the course was taught well, it would not be one course for the fall of 2017 and out forever.  That the government department called the AHI-affiliated professor into a special department meeting to explain himself in the aftermath of the Gottfried affair, that certain government professors proved angry with him, left no doubt in the minds of knowledgeable persons that no matter how well he taught the conservative thought course he was unlikely to be asked for a return engagement.  To date, the person has not been asked to teach the course during the fall semester, 2018.”

Charles Dunst might brush up on his journalism skills. One wonders why he refused to interview either Professor Paquette or Professor Gottfried before publishing the Spectator’s editorial screed.  One wonders what this young man’s transcript looks like thanks to an open curriculum.  Journalism 101 requires even apprentice journalists to make an attempt to interview the principals of a story.  Mr. Dunst and his reporters seem more interested in navel-gazing rather than serious reporting.  He should keep up with current events and do some fact-checking.  If he wants to become a professional journalist, he should stop seeking to attract attention to himself by publishing smears in his newspaper and then repeating them in other publications.