Author Refuses to Play College Cancelation Kabuki

David Manning

Mary Eberstadt is an author and essayist and even teaches at the college level. She has had work published in The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Washington Post, National Review, and a host of other outlets. She is also the Panula Chair in Christian Culture at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., and is a senior research fellow at the Faith & Reason Institute. She served under Reagan on the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.  And that is just scratching the surface.


Among Eberstadt’s books are Adam and Eve After the Pill and Adam and Eve After the Pill, Revisited; How the West Really Lost God; and recently Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. She was slated to give a speech at Furman University today about Primal Screams at the invitation of the head of the school’s  Tocqueville Program but decided to opt out. In Eberstadt’s words:

The book makes the case that social upheavals since the 1960s have led to compounded fractures on generations and that the implosion of family, real-life community and religion has weakened many people’s sense of identity. It further argues that the rise in mental and emotional problems, increasingly visible on campuses and on the streets, is a result.

Eberstadt is no stranger to public speaking. Not only has she taught at the collegiate level, but she has also been a speechwriter, given commencement addresses, and spoken on campuses around the country. But in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Eberstadt talks about reaching out to the previous speaker in the lecture series, Scott Yenor, who is a professor of political science at Boise State University. Yenor’s topic Furman was “Dostoevsky and Conscience.” I will cop to being a book hound and like to think I know my classics, but to be honest, that topic would have zoomed right over my head like a 747. I have one Dostoevsky book on my shelf, Crime and Punishment, and I have yet to summon up the courage to crack the spine.


But the topic was not the problem. No one, it seemed, had an issue with Dostoevsky. Chance’s are, no members of the student body have read Dostoevsky, anyway. The problem the student body and the faculty had with Yenor is that he has been a critic of feminism and has advocated for “sex-role realism.” This resulted in people staging silent protests within and without the venue. Inside the auditorium, Yenor had to walk past lines of people glaring at him, holding posters with hostile slogans and quotes taken out of context. He even required the protection of three policemen. Yenor told Eberstadt, “Never in my life have I experienced a crowd so uninterested in learning, and so unwilling to hear. They were simply filled with malice.”

Ahead of Eberstadt’s appearance, the usual preemptive strikes began. Posters advertising the event on the Furman campus were removed. The online student newspaper published a piece that applauded Yenor’s treatment and decried the idea of Catholics being invited to speak as part of the Tocqueville Program. The article accused Eberstadt of perpetuating “dangerous myths.” There were also calls to “interrogate” the Tocqueville Program.

Additionally, there would be no course credit given for attending Eberstadt’s speech by the campus Cultural Life Program unless another faculty interlocuter replaced the one who invited her. Letters calling Ebestadt names and demanding that credit for attending her speech be denied were sent to the Cultural Life Program. These factors, coupled with incidents of violence on college campuses by activists, prompted Eberstadt to cancel her speech. No doubt, the recent circus at Stanford surrounding the appearance of Judge Kyle Duncan also figured into her decision.  


In her piece in the Journal, Eberstadt said that the odds of physical violence were low, but “not non-existent.” The overarching factor was, as she put it:

Bullies have a right to protest, but that right doesn’t extend to dragooning others into untruths—including the untruth that people who join a hateful mob have any intention of listening to a speaker in the first place. They don’t, and the rest of us are under no obligation to help them live that lie by playing along.

Eberstadt’s point seems to be that the mere act of showing up will do little except help those voicing the heckler’s veto advance their view. In an era in which victimhood is the coin of the realm, the roles of victim and victimizer are already cast before a speaker arrives at a campus or a venue. And because victimhood is currency, those who are not victims still make cash withdrawals by declaring themselves allies and taking up figurative and often literal weapons against those with a fresh point of view.

The students are cast as helpless maidens tied to the railroad tracks. The speakers are cast as the villains, laughing insidiously and twirling their mustaches at the sound of the approaching cis-gendered train. Everyone else is expected to cheer and hiss at the appropriate moments. And it would seem that college students would not have it any other way.  The irony is that the actual train was built and is driven by the students themselves. It is their own ability to think and reason and, by extension, themselves that they have gleefully tied to the tracks.


So where does that leave us? One can hardly fault Eberstadt for not wanting to subject herself to the juvenile pageantry that would accompany her visit, and for having no desire to engage with people who have no sense of themselves or the world around them. I could have more insightful discussions with our dogs than the average college student. Particularly one who is so desperate to be a part of something greater than themselves and to be relevant and accepted that they parrot whatever is fed to them. And all the while being unaware that they have lit a fuse that could lead not only to the demolition of their enemies, but themselves as well.

I suppose we could effect a national divorce of some kind, although I remain skeptical of how that could actually be achieved. We could heed the advice of Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option and cloister ourselves as best we can while navigating what remains of Western civilization when necessary. But the activists, on campus and elsewhere, will not be content to live and let live. You will never keep the neighbor’s dog off your lawn. They will find you soon enough.

It may be that the battle will not be won by flying sorties of free thought into enemy territory. It may be won by choosing to live one’s life by one’s values, not in direct conflict with the prevailing tyranny, but in spite of it. And by refusing to play the game. Yes, there will be times when the groupthink may intrude to the point that you need to fight back, but I was not moved to leave progressivism by a campus speaker or conservative radio show. I was moved to leave progressivism when I was finally able to see for myself the cesspool of greed, hypocrisy, and self-actualization that it truly is. It does take courage to fight, but it also takes courage to remain unchanged when all about you are clamoring for your mind and your soul. Or your head. Their goal, after all, is not just to silence you but eliminate you. While you may not be able to shout down the heckler’s veto, you can refuse to submit to it.





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