The Growing Threat of Repressive Social Justice

Most professors and students in the social sciences, humanities, education, social work, and law, and most university officials at Canadian and American universities today have adopted a political ideology labelled “social justice,” which requires redress for categories of people deemed “oppressed” for reasons of race, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and/or religion. For the many who hold this view, it is the highest morality, undeniable, unchallengeable.

Liberal or conservative views regarded as disagreement or opposition to “social justice” are felt by its many advocates to be racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and bigoted, and they feel that these views should be strongly discouraged. Those expressing reservations to the prevailing ideology are not infrequently called racist, sexist, alt-right, white- or male-supremacists, and/or fascists.

“Social justice” ideology is upheld in a variety of ways detrimental to free speech and open discussion, among which are refusing to publish other views in student newspapers, blocking invitations to speakers with different views, disrupting speakers alleged to be violating the accepted ideology, blocking recognition and funding of student groups with other views, and restricting speech in “safe spaces.”

This enforced monopoly of ideas goes counter to the traditional view of universities as a “marketplace of ideas” where students had the opportunity to open their minds to a wide range of ideas, and different theories and arguments were tested against one another. The liberal argument that sound views can develop only through arguments being defended against contrary arguments is not respected in our contemporary universities.

In response to the current restriction of ideas on campuses, the Provincial Government of Ontario on 30 August 2018 mandated Ontario universities to protect free speech. Premier Doug Ford stated, “Colleges and universities should be places where students exchange different ideas and opinions in open and respectful debate. Our government made a commitment to the people of Ontario to protect free speech on campuses.”

The Government of Ontario, according to the Government guidelines, requires universities to provide a definition of free speech based on the University of Chicago “Statement on Principles of Free Expression.” Universities may not shield students from opinions with which they might disagree or find offensive. Students and student groups must be free to challenge and criticize views with which they disagree, but they must not, under pain of disciplinary punishment, interfere with the freedom of others to express their views. These principles apply to faculty, students, staff, administration, and guests, and universities are responsible for compliance.

This policy appears to be more than public relations; it is armed: “Colleges and universities that do not comply with the free speech requirements may be subject to a reduction in operating grant funding. Students whose actions are contrary to the free speech policy are subject to existing campus student discipline measures. Any complaint against the institution that remains unresolved may be referred to the Ontario Ombudsman.”

Why does the Government of Ontario think that freedom of speech on Ontario campuses needs its protection? After all, freedom of speech is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, notwithstanding the Canadian Charter, the reality of college and university campuses is that freedom of speech is out of favor, often expressly forbidden, sometimes suppressed with non-violent or violent means.

Student opinion does not support freedom of speech. My own anthropology students at McGill University, asked whether they favored human rights, as set out by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, endorsed by almost all countries in the world, or cultural relativism, which takes the view that all cultures are equally good and valuable, and that no judgments should be made across cultural boundaries, overwhelmingly favored cultural relativism.

This is also true among American students. When asked to say which was most important, 46% said free speech, while 53% said inclusion and diversity. But among female students, only 35% said free speech. Given that females now dominate universities numerically, approaching 60% of graduates, and among administrators, the disfavor of free speech among females becomes determinant. Reporting this survey, Michael Barone concludes in the National Review, “College and university campuses have been transformed over the past half-century from the zone of our society most tolerant of free speech to the zone least tolerant.”

A few of my senior seminar students complained that “you couldn’t say anything” at McGill without being rebuked and called nasty names. Part of this is the entrenched idea that no one should ever feel offended. This is a major thrust of “diversity” initiatives. Even innocently intended comments or questions can be called “micro-aggressions” by hyper-sensitive females and hyper-sensitive racial and ethnic minorities. If a male student says something, anything, to a female, it can be dismissed with prejudice as “mansplaining.” Asking a student of Asian background if he or she is in sciences or engineering, is a “micro-aggression” because it reflects an ethnic stereotype. Wearing an Israel t-shirt is regarded by some Arab students as an assault.

Should a professor say anything that a student complains offends him or her, such as using the word “niggardly” or reading a quote from an author that could be construed as demeaning females, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, etc., the “inclusion and diversity” commissars come down on him or her like a sledgehammer. The professor may be required to apologize, sent to a “re-education” course, not be allowed to teach certain courses, be suspended, or terminated. Some universities require or are considering required mandatory “social justice” training for students and staff.

One diversity initiative enthusiastically adopted by many universities is instituting racial and ethnic apartheid on campus by providing separate eating facilities, dorms, and social facilities for different racial and ethnic groups, such as blacks, Hispanics, East Asians, Muslims, etc., although there are no facilities designated for whites.

What is crystal clear is that universities’ beloved “diversity” does not include a diversity of opinion. Quite the contrary. Any opinion that does not conform with “politically correct views”—and what is politically correct at universities is opinion that ranges from “progressive” to leftist to far leftist–is blocked or disrupted. Classical liberal, moderate, and conservative groups are often neither recognized nor funded by student unions, while all leftist and ethnic groups are recognized and funded. Radical feminist, Palestinian, black, Hispanic, Muslim, and Asian groups are recognized and funded, but men’s issues groups, right to life groups, pro-Israel groups are not.

But it goes beyond favoritism to leftist groups. Events sponsored by student groups and even by university administrations of speakers who are disfavored by leftist student unions and groups are disrupted and closed down. There is a long list of such events in Canadian universities, such as McMaster, Concordia, Alberta, York and a longer list in American universities.

The political bias in our universities is structural. As has been documented repeatedly, the political leaning of North American professors and administrators is firmly left, far left, and extreme left. The numbers are remarkable: “Published in Econ Journal Watch last month, the study looks at faculty voter registration at 40 leading universities and finds that, out of 7,243 professors, Democrats outnumber Republicans 3,623 to 314, or by a ratio of 11 1/2 to 1.” Other studies show similar results: “Focusing specifically on social psychology academics, a 2014 study found that “[b]y 2006 … the ratio of Democrats to Republicans had climbed to more than 11:1.” The six authors, all from different universities and members of the Heterodox Academy, also said, by 2012, “that for every politically conservative social psychologist in academia there are about 14 liberal psychologists” according to Arthur C. Brooks. Academy member Steven Pinker described the study as “one of the most important papers in the recent history of the social sciences.”

This structural bias is not an accident. As I have seen first hand, candidates applying for jobs are vetted subtly or overtly for their political views, and anyone not holding strong leftist views, radical feminist views, and anti-capitalist, anti-West views, is not hired. Not only must candidates hold these views, but must engage in activism on their behalf, a requirement that has now become formalized as a necessity for being hired. At UCLA, applicants for faculty posts “must document their contributions to “equity, diversity and inclusion.” For decades American universities have advantaged minority candidates for faculty posts on the basis of a motivated misreading of “affirmative action,” and Canadian universities now favor minority candidates on the basis of “diversity.” Students know that they must express leftist views in their essays, or risk getting poor grades and letters of reference. Everyone knows what is acceptable and what is not.

While there is a long Classical and Judeo-Christian philosophical tradition discussing social justice, it is the neo-Marxist version of “social justice” that has more or less become the official creed of North American universities. While orthodox marxism emphasized the class struggle between the proletarian workers and their capitalist exploiters, it has had little political success in North America because Americans and Canadians did not think of themselves as proletarians, and preferred to consider themselves middle class. Neo-Marxist “social justice” has succeeded by extending class struggle to race, gender, sexuality, and religion. “Social justice” theory divides the world into white, male, heterosexual, Christian and Jewish oppressors, versus people of color and indigenous natives, females, gays, etc., and Muslim victims.

This vision of “social justice” requires that whites, males, heterosexuals, and Christians and Jews should pay the price for their oppression. They should be marginalized and replaced by people of color, indigenous natives, women, gays, and Muslims. Note that people are no longer to be considered as individuals with particular abilities, qualities, values, and opinions, but rather to be reduced to being members of census categories, and treated as such. As well, being a member of the majority is considered proof of guilt, and only minorities are regarded as virtuous and worthy.

“Social justice” urges that only minorities should have power. That this judgment appears to contradict the basic principles of democracy does not seem to bother advocates of “social justice.” One manifestation of “social justice” theory is an enthusiasm for so-called “decolonialization,” drawing on orthodox Marxist-Leninist anti-imperialism dogma. In Canada, this means Euro- Asian- Latin- and African-Canadians surrendering to ever-increasing demands by indigenous native groups for special rights, land, and funds, as well as preferred access to the benefits of Canada’s advanced Western society, including university places and jobs.

Any verbal challenge to “social justice” ideology is severely discouraged in universities. The facts are believed to be “settled,” so no discussion of alleged “facts” is allowed. For example, one may not question the alleged “fact” that we Canadians live in a “rape culture.” And one may not question the alleged “fact” that all cultures are equally good and valuable.” Or that the West is the cause of all of the problems in the world. Philosophical consideration of values and justice are tolerated as long as consistent with “social justice” ideology. Any criticism, on grounds freedom, diversity of opinion, or democratic process is rejected as far right “hate speech,” and the critics designated as fascists.

However much the United States may be a “sea of freedom,” Canada has tended to favor order over freedom. After all, in Canada, one can be jailed for even threatening the people who are violently attacking his person or stealing his property. Acting with force to defend oneself leads directly to arrest and trial. This is particularly the case when the intruders or attackers are members of a minority.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself has a “social justice” provision that waives the rights of the majority in favor of disadvantaged minorities. While provision 15-1 states that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability,” provision 15-2 states that 15-1 does not preclude laws or activities for the “amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups … because of race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

This 15-2 provision, like every “social justice” measure, ignores the fact that giving special benefits to one category of people inevitably blocks others from those benefits, and thus undermines treating individuals fairly and justly according to their individual human rights and their merits. If a Hispanic person is hired because Hispanics are allegedly disadvantaged, then Asian or indigenous native or Haitian candidates with better qualifications are unfairly treated on racial grounds.

My own Department this past year decided to hire two indigenous native professors on racial grounds, precluding from consideration potential Pacific Islander, East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and South American candidates, and of course white candidates, who might have been stronger applicants on the now despised academic grounds. Any objection to racial hiring is answered by accusations of lack of sympathy for oppressed minorities.

Our Canadian islands of repression are surrounded by a sea of freedom, but a sea tamed by the Government of Canada, which has adopted and is mandating “social justice” policies. The Minister of Science has required federal funding, for example of the Canada Research Chairs Program, to be justified by “diverse” hiring. If the candidates put forward by the universities are not sufficiently “diverse,” the Government intends to withdraw funding from the offending universities. As the Minister herself says, “We must make every effort to give more people—women, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities—the chance to make their greatest contribution to research.” Note that there is no requirement at all for qualifications, and certainly none for equal qualifications, nor any concern whatsoever for those individuals left out because they do not fall into a favored racial, gender, or ethnic category. Of course, by “diverse,” the Government means only racial, gender, and ethnic diversity, certainly not diversity of opinion. We have seen with summer grants that the Government intends systematically to suppress diversity of opinion.

Canada’s so-called Human Rights Commissions suppress free speech if it offends someone: “unwelcome remarks or jokes about your race, religion, sex, age, disability, etc.” are defined as “harassment,” and can be punished by the Human Rights Tribunal with orders to remain silent, and or fines. Although the Canadian Human Rights Law provision to censor opinion was amended with Section 13 deleted, provincial Human Rights Commissions maintain similar provisions. For example, the Alberta Human Rights Act forbids public expression as follows:

“3(1) No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that … (b) is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt because of the race, religious beliefs, color, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.”

So, in Canada, what the law is saying is, if you cannot say something nice, you may not say anything at all.

The opposition to free speech is not limited to universities and the Government of Canada. We must remember that universities are the fonts of all of our professions: lawyers, doctors, engineers, social workers, and teachers. So those who shape our young and those who police our families are carriers of the “social justice” ideology that they learned in university. Our next legislators are mostly going to be lawyers who studied in “social justice” law schools. What is taught in universities does not stay in classrooms. As John Maynard Keynes said, “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” Today neo-Marxist “social justice” ideologues have shaped and are shaping future MPs, MLAs, Ministers, Public Service bureaucrats, teachers, business leaders, and other influential Canadians.

So, who in Canada, if anyone, is willing to speak up for free speech? Very few, apparently. But the Government of Ontario has stepped up. Some worry that it is a government that is doing the right thing, although they do not seem to be very worried that most everyone else has been doing the wrong thing. It is ironic that human rights, civil rights, and constitutional rights having been promulgated to protect citizens from government overreach, today it is only governments, such as the Government of Ontario, and many U.S. state governments, that appear to wish to protect those rights.


  • Philip Carl Salzman

    Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Past President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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6 thoughts on “The Growing Threat of Repressive Social Justice

  1. Social Justice is just another word for Empty Thought. It is a headpiece filled with straw:
    a ragged thing full of sound and fury signifying nothing. It is, quite obviously, the Religion of Redress — the dogmatic belief in the terribly perverted notion that our demographic identity defines both who we are and what we deserve.

    And clearly in the “Harrison Bergeron” World of Total Equality, the Handicapper General (or her equivalent) will ensure that reach ritual redressing will be ‘appropriate’.

    That we have whole schools, an entire generation of self-righteous dupes who believe quite passionately in the ‘goodness’ of perpetual redress tells us only exactly how far down the Socialist rabbit hole we’ve fallen. Indeed, the very existence of the Newspeak term, “Social Justice” makes that painfully clear.

    In truth, there is no such thing.

    There is Justice as provided by God, about which we can only speculate…and there is justice as provided by the courts and the tapocketa-tapocketa of our judicial machines churninng….but that is justice as regards civil and criminal malfeasance and misbehavior as determined by juries of our peers. But Social Justice??? The idea that our intersectional demographic group identities earn us credits or debits according to whether or not our particular identity is defined to be owed or owing??? THAT is Alice-in-Wonderland ridiculous.

    If I am short, do tall people owe me? If I am fat, do all the thin ones out there need to pay me some sort of ‘slender toll’? If I am Black, do I hold a note receivable signed by everyone who is right now or will ever be Non-Black…including that newborn White baby over there by the window? If I am woman, should every man pay me a gender tax? If I am gay, can I expect compensation from every heteronormative out there? Would all that be “social justice”?

    If I am hiring, which intersectional identity do I need to hire? Do I get triple-social justice credit if I hire a Black, Female, Lesbian? Quadruple if they’re physically challenged?

    Who determines the appropriate weighting and how long these payments must continue? What does their endgame look like? How will we know when we’ve arrived at Social Justice Nirvana? And how on earth do we handle intersectional demographic values which are conflicting? Suppose I’m a White Male who is Fat and Physically Challenged? Am I even-up because my demographics cancel out? Do I still owe because I’m Hetero? Or does the fact that I have to wear bifocals make me still a ‘victim’ of the oppressor 20/20’s???

    The fact that we have so many so concerned about something so silly, something which is so completely insubstantial, is depressing. The fact that way too many of these True Believers are in positions to make policy and interpret law is tragic.

    The truth is, as Mama told us, “Life isn’t fair.” It isn’t fair that we’re each born with different sets of genetic luggage (not fair at all that Bradd Pitt is more handsome….and Cam Newton more athletic…..and LeBron more of everything). It isn’t fair that we each walk into the unequal lives our unequal parents made for us, unequally. But that, my friends, is life. The question is not is life equal and fair for it never will be. The question is, for each one of us, what will we do with those inequalities we have been given. How hard will we work? How determined will we be? What will we make out of what we have…and will we become the heroes of our own lives, or will that role be played by another?

    In the meantime, God save us from all those who just ‘know’ what’s best for us….what’s best for everybody! God save us from having to experience what will otherwise become the very Orwellian, Great Social Justicey Leveling! (presumably performed by the Ministry of Truth)

  2. “… faculty voter registration at 40 leading universities and finds that, out of 7,243 professors, Democrats outnumber Republicans 3,623 to 314, or by a ratio of 11 1/2 to 1.”

    First, it’s actually 23 to 1 if one presumes (I’d argue accurately) that those who are neither Democrats nor Republicans are actually to the Left of both parties — more than a few would not deny the fact that they are actually Marxists.

    And it’s actually worse than even this because Republican no longer inherently indicates a traditionalist position on social issues. Take, for example, the 2003 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health) that gave Massachusetts (and thus the rest of the country) gay marriage. This was a 4-3 decision where the four voting for gay marriage had been appointed by Republican Governors, while the three who voted against it had been appointed by Michael Dukaks! Yes, Michael Stanley Dukakis, the “Liberal” Massachusetts Democrat who lost the 1988 election to Bush ’41…

    One needs to remember that many Republicans (i.e. the “RINOs”) are far to the Left of many Democrats, particularly those whose values on social/cultural issues are reflective of their Catholic faith. Hence merely being registered as a Republican really doesn’t say much about where one stands on cultural issues, nor how one defines “social justice.”

    In other words, how many of those 314 Republicans support Donald Trump???

    Likewise, how many of the Democratic Professors support politicians along the lines of Joe Liberman, Zell Miller, or even Hillary Clinton — and how many support Bernie Sanders. Or those even further to the left of Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even registered as a Democrat himself…..

    The question we really need to ask is how many professors (particularly younger professors) are to the Right of Vladimir Lenin….

  3. Females may be 60% of the graduates, but the overwhelming majority of them have absolutely worthless degrees. What do you do with a degree in women’s studies, ethnic studies, communications, art history, family and consumer sciences, education (the number of education grades is two orders of magnitude higher than the number of elementary school openings).

    Hope you enjoy your $50,000 of student loan debt while you make that decaf latte with pumpkin spice with almond milk while working as a barista at starbucks. Ironic isn’t it? The place you used to hang out at with the girls is now where you finally got a job!!

    1. Degrees still mean something to those who lack them — and while one may not have learned anything in “Deconstructing” Shakespeare, one can lord one’s purported superior knowledge over one who never had a chance to study Shakespeare at all. The 60%/40% male/female ratio is problematic in terms of interpersonal relations and domestic harmony.

      The other problem is that the truly educated person knows what he/she/it does not know — but the indoctrinated zealot is something else entirely.

  4. The writer’s allusion to the Social Justice Archipelago recalls a line from the original that I have appropriately revised:

    Entry into social justice via the maximum strengthening of prison!

    As with socialism, this is the point to which the moral arc of the social justice universe bends.

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