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The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

How the Tocqueville Program Makes Furman a Worse Place

“The Tocqueville Program is an intellectual community devoted to seeking the truth about the moral and philosophic questions at the heart of political life.” Prior to Dr. Scott Yenor’s invitation, though, students raise questions about the program’s values.

On February 2nd, a CLP was given by Dr. Scott Yenor, Professor of Political Science at Boise State University. Yenor’s lecture was relatively innocuous, focusing on themes of revolution and human conscience in the writings of Dostoevsky. Protestors—including myself—pointed to Yenor’s lengthy history of vitriolic public speech targeting women, queer people, university education, and Title IX, among other things. We also pointed to his extensive record of hyperbolic, unsupported, and outright false public claims. Multiple students asked questions pertaining to Yenor’s past statements; at each point, though, their questions were evaded in favor of vague gestures at broader arguments.

In a talk at the National Conservatism Conference in 2021, Yenor claimed that “diversity is just the opposite of the strength we need as a country,” independent women are “more medicated, meddlesome, and quarrelsome than women need to be,” and that we ought to “de-emphasize our colleges and universities,” because they operate as “indoctrination camps” and “the citadels of our gynocracy.” When one of our own Furman students asked him to explain these comments at the CLP, he responded that “every society has political opinions you can’t escape.” These “sacred opinions,” he said, are a “crucial element of building up a revolutionary core”—which will then make sure everyone with differing opinions are “killed, cancelled, whatever you want to say.”

Elsewhere, he has referred to HIV/AIDS prevention and birth control education for junior high students as “grooming” by “The Federal Groomerment” and fearmongered about an “alarming rise” in the prevalence of lesbian relationships among Christian women. Unfortunately, Dr. Scott Yenor is only one example of many questionable speakers brought to campus by Furman University’s Tocqueville Program over the past several years. First, however, it is worth having a brief understanding of the Tocqueville program and its recent history.

The Tocqueville Program is run by Dr. Aaron Zubia, postdoctoral fellow with the Department of Politics & International Affairs. Zubia took charge of the Tocqueville Program in the Fall of 2021 following the abrupt departure of Drs. Jenna and Benjamin Storey–who previously ran the program–to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. Besides running the Tocqueville Program and teaching political philosophy here at Furman, Zubia has toyed around with the idea of public intellectualism. His work has been published in the National Review and First Things, with a sparse collection of articles first appearing in 2020.

In June of that year, he published a scathing review of Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special, Douglas, wherein he expresses terror that “the woke world” will tend to ridicule “minority viewpoints”—in his example, anti-vaxxers—into oblivion. In another article, entitled “Woke Progressivism Comes for David Hume,” he rails against the ‘cancellation’ of great philosophers. Last year, however, his rhetoric drastically intensified. “Woke crusaders have captured the public imagination and are cancelling their disputants,” he argues in an article for First Things. Last semester, he played an instrumental role in the publication of Parker Anderson ‘24’s article in the National Review, attacking Furman’s “Sextacular” event. Anderson’s article, rife with hyperbole, expressly false claims, and egregious misinterpretations of events, shows no sign of being overseen by anyone committed to honest scholarly engagement. Most recently, Zubia attained some level of infamy on campus for bringing his baby to an anti-abortion protest in front of the library.

In an email exchange with Dr. Zubia, I expressed my concerns about Scott Yenor’s impending appearance on campus, explaining in detail Yenor’s history of poor public scholarship and its misogynistic, queerphobic consequences. Zubia’s reply reduced my extensive objections to a vague complaint about ‘partisanship,’ dodging the substance of the critique. This is precisely the sort of approach to thinking that the Tocqueville Program encourages: bad faith, unscrupulous, and intellectually slipshod.

Dr. Zubia is by no means the origin of the Tocqueville Program’s history of inviting right-wing ideologues and scaremongers of all sorts to speak on Furman campus. Each year, the Tocqueville Program invites a selection of lecturers to speak on political-philosophical topics. Furman’s official site reports that “Every year, The Tocqueville Program coordinates a series of lectures by distinguished scholars and public intellectuals on a particular theme with a special course created specifically to address that theme.” In reality, these “distinguished scholars and public intellectuals” are oftentimes nothing of the sort. Like Scott Yenor, many spend their public careers pushing forward a hyper-conservative (typically Catholic) political program which is intensely queerphobic, racist, misogynistic, and Christian nationalist in character. And similar to Scott Yenor, they stand in direct opposition to the ethical, careful and studied work that we ought to value as a university.

In Spring of 2021, the Tocqueville Program invited two speakers of note. The first was Pentecostal minister Reverend Eugene Rivers; the second was Joshua Mitchell, Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University. Eugene Rivers spoke to Dr. Benjamin Storey’s class on “The Crisis of Liberalism” over Zoom before giving his public lecture. A good portion of that time was spent lamenting the recent attention given to queer (especially transgender) rights by left and liberal activists. Rivers argued that queer liberation is an intrinsically racist endeavor, distracting from and even contradicting black liberation. To his credit, Dr. Storey apologized for Rivers’ comments when I confronted him on the issue. Joshua Mitchell is most well-known for his book American Awakening, which argues—in a bitterly vituperative tone—that white heterosexual men are the “divine scapegoat” of identity politics. He follows the same thesis in a series of articles for First Things. In an article from last year, he refers to identity politics as an “apartheid scheme” which aims to “purge” the sin of white heterosexual men in a sort of “spiritual eugenics.” Anti-racism, he further claims, is reducible to an attempt to punish white people and invoke racial guilt.

The same trend has continued throughout this academic year thus far. Barton Swaim, Editorial Page Writer at The Wall Street Journal, spoke last semester. Though much of Swaim’s public career is is entirely standard—mainly consisting in entirely competent book reviews for the WSJ—he still repeatedly slips into questionable territory, claiming, among other things, “there is no evidence of voter suppression in black and brown communities.” In an interview with Gary Saul Morson, literary theorist and Slavist at Northwestern University (and Tocqueville lecturer in Fall ’21), Swaim and Dr. Morson discuss the Black Lives Matter protests of Summer 2020 following George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police. In the interview, Morson compares the protests to the period just before the October Revolution of 1917: in both cases, he contends, “lawless violence” was not appropriately denounced by liberals, and many on the left “explicitly endorsed terrorism.”     

The next Tocqueville speaker this semester, following up on many of the same themes of Scott Yenor’s career as a public intellectual, asked in an interview, “Why is there so much about transgenderism? Why is there so much about pride?” Her answer?—the breakdown of the Christianity and the nuclear family. Her name is Mary Eberstadt, and she is the Panula Chair in Christian Culture at the Catholic Research Center in Washington D.C. (a mouthful, I know). Her concern is restoring the traditional Christian family—in less obscurantist terms, the heterosexual nuclear family—the collapse of which supposedly threatens the very foundations of ‘our’ civilization. In an interview with Ben Shapiro, she blames inner-city gang violence on fatherlessness, abortion, and birth control. Poverty is only a subsidiary concern for her, and racist power doesn’t even enter the picture; indeed, blaming issues like gang violence on racism is, in her eyes, no more than “virtue-signalling.”

Eberstadt perpetuates dangerous and evidence-less myths. For example, she baselessly asserts that transgender men transition—in her words, “obliterating the organs and features that attract the male gaze”—because “a minority of bad men run riot in the sexual marketplace.” In an article published last year in the National Review, she claims that the popularity of pro-choice views is rightfully attributed to a “massive campaign of indoctrination” to try and “obliterate” knowledge of the rights of fetuses. All of this is only the tip of the iceberg.

For years—and with few exceptions—the Tocqueville Program has invited a steady stream of right-wing ideologues with public careers defined by not merely bigotry, but persistent intellectual dishonesty and irresponsibility. The public career of the program’s current leader, Dr. Aaron Zubia, evinces similar trends to a lesser degree. Given this, I would ask: does the Tocqueville Program contribute to the growth of an academic community defined by scholarly integrity and justice? The program’s long history of inviting outside speakers with careers shot through by lazy public intellectual work, queerphobia, racist dishonesty, virulent sexism, and even assaults on the value of university education as such forces us, as students, to demand a justification for its existence.

My personal involvement with the program has not been entirely destructive. Many students involved with the program, including myself, joined for the promised opportunity to engage deeply with political-philosophical questions; many are excellent students and human beings cutting across a wide range of the political spectrum. It is to the Tocqueville Program’s credit that it has been able to draw in a number of bright, kind, and talented students. Unfortunately, it has drawn them in on partially-to-entirely false pretenses.The students it most meaningfully caters to are those who fit the Yenor mold. I have been privy to all sorts of awful behavior from these students. Private-and-public misogyny, queerphobia, and sexual misconduct are just a few examples amongst many of these students’ behaviors I have witnessed—and directly experienced. Simply put, the Tocqueville Program designs their program for this type of student, explaining their niche guest list. Moreover, it places them in positions of power and influence over younger students and providing them the resources to maneuver without meaningful oversight.

Insofar as it continuously invites and encourages intellectual irresponsibility and equally irresponsible bigotry, it does far more harm than it does good for the Furman community. It operates as a wellspring of disrespect and unjustifiable vilification of queer, POC, and non-Christian students—all of whom are just as deserving of good and proper treatment as the heterosexual, cisgender, white, Catholic conservatives the Tocqueville Program caters to. The question of what Furman ought to look like demands we interrogate institutions, such as the Tocqueville Program, which violate the principles of honest, open, and ethical inquiry central to the mission of the University.

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