‘Be proud and loud about being a leftist stronghold’

02-03-2017, 17:09

At Radboud University, students are made into left-winged puppets, fears student Joppe Hamelijnck. PhD researcher in European geopolitics Rodrigo Bueno Lacy does not agree with him and gives his own, academic view on the matter. 'This is not a shortcoming of the Radboud University, but a weakness of what right-wing politics has transformed into.'

Some weeks ago I walked past a coffee truck of the VVD stationed at the Erasmusplein and it begged my incredulity to see young Dutch students, who grew up propelled by one of the most egalitarian societies in the world, working for free to promote the very party trying to dismantle the wealth redistribution that they represent. It reminded me of ‘false consciousness’, a concept in Marxist philosophy that refers to the ideologies through which elites mislead the poor and vulnerable to shoot themselves in the foot so that the rich and powerful can have a structural advantage in the race for better material conditions. The interview with Joppe Hamelijnck from the youth association JOVD drove me into a similar fit of disbelief.

Radical left-wing
Although there is no space here to address the highly debated and geopolitically differentiated meaning of ‘left’ and ‘right’ politics, it should suffice to say that this dichotomy is the oversimplification of an otherwise complex political spectrum. The ideal of free public education for all and, on the larger context, of a fair point of departure for all, was as much a concern of the Communist Manifesto as it is of classical and modern liberal theorists, from Adam Smith to John Rawls.

In today’s global context, this heritage is represented by what are considered ‘radical left-wing politics’. More wealth redistribution is intended as a stronghold against an ever more automatised political economy that is turning profitable work into a luxury and driving exploitation into the mainstream. Non-discrimination is a stronghold against a political insurgency of prudes and xenophobes that want to resuscitate proven self-destructive policies. Environmental awareness is a stronghold against cartoonishly evil industrialists bent on the destruction of our biodiversity, safety and economy just to make an extra buck.

The fact that such ‘leftist’ stances happen to enjoy a more defensible moral ground and are supported by science is not a shortcoming of the Radboud University, but a weakness of what right-wing politics has transformed into.

The proposal of the Dutch House of Representatives to research the political orientation of Dutch universities that Joppe favours calls to mind another crucial concept emphasised by ‘leftist’ authors: power. In order to locate power one needs to go no further than the teachings of The Big Lebowski and ask the ancient Roman maxim: cui bono?, i.e., who benefits? Since the bill was proposed by Duisenberg (VVD) and Straus (PVV), one doesn’t have to be an insightful political analyst to envisage how two far-right parties — and make no mistake, the VVD is far-right — would benefit from it: science contradicts the core positions of their political platforms and universities are among the strongest bulwarks of resistance against them.

‘Who is with me and who is against me?’

The overwhelming consensus in academic literature does not back up the racism, socio-political inequality, or environmental degradation that their platforms propose either by action or omission. Moreover, parties with increasingly authoritarian platforms aiming to chart universities’ ideological inclinations have historically not been the champions of diversity but rather have had a very different concern in mind: who is with me and who is against me? Lists of ideological affiliation have always been the tool of purges, not of diversity.

Joppe complains about feeling isolated as a student with non-leftist perspectives, as if right-wing perspectives suffered from an ideological and political marginalisation. Not only are right-wing newspapers and broadcasters the most circulated and watched, but media’s modus operandi privileges the status quo, and right-wing fake news supported by propaganda behemoths are subverting entire democracies. Joppe worries about an echo-chamber and yet he would like the Radboud University to align with the hegemonic right-wing perspective which is already overwhelming.

Surely, science must be reformed and made less authoritarian. Yet the reforms that Dutch universities require are not fostered by the VVD or the PVV but by those who Duisenberg himself associates with ‘vandals’: the students who occupied the Maagdenhuis in Amsterdam or those who took over the Terecht Café in Nijmegen — who, mind you, were not supported but rather shut down by an administration that bragged about its magic power to turn any spark of creativity into a dead space.

Now, the idea that objectivity is the researcher’s detachment from subjectivity is a fairy tale for children. Objectivity refers to scientists’ awareness and honesty about their inescapable bias as well as their openness to question it but also to the firmness to offer their advice in a subject of their specialisation. If in my occasional lectures I advocate what I am sure is considered a very noticeable left-wing approach to European geopolitics, for example, this is precisely because of the knowledge that I have acquired through my research, not in spite of it. The difference between insight and bias is that bias knows better yet decides to lie in order to advance its own political agenda, whereas insight implies an awareness of different opinions yet advances a specific standpoint on the conviction of its inherent merits.

To be sure, science needs to be protected from ideologies. However, what Joppe associates with a left-wing bias is science itself. The idea that a ‘diversity of perspectives’ would require the Radboud University to respect points of view based on flat-out lies represents the kidnapping of emancipatory language by those interested in wiping out diversity.

The university is not an ideological Noah’s Ark and not every single unfounded opinion deserves proportional representation in a lecture room of higher education subsidised by Dutch taxpayers. What Joppe associates with a less hypocritical university would involve opening academic spaces of teaching and debate for the traditional enemies of science: authoritarianism and superstition. The Radboud University and Nijmegen surely have no use for this.


  1. Stephan wrote on 2 maart 2017 at 18:33

    Look at US Universities. Look at them only for a second.
    I am left myself but that shit is just crazy…disgusting even.
    the left has transformed US universities in kindergardens and carebear groups.
    There professors and Students already have to fear for their positions or even more whenever they oppose the opinions of the far left and progressive students. Right leaning speakers, or just speakers with ideas against the left consent are banned from talking because of being ‘harmful’.
    Who can promise me that we are not going there?

    If this man thinks embracing one political side over the other is healthy he is nuts. The left is going crazy, and the entitlement that is oozing out of this man is not helping us to keep our elft from going nuts.

    • Berber wrote on 3 maart 2017 at 16:24

      I rather think the US has bigger political problems than universities being liberal havens.

      Also, how often does “right leaning” actually mean bigoted? Because bigotry actually is harmful.

      Judging people by their gender, their skin color or their sexual orientation is wrong. Judging them by their words and actions is perfectly reasonable.

    • Stephan wrote on 6 maart 2017 at 11:37

      Well in US universities things are always then right and bigoted when they do not confirm with the liberal stundents views and expectations.

      You dn’t agree with us? You are a NAZI! plain and simple.

      And I do certainly think that the intellectual degeneration of institutions such as Universities is something a society should be very worried about and certainly not a small problem.

      There are student groups that call for the abolishment of science becuase they are oppressing, fascist and inherently white….just look at UWE’s comment.

      This is not a small gorup of ‘crazies’, they are growing!

  2. Uwe wrote on 3 maart 2017 at 18:41

    I profoundly disagree with the personal opinions of Joppe and the values he propagates. Yet, despite someone’s morally rejectable views and opinions, I chant for a respectful dialogue, which allows to carefully listen to cries for attention rooted in people’s personal experiences and emotional traumas. Breaking these down scientifically, as done by Rodrigo, is not leading to understanding and equality through granting each other dialogic space, acknowledgement and dignity. This particular situation or failed dialogue between them, as well as the university and so-called “science” more generally, would greatly and humanely profit from people dedicated to their stories, personal experiences, and unique moments that form and shape our lives and views. University needs students and professors (or however one could refer to them without falling into a language, which reproduces the inherent hierarchy universities strive on), who trust their personal language, feelings and stories more than any scientific story, political ideology or hierarchical position of intellectual superficiality and power. By escaping into structural arguments through scientifically (yes, also your use of Marx here is rather scientific than specialized) decoding someone’s quite personal opinion – even though it stands for and resonates with the growing confidence of right radicals, who no longer feel the need to mask themselves as conservative or liberal -, the inherently authoritative and fascist core of science and the university as a site of knowledge (re-)production is reproduced.
    To elucidate my point:

    “There will be no room for, not even interest in, inner growth, in the liberal education that […] leads to respect – respect for the divine, for the earth, for our fellow human beings, and so for our own dignity. […] The politicization of the spirit is also a kind of nihilism. The individual is no longer a spiritual being with questions to which no answer is forthcoming. The question about the meaning of life is replaced by the goal. The goal is happiness, and politics will provide that. No worries, no doubts, no questions. Myth or reason, tradition or science, right or left: one or the other will show the way – the way to the perfect society and the perfect human being. But the nobility of the spirit has been cast out. The perfect barbarians have arrived.”

    • Stephan wrote on 6 maart 2017 at 11:34

      This! This is exactly what I meant.

      People at a University should take their personal feelings and experences over studies and scientific working and facts.

      And science is ‘inherently fascist and authorative’.

      Are you serious?! Sorry for my choice of words but, what the F?!

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