‘My school has made anti-racism training mandatory. Can you give advice on how I and other faculty might effectively resist such a mandate?’
‘My supervisor [at a government agency] has entirely bought into the Black Lives Matter narrative. What is the best way to push back against this pressure?’
‘How should I phrase dissent from [my private-sector employer’s] company-sponsored indoctrination? Is it worth it?’
I have never in my life received so many pleas for help. I work for the National Association of Scholars, and we’ve advised and supported scholars persecuted by the illiberal left for more than 30 years. But in the past two months, the emails have flooded in — and not just from professors. The would-be tyrants of the illiberal left have cast aside all restraint as they jam censorship and ‘antiracism’ propaganda on their employees in workplaces throughout America.
Everyone who writes to me is afraid. All fear losing their jobs, and some fear that public resistance will target them for personal harassment or worse. My correspondents don’t know what to do. How should lone individuals behave now? How can they resist? Should they resist?
Here’s my advice to everyone who is afraid. You can become a dissident and refuse to bend your knee to evil. Imitate Prof Jeffrey Poelvoorde of Converse College. Poelvoorde has refused outright to undergo mandatory ‘diversity and anti-bias training’. His employers may now fire him for ‘insubordination’. Yet he will not bend. You too can summon the strength to say: this violates my conscience and I will not do it.
What does violate your conscience? Each of us should look in the mirror and ask: what is an unconscionable demand? When will I say ‘No, I will not, no matter what happens to me’? We will not resist at all if we do not determine in advance what is intolerable. What actions does your conscience forbid? Write a list. Print it out and tape it to your refrigerator. Look at it each morning and see if the time has come for you to say no. Then do as Jeffrey Poelvoorde has done.
What actions are unacceptable? The great Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave wonderful guidance in his essay ‘Live Not By Lies’. Solzhenitsyn knew the Gulag and he knew the thuggeries of the Soviet despots as they violated conscience and liberty. He knew how hard it was for men and women who just wanted to live an ordinary and decent life, but could not do so, save by accommodating themselves to a violent and self-righteous regime. Solzhenitsyn didn’t recommend ostentatious martyrdom. But he said that ordinary men and women could commit themselves to the truth and refuse to speak, act or endorse any regime-sponsored falsehood. This much courage is in our grasp.
But we are not all Solzhenitsyns. I need my job to feed my children. Or: I think I can still do good if I make compromises to keep my job. Or: I am too afraid to take this course. What then? They knew a lot about absurd tyrannies in the Bohemian lands. Jaroslav Hašek wrote a useful tale in The Good Soldier Švejk. Švejk is drafted in 1914 into the absurd and fatal life of a soldier, and he obeys commands so literally and enthusiastically that he ties the whole army up in knots — and keeps himself from getting shot. Be a Švejk and resist by punctilious, naive cooperation. Report White Fragility or How To Be An Antiracist to your Office of Diversity as racist works that need investigation. When your superior declares that your institution is complicit in systemic racism, ask which specific instances of racist behavior it has committed and who will be reported to the government for their illegal actions. Ask for precise definitions of ‘racism’. Throw sand in the gears. You may discover secret sympathizers.
Or you can imitate the colonial officials of Spain’s long-gone and sprawling empire and adopt as your motto obedezco pero no cumplo: I obey but I do not comply. The king gives orders, but he is far away. Has your boss ordered you to incorporate ‘anti-racist’ propaganda into your work? Say yes, do your work as you always did it and tell your boss that you have been wonderfully ‘anti-racist’. Lose ‘anti-racist’ directives in your inbox.
And if our would-be tyrants seek to destroy you? Then imitate Thomas More, the patron saint of politicians, who took recourse in silence. Henry VIII had his Chancellor’s head off in the end, but More staved off that fate for years. So practice quietness. Answer questions with questions. Perhaps you cannot ultimately defeat the malice of the great, but give no hostages to fortune.
Thomas More looked to God for strength. So did Robert Southwell as he traveled from sanctuary to sanctuary in a Protestant England that cowed its Catholic remnant by fine, mob and gallows. God has continued to sustain men such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Václav Benda, Yosef Mendelevitch and Gleb Yakunin, all of whom bore witness against modern barbarism. You need never walk alone.
Meanwhile, find good friends with whom you can share your heart. Our tyrants seek to establish themselves by destroying all trust, all good will, all civil society, all free speech — and they have been far too successful. You must find good-hearted people with whom you can have true conversations. ‘Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,’ Polonius tells Hamlet, ‘Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.’
We built our free society on such islands of friendship; we can only rebuild it by reestablishing these islands. Until help comes. Until we find a champion for our rights. But where will we find one?
Americans must band together in their own defense. We already have the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Free Speech Union and my organization — but we need our own Solidarity, our own Lech Walesa, our union to defend free speech, free conscience, freedom from harassment, the right to do our jobs without being required to spout party lines. Solzhenitsyn’s catalogue of commitments could form the material for the rights to be defended by an American Solidarity. There is power in a union — power we cannot wield while we face our tyrants alone.
When we Americans do dare to fight, when we unite in our millions, we will secure our liberty. But until we do, each of us, alone, must read Matthew and learn to be wise as serpents. Resist and endure while we wait, with good prudence and in good conscience.
David Randall is director of research at the National Association of Scholars. This article is in The Spectator’s September 2020 US edition.