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Rights + Justice

Wait, He Said What?

Should academic freedom protect a professor who says immigrants have damaged Vancouver?

Crawford Kilian 10 Jan

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

An unlikely controversy has arisen between Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang, who is also a professor of psychiatry, and Ricardo Duchesne, a sociology professor at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. It is largely an academic debate -- two university professors arguing over scholarship and academic freedom. But it also raises questions about the extent of academic freedom in a scholar's political activity.

The dispute appears to have begun last May, when Duchesne posted an item on the website of the Council of European Canadians criticizing Jang and fellow councilors, Raymond Louie and Tony Tang, for supporting a motion for research into historical discrimination against Chinese in Vancouver, "with recommendations on steps and actions in support of reconciliation, including a public acknowledgement and formal apology."

Kerry Jang has told The Tyee that he had contacted Duchesne at the time, and had not been impressed with the quality of Duchesne's arguments. He was also concerned that Duchesne might not be keeping his personal views out of his classroom. "I don't know what he's teaching in his class," Jang said. "His scholarship is very poor."

That assertion too is open to debate. Duchesne told The Tyee in an email interview that "I use my research, but I have never used any materials from the blog, and in all my courses I use leftist books and articles, combined with other perspectives." Searching his name on Google Scholar turned up almost 200 hits, including links to many articles by Duchesne and other citing him -- one refers to him as an "outstanding scholar." While he has published only one book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, it appears to have been very well received. He told The Tyee it is "the most extensively reviewed book by a professor in the history of UNB," and Duchesne has ably defended himself against his critics.

So it might better be said that Duchesne shows less balance in political debates than in strictly scholarly ones. And this is strikingly apparent in the Council of European Canadians website, where he is one of the most frequent contributors.

Beyond the 'delusional liberals'

Consider Duchesne's Jan. 6, 2015 post on a Finnish radical nationalist, Kai Murros. After praising Murros's "Nietzschean affirmation of European life and keen appreciation of the atavistic instincts and primordial drives indispensable to revolutionary action..." Duchesne sums him up:

"What Murrow lacks in analysis and rational sobriety, one might say, he makes up in rhetorical effect and keen knowledge of the basic passions and hate-love drives that have always characterized human conflict and revolution, but Europeans in particular as the most energizing and agonistic people on the planet, soon to be revived with an unremitting sense of peoplehood in ways beyond the comprehension of the delusional liberals with their pet projects for a new world order based on racial harmony and deracinated whites."

And here is an example of Murros's less academic rhetoric, from his own blog -- a proposed constitution for a "Ukrainian National Emigrative Republic": "Central to the ethos of The State shall be the overriding principle that all things are innately unequal in the sight of the Almighty. No superior form of Sovereignty to include any Jewish or Semitic power shall ever be acknowledged or accepted. ... The National Republic shall never pretend to be a Democracy." It gets worse.

Back on the CEC website, the statement of beliefs and goals is more temperate, saying simply that " ...Canada should remain majority European in its ethnic composition and cultural character. We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into Canada that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority within our lifetime."

Duchesne told The Tyee, "The website was the combined product of a number of Canadians, more than half of which, including grad students, remain anonymous. Yes, someone from Germany volunteered to help with the design of the website, so that now it is an online magazine rather than a blog."

It's very unclear how the Council statement relates to Duchesne's scholarly arguments. After all, Europeans rapidly took over much of the world between 1500 and 1900, running colonies where they were tiny minorities among millions of Asians, Africans, and Native Americans. If Europeans are so superior, they ought to thrive in (and rule) any population.

'Challenge the current hegemony'

In the page on the Council's "Metapolitical Strategy", we learn that "The domination of the cultural Marxists is so deeply seated, so entrenched inside the psychology of Canadians that we will have next to no impact engaging in ordinary politics." Cultural Marxism or not, this seems a very reasonable self-assessment.

But the page then invokes Gramsci, a Marxist philosopher, and calls for "creating alternative cultural resources which challenge the current hegemony . . . articulating ideas for ordinary Canadians who are dissatisfied with [political correctness] but can't voice their concerns properly."

"The basic idea," Duchesne told The Tyee, "is that we need to work the same way leftists did by making our case through the media, conferences, internet, networking, conferences -- all within the existing liberal democratic rules."

No need to muzzle Duchesne

Now we are in the terrain of Europe's populist anti-immigration parties and Muslim-baiters, who, have likely been encouraged by the recent massacre of the staff of Charlie Hebdo.

But that doesn't mean Duchesne should be muzzled or fired. He has made himself a subject worth studying.

In one sense, Ricardo Duchesne is precisely the kind of scholar that universities should cherish and protect. If academic freedom means anything, it means pursuing the evidence wherever it may lead and reporting what you find. Without that freedom, we'd still be teaching that the sun revolves around the Earth, and that species neither arise nor go extinct -- and that whites, especially northern Europeans, are superior to all other humans.

We don't because other scholars looked at the evidence and found better explanations, however upsetting they might be to the majority's view.

Maybe Duchesne is right after all, and ethnicity really does matter. Maybe the Indo-Europeans (however defined -- it sounds like code for "Aryans") really are a superior ethnic group, the sole creators of modern civilization. And maybe all other peoples (from the Finns to the Bantus to the Japanese) are just riding in the Indo-European slipstream. Maybe they're immigrating to Europe and North America just to take over what the Indo-Europeans have created.

If so, Duchesne should be able to find enormous evidence, and many colleagues, to back him up. All scholars dream, after all, of being the Galileos of their time and subject, the geniuses who overthrow archaic superstition and establish a new paradigm.

Physicist Richard Feynman said the first job scientists must do when they frame a theory is to prove themselves wrong; if they can't, their ferocious colleagues will be glad to have a go at them. Having read more of his website posts than his scholarship, I don't know if Duchesne ever challenged his own premises. Perhaps less radical sociologists and historians are simply ignoring him and hoping he'll go away.

Group links intelligence and race

That would be a mistake. Ricardo Duchesne looks like the latest in a series of scholars who have challenged their disciplines' premises, if not their own. Canadian Philippe Rushton argued that some part of intelligence is racially determined, greatly scandalizing his colleagues and fellow Canadians. The Americans Herrnstein and Murray, in The Bell Curve, argued something similar.

Strong claims demand strong evidence, and such claims soon failed for lack of it. But the debate forced scholars out of their complacency, making them stand up and argue on the facts. That did us all good, including the racists who learned they'd have to raise their game.

The persistence of claims like Duchesne's may scandalize us, but that's beside the point. His fans have praised him on the ''white nationalist'' website Stormfront. Duchesne seems only mildly embarrassed by such support; he told The Tyee " . . . there is nothing I can do about that; at first I was upset when I saw my name listed in a few of these [sites] and asked for withdrawal but there were no replies, and, as I learned later, from one place it spreads elsewhere and there is no control." Surprisingly, he did not repudiate such support, least of all as a misreading of his views.

We have no more business silencing Ricardo Duchesne than the wretched Kouachi brothers had in silencing the writers and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. To suppress unwelcome opinions is to betray our own insecurity, as if astronomers wanted to shoot flat-Earthers.

Something in the experience (not the genes) of Ricardo Duchesne and his supporters has put them sharply out of step with a century of scholars and scientists. They inherited an ancient human attitude: We are the solution; the Other is just a problem. They are more to be pitied (and studied) than scorned.

Most of us are struggling past that attitude. We will escape it completely when we can regard Ricardo Duchesne as a solution -- or at least as an example of how far we still have to go.  [Tyee]

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