Did The Federalist Society Join The Censors?

For those who keep a keen eye on the shifting rules and sexual mores on campus, few voices have proven more effective, clear and forthright than Cathy Young’s.  Among the unpopular and politically incorrect issues she tackles is the whole “rape culture” thing, from the pervasive phony statistics to the effort to disengage it from a criminal issue to a gender civil rights issue.  Young has been a leading voice throughout.

All of which makes this a head-scratcher.

Thanks to the efforts of the academic left, this view [of silencing critics of politically correct orthodoxy] is increasingly prevalent on college campuses. However, some right-of-center organizations now seem terrified of challenging rape-culture orthodoxy.

In March, 2013, Young spoke at St. Louis Law School, where she was met with some antipathy by the faculty advisor, who insisted that he also be on the ticket as her opposition.  She got a call from Federalist Society president Eugene Meyer a few days later to discuss the “negative reaction” to her presentation.

Imagine my shock when, on November 11, Meyer called out of the clear blue to inform me that the Federalist Society had to drop me from the list of approved speakers due to extremely negative feedback from people who had attended the latest events and found them offensive.

After writing about this experience, the Federalist Society responded:

As anyone familiar with the Federalist Society knows, we don’t shy away from controversy, and we continue to host events with speakers on the range of topics that Ms. Young claims we are unwilling to address, including  “Civil Rights on Campus.” . . .

We appreciate Ms. Young’s contributions to the public debate on these questions. But based on feedback from Federalist Society student chapter members who had invited her because they were eager to hear her point of view, at the present time we are opting to recommend other individuals (who share Young’s basic perspective) to debate and speak about these issues.

Very politic. Not very informative. Maybe Cathy went from engaging speaker to bore?  Maybe Cathy went from calm, thoughtful voice to shrieking shrew?  Maybe.  Or maybe the atmosphere on campus has affected the student Federalist Society groups so greatly that either they can’t handle the contrarian heat or that students, even those who join the Federalist Society, have accepted the orthodoxy to the point where they no longer desire to hear voices like Young’s?

In its response to my column on my relationship with the Federalist Society’s speakers bureau, the Federalist Society claims that it continues to host events on the same topic that got me dropped from their list—challenging hardline feminist doctrines on “rape culture” and rape legislation—and speakers who share the same “basic perspective” as mine.

The response offers three examples: an upcoming panel at its Lawyers’ Convention, a discussion at the Los Angeles Lawyers’ Chapter, and a multimedia feature on its website. What’s missing here? A single event at a student chapter. This makes me wonder whether, in fact, debate on this subject is now effectively out of bounds at law schools.

I’ve never been a member of the Federalist Society, as I’m the sort of guy who wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member, but it’s a private society and can choose who to promote as a speaker and who not to promote. So, the fact that it’s chosen to “disinvite” Cathy Young is entirely up to the society. But the fact that it made that choice raises a question worthy of consideration.

Having read much of Young’s writings, I’m a huge fan.  She speaks with a credible and extremely thoughtful voice, though one that flies in the face of neo-feminist and liberal orthodoxy. If she’s been culled from the herd because she’s just not as good a speaker as she is a writer, so be it.  Much as that determination may hurt her feelings, no doubt she can accept the fact that she’s no longer an audience favorite, and engaging the audience is what speaking is about.

But if the problem is that the Federalist Society has gone limp in the face of campus opposition to the predominant sacred cows, that the Academy has so influenced the minds of its students that opposing voices are no longer tolerable and must be silenced, or as former Federalist Society student president Ron Coleman suggests, the babies are too afraid of their ideology burning their opportunity for lucrative employment, that’s a different animal.

One problem on campus has been the rise of neo-feminist dictates of language and thought. Another, and related, problem is the imposition of speech and behavior codes that seek to shift the burden of human experience in favor of neo-feminist dogma.  These are discrete problems, subjects of speeches and writings by people like Cathy Young.

But if the voices of the loyal opposition have grown so timid, so fearful, that they are unwilling to take the risk of offending the prevailing political ideology on campus, then the battle for free speech and due process is not only lost, but the battle to keep dissenting thought alive on campus has been lost as well.  If the Federalist Society, or its student members, lacks the guts to disagree, and now succumbs to pleasing its politically correct masters, who is left?

In responding to Cathy Young’s question, Eugene Meyer was given the chance to provide the rationale behind its choice. Instead, he punted and offered vapid and meaningless rhetoric.  Maybe he didn’t want to hurt Cathy’ feelings, but Cathy has opened herself up to a smack if that’s what she’s due.  She seems pretty tough, and I bet she can take it.

Yet, the smell emitting from the response is that the Federalist Society’s days of boat-rocking are over, at least on campus, and that their student members have either sold out for a job or have locked arms with the orthodoxy, at least enough so that voices like Cathy Young’s make them twitch and cry.  The only thing left is to change the Federalist Society’s anthem to Kumbaya and end each meeting by leaning in.


5 thoughts on “Did The Federalist Society Join The Censors?

  1. Steven M Warshawsky

    As someone who probably leans more to the right than many folks who read and comment here, I see this as part of a larger trend that has been going on for at least two decades now, which is to say the gradual squeezing out of “conservative” speech from the mainstream of our society but especially in higher education. Unfortunately, “conservative” speech increasingly encompasses anything that contradicts the modern liberal orthodoxy. I don’t foresee this trend reversing. Whether one views PC progressivism as a dream or a nightmare, it is our future.

    1. SHG Post author

      As someone who leaned more to the left for most of my life, the inflexibility and hypocrisy of progressivism has pushed me further and further right over the years. Regardless of what value I believe should prevail, the inability to tolerate discussion or challenge is unacceptable. I read Orwell, Huxley and Vonnegut too. I’m not going down without a fight.

      Added: This could explain why liberals and conservatives alike find me repugnant. Or, maybe I’m just repugnant.

      1. lawrence kaplan

        Or maybe you try to be consistent and stand up for defendants’ rights and due process of law whether regarding black teenagers whose rights are trampled upon by both police and prosecutors or young men accused of rape, whose rights to a proper defense are curtailed and abridged, if not denied altogether, by too many “progressive” thinking people.

        1. SHG Post author

          According to whose ox I’m goring at any given moment, my consistency is a blessing or a curse. The problem is that it doesn’t align with any political ideology, which is probably for the best.

  2. John Burgess

    It’s been going on for far longer than 20 years. Try going on 50.

    I’ve no trouble remembering the times I was alleged to be an “FBI snitch” on campus solely for the fact that I argued that the then-prevailing orthodoxy of the progressives might have some errors. Those on the right weren’t a whole lot better… to them, I was the secret driver of SDS on campus because I didn’t see them as infallible, either.

    If you’re in a boat floating on a sea of faith (of whatever flavor) it doesn’t pay to rock the boat.

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