Repressive Tolerance Returns To Brandeis

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  • 12/30/2014
A plaque at the entrance of the American Civilization Center at Brandeis University proclaims:  “To speak freely, to question openly, to differ without fear.”

That plaque has been tarnished by the unwillingness of Brandeis University to live up to that credo.   Rather than immediately defend Brandeis student Daniel Mael’s right to republish a fellow student's call for intifada in America and her lack of remorse over  of the death of the two NYPD officers, Brandeis has let radical forces threaten Mael’s safety. 

As Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote: “There’s an ugly tempest brewing at Brandeis University and it’s based, at least in part, on free speech, tolerance and student safety. The storm grew out of a more generalized anger with the state of public discourse and of the safety of individuals in our society at large.

But at this point, one black self-described revolutionary and one Jewish conservative journalist, both Brandeis students, are the figureheads in a battle for the soul of an institution.”

That battle was lost long ago.  Brandeis, like many other universities now limit the actions and speech of anyone who differ with those groups who define themselves as oppressed or as defending the oppressed.   

Like many other students, Kadijah Lynch is embracing a radical, wholesale attack on America’s democratic capitalism that begins with limiting the freedom of those who disagree with you or dare to criticize you and ends with those that are ‘oppressed’ deciding what the oppressors can do.    

To the radical, suppression of free speech is necessary if the society is unjust and unequal.   The ruling classes and its apologists will use political freedoms and civil liberties to stay in power.   And anyone who disagrees with any aspect of the program or worldview is regarded as a threat to revolution.  Hell, freedom is simply a bourgeois prejudice, as Lenin put it.

So attacking Daniel Mael for reposting ugly Tweets from a fellow student and self-styled revolutionary is not wrong, it’s moral.  

And Brandeis University – or at least a significant share of the administrators, professors and students feel the same way.

Some would point to the University’s invitation to have Jimmy Carter speak about the evils of Israel and dis-honoring Ali Al-Hirsi because she had spoken about the evils of radical Islam as examples of this allegiance to a radical form of egalitarianism.   Indeed, bashing Israel and defending Islam is the most common way to demonstrate support for ‘the oppressed.’   That explains why the anti-police forces have drawn the attention of ISIS, Al Qaeda and why the social media mob attacking Mael is led by the Hamas campus organization, Students for Justice in Palestine

Brandeis not only practices a form of ‘free speech’ that encourages such groups, it is the fountainhead of what Herbert Marcuse – one of its former professors – called repressive tolerance. 

Marcuse believed that in America freedom perpetuates injustice.  In 1965, while still at Brandeis, he wrote a highly influential article entitled, "Repressive Tolerance“ As a Wikipedia article on Marcuse argues that “genuine tolerance does not permit support for "repression", since doing so ensures that marginalized voices will remain unheard. He characterizes tolerance of repressive speech as "inauthentic." Instead, he advocates a form of tolerance that is intolerant of right wing political movements.  That is, the liberation of the oppressed requires silencing those who oppose them.  As Marcuse asserts:

“This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.

As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: ... it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.”

While teaching at Brandeis, Marcuse was afforded every opportunity to speak his mind.  True his worldview, Marcuse took every chance to criticize those who disagreed with him.   Abraham Sachar, the President of Brandeis who hired Marcuse in 1954 said that Marcuse was “the most relevant symbol in my experience of the cynical radical who demands independence as a right for himself but considers it ‘hypocrisy’ when it is expected of him.”   Sachar goes on to note that Marcuse was not fired for his views but rather quit to accept a longer contract from another university.   Sachar writes that Marcuse never sought to the set the record straight.  Rather, he remained silent. 

Today Brandeis has endorsed the ‘narrative’ of a radical professor being fired for his views.  It recently celebrated Marcuse with a one-day conference entitled: “The Many Dimensions of Herbert Marcuse.”  An ironic title since the event was an intellectual love fest that skated over the discussion of repressive tolerance.  The International Herbert Marcuse Society largely organized the event.  The group consists of diehard radicals who view the organization as an engine of repressive tolerance.  So for instance, the next Society conference focuses on the following question: “ Given Marcuse’s emphasis on praxis, critical pedagogy cannot be limited to classroom space in universities - how can a critical rationality translate into programs of activism, agitation, and organization?”  In other words, how can universities be turned into factories of radicalization and repression?

Marcuse dedicated “Repressive Tolerance” to his students at Brandeis including Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman.   Davis became closely associated with the Black Panthers, the Communist party and most notoriously, with providing her sawed-off shotgun to kill a judge who had sent her lover, George Jackson, to prison.  She was acquitted and later received the International Lenin Peace Prize (formerly named the International Stalin Peace Prize) by East Germany.  These events have been scrubbed from the official Brandeis University biography of Davis.  

The failure to defend Daniel Mael’s right to republish the vile and violent comments of Ms. Lynch is the result of Brandeis University’s passive acceptance of repressive tolerance.   It is a sad decline.

Sachar recalls that Marcuse and other leftist professors organized a rally at Brandeis during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  They called the Khrushchev-Castro decision to based misses in Cuba as a legitimate response to “American imperialism.”   One speaker, anthropology professor Katherine Gough, declared to wild applause, that if war broke out she hoped America would be defeated. 

When Sachar found out about her comments, her met with her to find out first hand what she said.  Hough repeated her statements.  Sachar told her that he did not “quarrel with her right to denounce American foreign policy. The freedom of platform gave her no warrant for an irresponsible attack.” 

Gough’s husband David Abele (head of the anthropology department) claimed that Sachar’s criticism was illegitimate.  Sachar replied “apparently freedom of speech means that you can dish it out but you don’t have to take it.”  To which Abele said: when I speak it’s my right.  When you speak its intimidation.  Incredibly, Abele then requested a bonus for his wife.  Sachar said no.  Abele and Gough left for another university, but not before suing Brandeis for ‘unfair treatment.’

Sachar did not reward Gough or Abele for their behavior.  His determination to uphold the credo “to speak freely, to question openly, to differ without fear” caused those that attacked that principle to leave Brandeis.

Up till now, the Brandeis community and its president, Fred Lawrence, have failed to defend Daniel Mael and speak out against repressive tolerance.   Next week, when Mael and his parents meet with Lawrence, who is considered to be the front runner to head the Anti-Defamation League.  The president will have a choice:  the valor of Abraham Sachar or Marcuse’ radical program of suppression. 


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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