When did universities become such hot-beds of conservatism?

February 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm (atheism, Christianity, Civil liberties, Cross-post, Education, Free Speech, Islam, religion)

Above: One of the ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoons that have caused so much “offense”. Click on the picture for a clearer view.

By James Bloodworth, cross-posted from Obliged To Offend

Aside from the drinking, experimentation with drugs and casual sex, university life has traditionally been a place where young people have cut their teeth amidst a wealth of new and exciting ideas. Not every university student is lucky in this respect, of course – at the former poly I attended the closest I ever got to political activism was throwing rotten vegetables over the garden wall at our affluent neighbours – but as a rule, university students tend to leave with a better understanding of a number of political trains of thought than they had before they went.

The latest idea to be popularised at university, however, is not really a political idea as such, but rather a sensibility. It is not taught in lectures, nor as far as I am aware does it have any social societies to its name. It is backed, however, by a great number of the political activists universities up and down the country are famous for. I am talking, of course, about the idea that students require protection against being “offended”.

Lots of things, such as racism, homophobia and sexism, really are offensive. No one should be in any doubt about that. Nor am I in any sense trying to downplay the feelings of offense people feel from time to time about a wide range of things. Who, apart from an ice-cold sociopath, could never feel offended?

What I am referring to, rather, is the increasingly popular notion that a person has some sort of right not to be offended; to have their ears stuffed with cotton wool whenever anyone says anything that might bring their worldview crashing to the floor like a house of playing cards.

There have always been some who have sought to use force to silence those they perceive as blasphemers and critics, of course. Fortunately, our relatively free society has for the most part pushed such people to the margins, and it is no longer possible to be dragged out of bed in the middle of the night over a poorly timed joke about a beardy chap (secular or religious).

It seems to have been learnt in some quarters, however, that if your feelings are hurt you again no longer have to actually bother challenging the argument of a rival at all, but can instead cling to the irrefutable and subjective notion of “deeply held belief” to silence your critics.

An example of this made the news recently when the President of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society at the prestigious University College London (UCL) had to step down after a furore erupted over the publication of a cartoon featuring Jesus and Mohammed having a beer.

The strangest thing about the whole affair was not the behaviour of the devout, which was depressingly predictable, but rather the reaction of much of the student political left – historically the very people supposed to be the defenders of free expression. The only Left group that put out anything defending free expression was the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, of which I am a member.

In response to the “incident” (or the publication of a couple of scribbled pictures, whichever you think most appropriate), the LSESU Socialist Workers Society put up posters around campus that included the following pitiful statement:

“The Atheist Society’s efforts to publish inflammatory “satirical” cartoons in a deliberate attempt to offend Muslims serve to highlight a festering undercurrent of racism.”

You may notice that they could not bring themselves to say outright that the cartoons were racist (because they were not), but instead sought deliberately to confuse the matter by saying the pictures “highlighted a festering undercurrent of racism”.

What was it Orwell once said about the use of this sort of language?

“When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”

When did the student Left become so conservative?


  1. Jimmy said,

    Anyone can say they are offended about anything but how can they prove it. Well if they decapitate someone that may be proof. Religious people are fair game for ridicule and deserve it. They talk piss without evidence. Faith is not evidence just indoctrination. Muslims are still into decapitation as the Christians used to be but some would probably still like to be!

  2. Roger said,

    Er….when the left was successfully colonised by pseudo-left middle class wankers obsessed with third worldism and identity politics?

    And assuming there are any actual student Conservatives at the LSE I’d be pretty sure they’d have been lined up on the other side.

    Whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad….

    • Jimmy said,

      The left were originally middle class. The working class were not so stupid to follow them.

  3. Roger said,

    And if I were a conservative student I would certainly be raising a complaint with the LSE union that the SWS was not promoting a safe and respectful environment for nascent members of the capitalist class (of whom there are of course a great many at the LSE which has long been a favourite finishing school for young members of the global bourgeoisie) with all that talk of revolution.

  4. Robin Carmody said,

    The AWL, in its political context, is truly the only remaining connection to the source.

    • Faster Pussycat Miaow Miaow Miaow! said,

      Bollox to that.

      There are divers sects/traditions which remain connected to the source(s). These include:

      The Socialist Party of Great Britain (the ones who drink real ale and smell of piss — ie not CWI affiliated).

      The Socialist Party (CWI affiliated — called SPEW by the ones who drink real ale and smell of piss).

      The International Marxist Tendency (neither drinkers of real ale/piss-stained nor affiliated to CWI). Without exception exceedingly clever and right about everything.

      Various Worker-Communist currents.

      None of these are the AWL.

  5. Robin Carmody said,

    Though the elephant in the room here is surely “if only the Tory establishment had remained Arabist”

    • Rosie said,

      Yeah – if they had been the antisemites they used to be, the SteveH’s of this world would have been proud to support their Zionist comrades in the progressive struggle against obscurantism and theocracy.

  6. SteveH said,

    That word free expression again or to put it more precisely, the ability to say things we want to say but excluding those things we think people should be resticted from saying! Patrick Evra seemed offended by comments levelled against him. FYI – He’s a footballer.

    “Er….when the left was successfully colonised by pseudo-left middle class wankers obsessed with third worldism and identity politics?”

    I thought that would be the Shiraz posse answer. Interesting that you lot seem to be obsessed by racism etc when it suits but rail against ‘identity’ politics, which I don’t think historically was invented at middle class dinner tables but from those people directly on the receiving end of discrimination etc! It just so happens that elements of the middle class (and other classes) thought it was a struggle worth supporting. What is wrong with that?

    Actually, forgive me if this sounds stupid, New Labour did some good things in the area of identity politics. That goes in the plus column. The war in Iraq goes in the minus one. Though to the Shiraz posse it is probably the other way round!

    On universities, this story isn’t quite what the headline would have us believe. I was expecting some comment on students being generally more apolitical these days and less revolutionary or lecturers being more conservative. But no, it was yet another veiled attack on the anti imperialist camp! Talk about a site with a unhealthy obsession!

  7. charliethechulo said,

    “New Labour did some good things in the area of identity politics. That goes in the plus column. The war in Iraq goes in the minus one. Though to the Shiraz posse it is probably the other way round!”

    Jeesuus: you really are an ignoramous, aren’t you? As well as a political cretin.

  8. sagan said,

    So there you have it. In a comparatively unguarded moment SteveH has let the ferrets of his fundamental ignorance out of the sack.

    ‘Identity politics’ doesn’t address the causes of oppression, it is merely special pleading. For the struggle against racism, sexism and other inequalities to succeed it must be part of the class struggle, not separate from it. Cross-class alliances are forever destined to end with the boots of the usual suspects on the necks of workers.

  9. SteveH said,

    ChuChu train,

    I think, for the record, my history (being a union rep etc etc) is a more sound political grounding than your one trick pony of childish and not very clever put downs. I doubt you would know politics if it bit you on the arse frankly.

    I could probably write a computer program to write your responses and save you the time. Just insert cretin here and stupid there.

  10. SteveH said,


    The cat would be let of the the bag if your insane interpretation was taken seriously. Only on this site would it stand a chance!

    Identity politics does address the causes of oppression if, wait for it…..the identity politics in question deals with the causes!

    Your view is that of an out and out determinist and has been disproven by history time and time again. It fails to get to grips with a dialectical approach. So your view of my so called ignorance is actually a reflection of your insular fundamentalism. A tip for you – never let the sect take over your mind!

    I have to laugh.

  11. Rosie said,

    James Bloodworth’s view of universities as necessarily progressive and liberal places is ahistorical.

    Here’s another example of “identity politics” in action at a university.

    “April 8, 1933 – a memorandum to Nazi Student Organizations proposed that culturally destructive books from public, state and university libraries be collected and burned. The Deutsche Studentenschaft (German Students’ Association) started its anti-Semitic action. In May 1933 books from university libraries, written by anti-Nazi or Jewish authors, were burned in squares, e.g. in Berlin, and the curricula were subsequently modified. Jewish professors and students were expelled according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany, see also the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. Martin Heidegger became the rector of Freiburg University, where he delivered a number of Nazi speeches. On August 21, 1933 Heidegger established the Führer-principle at the university, later he was appointed Führer of Freiburg University.”

  12. SteveH said,

    “Yeah – if they had been the antisemites they used to be, the SteveH’s of this world would have been proud to support their Zionist comrades in the progressive struggle against obscurantism and theocracy.”


    It should be pointed out that fascism was a class politics project. And the Nazi’s had their own class politics.

  13. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘And the Nazi’s had their own class politics’.

    You know that full well, you brownshirt scum.

    • SteveH said,


      • sackcloth and ashes said,


  14. Jim Denham said,

    Only one thing is funnier than Mr H’s claim to be a socialist (rather than the Strasserite he actually is); that’s his claim to have been a class-struggle /union hero:

    “…my history (being a union rep etc etc) is a more sound political grounding than your(s)…”

    Pathetic, childish, and very, very, unwise (as in cruisin’ for a bruisin’), eh?

    Do you really want to play this game, Mr H?

    • Pinkie said,

      Don’t you ever get embarrassed, James, by the fact that many of the people who post here are by your reckoning ‘brownshirts’?

      Just what is it that is so attractive to Strasserites here?

      Are you just a little bit worried that they might win you over, or that you are encouraging them?

      I expect that your ‘hard Freudian’ mate might help you see this through. Or not.

      • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

        utter weirdo. pinkie by name weirdo cunt by nature

      • Pinkie said,

        The ever charming Will Rubbish:

        “utter weirdo. pinkie by name weirdo cunt by nature”

        Give it up, Will, a forty something man who regularly posts misanthropic empty threats of violence is in no position to call anyone ‘weird’.

        You are a silly poseur, who craves attention, and unfortunately gets it.

  15. Jim Denham said,

    “Are you just a little bit worried that they might win you over, or that you are encouraging them? ”

    Food for thought there, Pinkie…eh…eh…
    …on balance…

    • Rosie said,

      Phew – that’s a relief – I thought SH’s swingeing dialectic and unanswerable* arguments would have “turned” you.

      *Unanswerable as a dog barking or a cow mooing is unanswerable.

  16. sagan said,

    SteveH — an official in Solidarity ‘The Union for British Workers’. So transparently völkisch. It’s all a ‘kosher conspiracy’.

  17. Roger said,

    Universities were progressive only during that brief golden age of Keynesianism that some of us were lucky to enough to experience part of.

    Prior to that they were usually the hotbeds of reaction (unless like Tsarist Russia the society they were part of was in itself so absurdly reactionary that no self-respecting intellectual could be anything other than oppositional).

    Not just in Germany but in every country in Europe except for the USSR the interwar universities produced legions of student activists for the far right.

    And now the last relics of the welfare state are finally being destroyed
    they can now once again return to their proper historical role producing a well-trained clerisy to keep the masses docile.

  18. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

    wot roger sed

  19. Rosie said,

    @ Roger – yeah, our idea of universities and students is from about 1960 on. Universities opened to a broader social mix and at a time of great cultural change. There were far more universities in the UK at least. In Brideshead time at Oxford if you were a scholarship boy, foreign or of marked artistic interests you had a good chance of having your rooms trashed and being ducked in fountains by hearties from the class which regarded the places as their playground.

    Someone – I think it was Hitchens – described nineteenth century Oxford as a “theocracy”.

  20. Roger said,

    From the civil war onwards Oxford was the last redoubt of Royalism and ultra-Anglicanism – When Gladstone began his political career in 1829 it was as the anti-reform act, anti-catholic emancipation, pro-slavery MP for the university seat.

    That Oxford East (which includes the colleges) is probably now the nearest thing to a Labour safe seat left in the South East arguably just shows that they continue to be devoted to lost causes.

    • Jimmy said,

      I can see the point in being anti-Catholic emancipation. That is like releasing genocidal religious loonies. Remember the Inquisition Wodger!

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