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We have followed Adrian Vermeule on this blog for some time.

Vermeule (scroll down) is a standard-issue Trumpian who continues gassing on about election fraud. He is a theocrat – I mean, a real one, as in he wants the United States ruled by Jesus, and, if Jesus doesn’t want the job, by His designated ayatollahs. We can anticipate that these would include the much-laureled Josh Hawley, plus, well, Adrian Vermeule.

Vermeule’s one peculiar distinction is that he’s a Harvard law professor; and it turns out that more than a few of his students are now officially really really creeped out to be in the same room with the dude in various required classes. UD is all for these students complaining about him; indeed, intellectual self-respect rather demands that his students make a public statement of some sort about the odd fact of their being taught, at the nation’s greatest university, by an off-the-charts anti-democratic fanatic.

No punishment allowed, of course; Vermeule finds himself a tenured Harvard professor and fine. But squawking about the obscenity of having to endure the presence of a freak who wants to destroy your country – excellent.

Margaret Soltan, January 14, 2021 9:44PM
Posted in: professors

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8 Responses to “We have followed Adrian Vermeule on this blog for some time.”

  1. Rita Says:

    AV is a nut, but most of the tweets the HLS students flagged in this outrage petition are obvious jokes and provocations that the students have taken literally, or statements of conventional social conservative/Catholic positions on social issues. Most of these concentration camp tweets are him tweeting about being sent to a re-education camp himself. The “whiff of grapeshot” tweet is a response to a tweet about antifa bringing a guillotine to a protest – an obvious French Revolution/counterrevolution joke that seems to have gone over their heads. The blog post about immigration is arguing for MORE Third World immigration. The tweet about atheists not being able to keep an oath is straight outta John Locke. Should we send the Law School dean to give Locke a good talking to as well?

    The guy is obviously just being a provocateur, and these students are falling for it like unsubtle blockheads. None of the comments they claim are racist are racist by any sane definition (the national birth rate is “a white supremacist talking point”…and also a standard topic of demographic study). Why endorse this nonsense? There is no reason for HLS to censure faculty for 99% of the stuff AV tweets unless they want to make humorless priggishness a requirement of employment (does academia really need more of that?). The actually alarming stuff he’s written isn’t on Twitter, where he focuses on snappy comebacks and rarely makes any arguments. They could complain that he’s a theocrat if they want. That’s true enough. Unfortunately, that doesn’t disqualify him from teaching law any more than being a communist would. Alas. And the fact that they demand that he be investigated and his required class be made optional, etc. is just more of this “boo-hoo this prof makes me feel so unsafe when he says disagreeable things so please persecute him for me, o great admins” pettiness that’s grown out of the Title IX ethos that Laura Kipnis describes so well. AV is not Q-Anon. He’s repackaging an old critique of liberalism in a stylish new way, and it’s a very compelling critique to a substantial minority of Americans, so it has to be answered with an argument. A number of scholars are doing just that – Micah Schwartzman, Kevin Vallier, etc. That’s the right response, not whining about how being around a conservative Catholic who likes to rile you up makes you feel “unsafe.”

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi Rita: If Northwestern U gets to keep its Nazi engineering professor (which it certainly does), Harvard gets to keep its put Jesus on the throne of America professor. As I say in my post, the guy lands for whatever reason in a tenured spot at HLS and so be it. I’m sure he teaches his courses as responsibly as Arthur Butz teaches his.

    My only point is that I’m pleased his students are complaining about him – that is certainly their right, and I’d say even their responsibility. I think they’re wrong to want to do anything other than make the biggest collective stink they can about how humiliating it is to have striven to be admitted to the greatest university in the world and then be stuck with a profoundly anti-democratic religious fanatic — a “nut,” as you rightly call him. I think those that recognize what they’ve got in AV should do all they can administratively to drop his courses and learn the law from non-nuts. Voice a complaint, and then, if at all possible, walk away.

    As AV mentally deteriorates and begins burbling in class about burning this or that student at the stake because of a late paper, then his students can go further than complain. But complain they should – and loudly. The price of liberty is intelligent and strategic response to people in love with slavery.

  3. Rita Says:

    Except this complaint barely mentions that he’s an anti-democratic religious fanatic! That’s *your* objection to him. The students object to his being “offensive” and “violent” and “racist” and “making light of concentration camps.” Those are just trumped up accusations to appeal to the public grievance machine. That’s like if I don’t like what you teach about Delillo, UD, but I know that complaining about that won’t get any attention, so I demand that you be censured for racism instead.

    And why don’t they object to AV’s actual theocratic arguments instead? Maybe that’s not what really bothers them b/c they only care about enforcing surface-level pieties, which seems entirely possible (it’s quite remarkable that they don’t cite *any* of his actual writings, as though he is a professor of Twitter rather than the law). Or b/c they see that taking issue w/ his politics would imply a litmus test for faculty that some on their side would also fail? (Like remember those Weather Underground terrorists who also rehabilitated themselves into law profs? They didn’t just tweet in sympathy with people who attacked the Capitol; they went and bombed it themselves…) Either way, it’s very weaselly, and a terrible precedent, accusing the guy of everything *but* what he’s actually guilty of just to get attention.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Rita: I agree. Fact is, he has tons of quite legitimate, respectably dull, legal writing; and fact is, going after him for being offensive or scary or racist is dumb. These students are correct to sense that something is very wrong with the dude, but they haven’t put the work in to figuring out precisely what that is and why it’s worth squawking about. Instead they’ve gone the snowflake route, which makes it easy for them to be ridiculed/ignored.

  5. Rita Says:

    It’s not even much work – you don’t have to read the admin law stuff; the theocracy is all in popular publications like First Things and American Affairs and his blog. But you have to reconstruct the argument and its implications, which is a little harder than screen-capping soundbites and saying GOTCHA! There are acutely mentally unhinged people in universities, threatening students and stripping naked and all that; you’ve profiled lots of them. But AV isn’t that sort of nut, and it’s foolish to believe he can be countered this way.
    This kind of thing mainly strengthens his argument that liberalism is a religion whose followers act in heavy-handed and irrational ways to purge heretics, just like…Catholicism, only unlike the Church, they can’t admit what they’re doing to themselves.

    Also, speaking of Delillo, have you seen this: https://news.avclub.com/noah-baumbach-reportedly-adapting-don-delillos-white-no-1846055448. Not sure if it will be good, but certain that, like everything that anyone objects to these days, it will be racist.

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I saw the news about the White Noise film – there have been a number of adaptations announced over the years, and none of them materialized, so I’m waiting to see about this one.

    I’d love to see a filmed White Noise! So much of the novel is slapstick – it could be a hilarious film.

    AV’s students might start here – a reasonably sympathetic account of what he’s up to, from a fellow Catholic. Sample paragraph:

    ‘[T]he godfather of contemporary integralism proper is Pater Edmund Waldstein, a Cistercian monk and proprietor of the most prominent integralist website on the internet, The Josias. And Waldstein does not mince words: in a move that virtually no postliberals would condone, Waldstein openly defends the burning of heretics as a sometimes-necessary feature of Christian society. This much starker approach to integralism has been taken up and adapted by Adrian Vermeule—Ralph Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and Twitter provocateur par excellence—who has openly called for the slaughter of originalism, the sacred cow of constitutional conservatism, and its replacement with a jurisprudence intended “to ensure that the ruler has the power needed to rule well.” Such rule, per Vermeule, would involve the destruction of free speech principles, “[l]ibertarian conceptions of property rights and economic rights,” “a powerful presidency ruling over a powerful bureaucracy,” and the “curb[ing] of the social and economic pretensions of the urban-gentry liberals.”’

    Love that last one. But hey love them all: a big ol’ Trump Unbound for our earthly Big Daddy; the death of free speech and all that other freedom stuff…

    I don’t actually think AV’s arguments demand/deserve deep study. Like all … what was the word this writer just used? … stark assaults on democracy it is a contemptible position and would be threatening if it weren’t so fringe and grotesque as to be – thankfully – negligible. It’s not even intellectually intriguing in the way some harsh critiques of democracy can certainly be.

    Vermeule’s Jesus-authoritarianism is especially contemptible because he knows better. He’s no Bama yahoo; on the contrary. And it is yet more contemptible because, although absurd in itself, the association with AV gives intellectual luster to frighteningly authoritarian forces within the Republican party:

    [T]his movement is getting darker, more desperate and more radical, and some strains of it appear to be contemplating a fundamental and permanent break with liberal democracy’s most basic core commitments.

    The heretic-immolaters are of course fascinating from a psychiatric point of view.

  7. Rita Says:

    Yes, these people are all in my discipline and I’ve been following their arguments for years. (This Pater Waldstein fellow recently sent me a social media friend request; how lucky I am!) You’re right that the explicit positive proposals (end free speech! establish the Church!, burn the heretics lol) are fringe, but I would be more hesitant to assume the critique of liberalism is getting and will get no traction. Contemporary political theory, w/ the important exception of John Rawls and his followers, is almost nothing *but* critiques of liberalism, from the left and the right (Lasch, Charles Taylor, Schmitt, Strauss, the Frankfurt School, Foucault, Heidegger – you name ’em, we dissertate on ’em).

    And now enough students have been drilled in this stuff that it’s leaked into our broader politics, again on both the left and the right. Liberalism is low, atomizing, oppressive, destructive of our highest human potential. And the left and right critiques have in common the sexy argument that it is a giant hypocrisy whose contradictions the sophisticated critics can learn to see through. For the left, the hypocrisy is that its commitments to freedom and equality were founded on and continue to require subjugation and marginalization of various minorities, and that its economic basis relies on the exploitation of outsiders and internal low-castes. For the right (and the integralists love this point), liberalism’s hypocrisy is to profess religious neutrality and an official pluralism and tolerance, but to behave in fact just like every previous established church and persecuting religion towards those who question liberal dogmas. So, it’s no worse for the Church to burn a few heretics than for the liberal state to inflict social death on dissenters – at least the Church is honest about its practices! The “low but solid” goods of liberalism aren’t even really solid, it turns out. Just low. So why not aim higher?

    So to the degree that these sorts of debunking critiques are attractive to an actually very large number of especially younger people, perhaps we *should* take AV and his ilk’s arguments seriously, or at least as seriously as we would take the police abolition, post-gender, liberationist socialists’ arguments. Not b/c we think police abolition is a winning political agenda any more than abolishing free speech is, but because they point to contradictions in our political principles that maybe we should try to answer.

    You say AV is a Trumpist, but I don’t think that’s right. He approved some of Trump’s actions when they aligned with his own aims, criticized others, but these people have not hitched their wagons to Trump as their leader by any means. They’re easily going to outlast him, mainly through the attractiveness of their critique, not their positive agenda. (You can look at the example of AV’s great hero, Carl Schmitt, to see how that works – a literal Nazi who is now adored by the academic left even more than the right. Unmasking hypocrisies is a powerful drug.)

  8. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Rita: I’ll see your Foucaultian bad boys (I’d add Zizek to your list) and raise you Rorty, Dworkin, Sen, Nussbaum, Habermas, Ackerman, Dahl, Josh Cohen, Brian Barry, David Held, Raymond Aron, Jane Mansbridge, G. Sartori, Ben Barber, Philip Pettit, Hannah Arendt…

    The opposing sides are very clear here – AV is an authoritarian; he all-out attacks liberal democracy and all its attributes. The people on my list represent a broad spectrum of political positions, but none of them is anywhere near the universe of AV. All of them are democrats; none are authoritarian. Only some are liberal. They support the institutions and practices of liberal democracy, even as they criticize them.

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