A conspiracy against academic freedom (1 of 2)

September 1, 2011

I was quietly reading Times Higher Education when all of a sudden a gang of some 100 frenzied historians appeared, intent, it seemed, on riotously attacking a certain David Starkey ("Starkey's a celebrity, get him out of here", "Starkey's ignorance is hardly work of history", 25 August).

They deployed a variety of hideous weapons: incoherent arguments, studied misinterpretations, disingenuous mystification, implausible accusations, and adolescent invective, to name only a few. It was quite a frightening experience for the average gentle academic.

Who are they, I wondered? What do they want? Why are they behaving so appallingly? I was tempted fleetingly to put it all down to the culture of Leftism that has overtaken academia. However, I realised that diverse motivations and structural forces were in play.

These appear, on a preliminary analysis, to include: lingering faith in antique Stalinism, naive commitment to romantic Trotskyism, jealous envy of Starkey's influence and income, angry guilt about the continuing failure of their own pet theories, prejudice against elegant and entertaining speakers, and neurotic anxiety in the face of robust argument. I suggest they be charged with conspiracy to assault academic freedom and held without bail.

David Marsland, University of Buckingham

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