Response to “Moss Pushes False Narrative… Yet Again”

By MATTHEW WALKER

I may be mistaken, as Alexander Khan’s argument in his recent letter to The Middlebury Campus is not always easy to follow and on occasion descends into ad hominem attacks that are frankly below the level of what one should read in a newspaper, but it seems to me that what Khan is basically questioning in it is the veracity of my colleague Professor Moss’s description of Ryszard Legutko and his party in Poland, Law & Justice (PiS), as homophobic. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions in anything of course, but here, objectively speaking, it is beyond dispute that Law & Justice and Legutko in particular hold views about LGBTQ rights that are controversial and “hard-right” by US or European standards. This is not just something you will only hear from left-wing campus radicals, or even specialists who happen to speak Polish and know a bit more than most about the region, it is also something you can read about in The New York Times, in English.

The article in the NYT is from last month, but Legutko’s views on LGBTQ rights have been “well-known” for years. See, for instance, this article from The Guardian from 2011, which describes British Conservatives’ efforts to “play down” their relationship in the European Parliament with hard-right parties like Law & Justice and their representatives, chief among them Legutko himself.

What I myself find especially remarkable about the many discussions of the events surrounding Legutko’s visit last month is this: on one hand, one side of the debate seems to insist that it has an “inviolable” right to invite any speaker to campus, no matter how controversial he or she may prove to be; on the other, there has been a consistent effort on the part of many of the same people to “play down” the controversial nature of Legutko’s views, to present him as an even-handed scholar rather than an ideologue. Why this reluctance? Simply put, I think that if we invite controversy to campus, we also have a responsibility as academics to own that controversy, as it were.

I also think that if we are to make any progress in our arguments over free academic inquiry and inclusivity at Middlebury, we have to begin by being honest with ourselves. First and foremost, we have to admit that our right to the former is not, in actual practice, an absolute principle, that there are indeed lines that most of us are not willing to cross (I, for one, do not believe that any of my colleagues would ever invite, say, David Duke to lecture on campus, and I hope I am never proven wrong). Once we admit to this, then we can have a more honest discussion about Mr. Legutko: as the reluctance I mentioned above indicates, what both sides are really arguing about in his case, now, in 2019, is how close to the line we are.

Matthew Walker is an assistant professor of Russian at Middlebury College.

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