The Judith Butler Affair

Free vs. right thoughts

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Above the entrance to the auditorium at University of Uppsala there is an inscription in golden letters: “Tänka fritt är stort men tänka rätt är större.” “Thinking freely is great, but thinking correctly is greater.” “The right thought is more important than the free thought.”

This view is still common at Swedish universities, although what is considered correct and right has changed. According to this view, you go to university in order to learn the truth, in order to learn what’s what. A course on right-wing thought, from this perspective, is an abomination. Universities should not teach that. Instead courses should be carefully balanced so as to include every viewpoint. As soon as a contested issue is under discussion, as soon as there are many truths, all perspectives must be represented.

This is dogmatism and it has nothing to do with intellectual pursuits. At proper universities, at least in the humanities, you don’t learn what’s what, you learn how to think for yourself. You do this as you are exposed to thoughts and worlds which you previously knew nothing about. You learn to think as you are challenged, learn to criticize and ask new questions. A course on right-wing thought works well for these purposes — and so do, obviously, courses on many other kinds of thought. This is why we read the ancient Greeks after all, although they were both pedophiles and slave-owners. Once you have learned how to think, that’s the idea, you go on to find your own truth.

Proper intellectual pursuits are free, not forced. Proper intellectuals are critical and subversive. Thinking correctly is what fascists do, and government servants. And, in Sweden, far too many university employees and students.


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