Last week, the UKrant reported on complaints by staff and students against the inclusion of philosopher and outspoken supporter of Forum voor Domocratie (FvD) Paul Cliteur in the annual Night of Philosophy. What followed was a lively debate within the RUG community about the question of offering – or refusing – a university platform to controversial speakers. Neither the RUG nor the philosophy faculty has come down on the side of no-platforming, though you might not know that from reading Cliteur’s ‘Open letter to the Rector of the University in Groningen’ published in ThePostOnline.
Cliteur came out swinging, criticising first the entire faculty of philosophy and then dean and Spinoza prize-winner Lodi Nauta, whom he accused of trying to shield Groningen philosophers from ideas he doesn’t like. Cliteur also took issue with faculty member Martin Lenz, who raised concerns in his personal blog about the danger of ‘endowing’ Cliteur with ‘extra authority’.
You write that you have concerns about the quality of teaching staff at the philosophy faculty. This concern seems to be motivated by Martin Lenz’s blog post. Do you think you can draw accurate conclusions about the quality of an entire teaching staff based on a single blog post?
‘I based my generalization on the UKrant, which reads: ‘Philosophers from Groningen angered by arrival Paul Cliteur’. My immediate question was: ‘Really? Whom? How many? Why?’ If it now turns out to be about just a few people who reacted to my upcoming visit, I can only be pleased about that. But then the UKrant should have reported more accurately.’
You write that you are concerned about the academic attitude of Dean Nauta. But Nauta only says he will strive for more transparency and discussion when it comes to inviting speakers to the night of philosophy. Are you opposed to transparency and open discussion?
‘I have been invited to speak about my book, Theoterrorism v. Freedom of Speech. I accepted that invitation. Subsequently my talk was added to the Night of Philosophy’s program. All of that seems extremely transparent to me.
If future editions of the Night of Philosophy have to be preceded by ‘open discussions’ about whom to invite and whom not to invite, then I believe not many speakers will be inclined to perform. Anyhow, it’s not my place to be the judge of that. You can give the new invitation policy a try to see who will submit themselves to such humiliating treatment. I suspect not many speakers will.’
In your open letter, you insult not only Lenz and Nauta, but the entire teaching staff. What would you say to someone who protests your invitation not because of your ideas but because of the insulting way you present them?
‘I insult absolutely nobody. I protest with very polite wording (read my letter and be your own judge, reader) and even with a bit of humor (I hope) against a professor of philosophy who brands my book ‘controversial’ when it turns out he hasn’t even read it.’
Your letter is hostile to the idea of no-platforming controversial speakers. What is your argument against no-platforming people?
‘It’s ironic that I need to explain that too. But here we go: a university ought to be a place where people exchange arguments with respect and curiosity towards each other’s points of view. This is especially true for philosophy.
No-platforming presumes an ideal which is diametrically opposed to philosophy and the spirit of the university: try to exclude people with a different political or philosophical view from the debate. No-platforming is based on the principle of political manipulation, philosophy on the love for open debate.’
How far would you take your views on this? Should an academic department welcome a speaker who champions, say, Nazism? If not, why not?
‘Having written an academic book which was published by Amsterdam University Press) seems to me like a necessary requirement for being invited to speak at the Night of Philosophy. Most Nazi-treatises do not meet that requirement.
But were Nazi-philosopher Martin Heidegger still alive, and should he want to come and speak at the next Night of the Philosophy in Groningen, I think your dean would resist the temptation of no-platforming.’