Dueling Scarecrows

YESTERDAY, Patrick Henry College held its semesterly “Faith and Reason Day.”  The controversial lecture, delivered by Stephen Baskerville, has generated some scathing criticism from students and alumni.  I do not write to comment on the merits of the lecture as a whole or the portions discussed below.  I just feel the need to point out the irony that arises when someone criticizes the argument of another while utilizing equally poor reasoning.  If you wish to argue that someone’s work is of “poor quality” and demonstrates that they should not be employed as a professor, please do what you claim that they cannot:  construe their paper as logically as possible and *then* discredit it with contrary facts or analysis.  Straw men are very fun to destroy, but the internet is getting so full of the hay dust that my allergies are acting up.

For the reader’s convenience, I’m including the entire blog post by Kate Kane at QueerPHC with three of my own observations interspersed.  The original post had pictures (one chart and several photos of the text of the lecture).  I’ve removed them for easier reading.  If you want to see them, check out the original.

Patrick Henry College Professor Says ‘Homosexual Activists’ Were ‘Integral’ to Rise of Nazism

Posted on September 13, 2013 by Kate Kane

In a so-called Faith & Reason lecture delivered to the entire student body today, Patrick Henry College Professor Stephen Baskerville claimed that “homosexual activists” played an integral role in the rise of Nazism.

I find it hard to understand how any academic could retain any shred of self-respect after implying that the Nazis and queer people were bosom buddies. This chart, for example, lays out the various triangular Nazi concentration camp badges that were used to categorize Jews, sexual offenders (which were primarily gay men), the Romani people, and those who were mentally ill, among many others. 

This quote was only one of many similarly inaccurate and deeply offensive statements delivered in the course of the lecture, the text of which is about 25 pages. Baskerville, who has made a career of railing against the “divorce regime” after a messy divorce in his own past, warned the student body against adopting a “theology of resentment.” 

The article’s title, of course, focuses on the (always) inflammatory association of homosexual activists with Nazism.  And, it’s true that Baskerville made the statement.  The argument of the paper, however, had little to do with Nazism and nothing to do with the factual accuracy of that single statement.  Nor did the statement mean, as Kane interprets it, that he was  “implying that the Nazis and queer people were bosom buddies.”  She’s right in claiming that Baskerville would have no credibility as an academic if he seriously made that implication.  That, however, was neither said nor implied.  It is well known that several of the Nazi higher-ups were homosexual despite the Nazi’s systematic persecution of homosexual persons.  There has been scholarly debate on what to make of this since the 40s.  Most reach the conclusion that the Nazi’s were astoundingly oppressive to homosexual persons but a few managed to escape that ire by virtue of their position (and not the other way around).  This conclusion would counter Baskerville’s – but by no means does his statement carry the expansive meaning Kane imposes.  Knee-jerk reactions are not uncommon whenever anyone or anything is associated with Nazism.  Understand, however, that neither Kane’s construction of his phrase nor her discussion of Nazi persecution actually reaches his assertion.  His assertion may be factually inaccurate – and probably should not have been casually included – but Kane’s criticism misses its point.  (Really, this sort of thing will probably never go away until people learn that you can’t associate anyone with Nazis and get away with it unless that comparison is actually the entire subject of your research.  But, I digress.)

He also said that the AIDS epidemic has been exacerbated by “sexual ideologues, who sabotage effective campaigns for abstinence and fidelity in favor of ideologically inspired but useless condom distributions, resulting in further spread of the disease and millions of needless deaths.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Distributing condoms spreads AIDS. 

This sort of lying and misinformation is malicious and irresponsible. If someone chooses to be abstinent, that’s their business, but they shouldn’t be made to feel as though they literally deserve death if they choose to be sexually active.

I can’t see how Kane herself “read that correctly.”  Nowhere does Baskerville imply that the spreading of AIDS is a result of condom distribution.  Baskerville simply argued that focusing on this means of prevention has been ineffective, not that condom distribution affirmatively spreads AIDS.  Again, that statement would be laughably false – but that statement was never made or implied.  The merit of abstinence as a means of prevention is, of course, hotly disputed.  But, if you wish to criticize his reasoning, please do respect the distinction between exacerbation and causality – it is an important one.

Baskerville spews classic MRA and queer panic rhetoric for much of the lecture. He puts words like “rape” and domestic “violence” and “child abuse” in quotation marks, to suggest that straight cis men and fathers are being persecuted in a witch hunt full of supposedly false accusations.

Now, there is much that could be said about the discussion of criminalization in the paper.  I think Kane is probably right when she suggests that this section seemed to describe a “witch hunt.”  However, the point being made when the above terms were included in quotation marks was absolutely not related to minimizing their seriousness.  Rather, he made the important argument that those terms signify acts which every rational person should strongly oppose.  Yet, those terms are now beginning to include meanings which the average person would not anticipate.  Since one does not want to be seen as defending, rationalizing, or minimizing things like rape, violence, or child abuse, it is very uncommon for the expansive meaning of these terms to be scrutinized.  Maybe their expanse is warranted by our experience, as it is true that more constrained definitions imply a higher burden of proof in areas where evidence is difficult to obtain. The point, however, is the way certain inflammatory words can be used to control public discourse and policy.  That such terms might have been instrumentalized is a possibility that should inspire contemplation and, if necessary, counterargument, not summary dismissal as “spewed MRA and queer panic rhetoric.”

I’d like to say that I’m surprised that these sorts of comments are coming from a PHC leader, but I went to school there for four years. I heard rape victims referred to as manipulating liars, I was told that children’s rights was a ploy to take children away from their parents, and feminists were dismissed as ugly people who couldn’t get dates. So no, it doesn’t surprise me that a PHC professor would say these things, or that he would be met with thunderous applause.

But I do wish that Patrick Henry College valued reputable academic research and healthy discourse over demagoguery and targeted attacks. That Baskerville is even employed at PHC, given the poor quality of his research and rhetoric, let alone allowed to represent the college in a campus-wide lecture given to the entire student body, shows how little the school respects academic disciplines and its own students. 

The depth and fairness of discussion at PHC with regard to matters of sexuality is, as Kane suggests, insufficient.  Baskerville is, in some sense, working to correct this, as a serious attempt to understand these issues would also require students to read the arguments of different sides.  For instance, though PHC’s government faculty is critical of Marx, students read Marx.  Perhaps this lecture will lead students to be exposed to voices that have been heretofore absent from the conversation.  This result might at least be salutary, whether one agrees with the substance of the instigating lecture or not.  At any rate, my concern here is to see that, if a person or group is accused of valuing “demagoguery and targeted attacks” instead of “reputable academic research and healthy discourse,” that the accusation is substantiated by the latter rather than the former.

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6 responses to “Dueling Scarecrows”

  1. chvietvet says :

    I have always suspected that the radicals who have come to dominate American colleges and universities were extremely ignorant about academic matters, especially history. The inflamatory denial that homosexuals were instrumental to bringing Adolf Hitler to power can only be based on a complete lack of knowledge of 20th century history. From the early 1920s right up until Hitler came to power in 1933, the brown shirts who battled Communists, police, and the Weimar Republic were members of the Sturmabteilung, or SA. Its leader was Ernst Julius Guenther Roehm, who was very close to Adolf Hitler and addressed him using the familiar “du,” reserved for close friends and relatives. The SA was soon more than a million strong, and it brawled frequently in the streets with opponents of the Nazis, attacked Jews, and intimidated politicians. Without the support of Roehm, it is very doubtful that Hitler would ever have come to power. Ernst Roehm was openly homosexual. So were the subordinates he chose to run the SA. Hitler knew about this the whole time, but worked closely with the SA, which formed his personal goon squad. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Roehm was also elevated in power at that time. However, Hitler soon developed close ties with the Army, which disapproved of the crudeness of Roehm and his SA. Hitler came to see that Roehm was a dangerous rival for power, and in 1934, he sent an SS unit to an SA convention, which suddenly attacked the SA leadership, killing most of them. Roehm was killed by a machine gun burst while in bed together with a homosexual lover, also a high ranking leader of the SA. People ignorant of history should avoid making comments until they know what they are talking about. This infomation can be found in any history book or on the Internet.

  2. Tigs says :

    If your problem with the criticisms of this speech was their reasoning… I’m dumbfounded.

    In the speech, he was talking about the danger of ideologies. In the section where he talked about the Nazi/Homosexual bit, he was specifically decrying the dangers of an “agenda of sexual radicalism” which he then described as an ideology. In the paragraph in question, he lists cases in which (he believes) sexual revolutionaries aided political revolutionaries. AKA the ideology of ‘sexualityism’, or whatever, aided a political revolution. He ends this list with the Nazi example.

    As a political theory, the Nazi’s were opposed to the ideology of homosexuality. If they permitted a few top members of their party to amuse themselves as they wanted on their own time (and according to the above comment and my own hazy memories, they actually ended up shooting people like that) they were inconsistent with their own platform in doing so. In their propaganda, cultural dictates, mass actions, exterminations and the entire rest of the manifestation of their theory, they were consistent and were consistently against homosexuality.

    The paragraph and list the example is found in are specifically meant to show sexual ideology catalysing a political movement.

    If what you stated is correct, and he meant not that The Homosexual Agenda aided Hitler (in which case you yourself said that “Baskerville would have no credibility as an academic if he seriously made that implication”) but instead meant that Hitler Used A Few Homosexuals Before Throwing Them Away…

    Its not a case of “he has this idea of his but got a (sadly obvious) historical fact wrong.” Its that “He has this idea but doesn’t understand his own lines of reasoning well enough to chose which historical facts relate to it or not.”

    I am having trouble imagining a more telling argument against or criticism of Baskerville’s speech than what you have written here.

    Yet you frame it as a kind of defense…

    • Rex Loganus says :

      Thanks Tigs. A couple things in response.

      1. “As a political theory, the Nazi’s were opposed to the ideology of homosexuality. If they permitted a few top members of their party to amuse themselves as they wanted…they were inconsistent with their own platform in doing so.”

      I tend to agree with you on this. There are arguments to the contrary but I am, as of now, unpersuaded.

      2. I did not say that Baskerville would have no credibility if he said “The Homosexual Agenda aided Hitler.” I said he’d have no credibility if he said that “queer people and the Nazis were bosom buddies.” In other words, the systemic persecution of homosexual persons by the Nazis unquestionably suggests that, for the most part, the two groups were at odds. I believe Baskerville would concede this. What I think he was saying, however, was that certain homosexual activists, by virtue of the underlying alliance between sexual politics and total ideologies, supported the Nazi party. I don’t think that he was suggesting that these activists or their presence catalyzed the Nazi Party, I think he was positing a relation for other reasons. At any rate, Baskerville would not say “Hitler Used A Few Homosexuals Before Throwing Them Away.”

      His position, again, is not one to which I adhere. I do not think, however, that it is so unreasonable that it undermines his credibility as a scholar. This reading of the argument, I think, also shields it from the formal criticism that you’re positing.

      • Tigs says :

        “2. I did not say that Baskerville would have no credibility if he said ‘The Homosexual Agenda aided Hitler.’”

        I’m sorry. Since you were arguing that –

        “It is well known that several of the Nazi higher-ups were homosexual despite the Nazi’s systematic persecution of homosexual persons”

        thus admitting that the nazis systematically persecuted homosexuals, I was not aware that

        “Nor did the statement mean, as Kane interprets it, that he was “implying that the Nazis and queer people were bosom buddies.”

        would really logically imply anything other than that

        “He didn’t mean to say that the Homosexual Agenda aided Hitler”

        Which, in your further statement

        “In other words, the systemic persecution of homosexual persons by the Nazis unquestionably suggests that, for the most part, the two groups were at odds. I believe Baskerville would concede this.”

        actually agrees with. So yes. Yes you rather did say that.

        Unless, of course, by Homosexual agenda, you meant, not what Homosexual Activists actually work for- the physical and mental safety and health of homosexuals (a subject on which homosexual activists anywhere and at any time and Herr Hitler strongly disagree), but the Sexualityism the argument of the paper is trying to prove.

        In which case Baskerville has sunk to an entirely new depth. He has assumed in his examples the things he is trying to prove by means of them .

        Furthermore since the two Nazis mentioned in the comment above turned a blind eye to the harassment and extermination of homosexuals and cannot actually be said to be homosexual activists, The only way possible for them to be referred to as activists of any kind would be in the (yet unestablished since that’s what the paper is trying to prove and the paper itself is what’s being disputed) category of sexualityism.

        So aside from the hideously unethical aspect of assuming the thing you’re trying to prove and also equivocating Homosexual activism with this Sexualityism, it sounds as though you are saying that he’s saying this.

        Because a certain men were sexually active in ways that Christians would consider perverse, those men were willing to aid the Nazis.

        Just out of curiosity, how then do you/he explain the fact that, apart from minorities such as Bonhoeffer’s Confessing Church, most of the German Churches actually welcomed Hitler’s rise to power? And redefined themselves as Ayran to fit his platform?

        Now, it may be that all those church people were happy little gays or adulterers as well, However, since we have no evidence of this, we have to fall back on the idea that people may have sometimes added the Nazis for reasons other than sexuality.

        And nowhere have either you or Baskerville established that the purported homosexuals who were involved with Hitler were so because of their sexuality, anymore than the so called Christians who supported him were doing so because of their Christianity..

        Finally-

        “The argument of the paper, however, had little to do with Nazism and nothing to do with the factual accuracy of that single statement.”

        How does one write an academic speech/paper in which the factual accuracy of the statement/s contained therein have nothing to do with the argument being made?

        “We are building a house- but the structural integrity of the house has nothing to do with whether the bricks are real or not”

        This… I am still dumbfounded.

  3. John Murtari says :

    Folks, I’ve known Dr. Baskerville for a long time. I took the time to read his entire essay and while I may disagree with portions, his message certainly seems in accord with the principles of PHC, Ideologies can be destructive, and the new ‘sexual freedom’ — may not be freedom at all.

    His most excellent point is on ‘forgiveness’ and how that contrasts with the current fad for ‘zero tolerance’ — if you don’t toe-the-line we can immediately suspend, fire, or jail you. Pope John Paul II said something that really brings this info focus: when a society loses it sense of God & Faith — the ‘state’ takes over as the arbiter and enforcer of morality. Who of us does not see that in our society now?

    From the PHC web site: “Patrick Henry College believes that God is the source of all truth, be it spiritual, moral, philosophical, or scientific…. our Christian faith precedes and informs all that we at Patrick Henry College study, teach, and learn”

  4. Rex Loganus says :

    Tigs,

    Sorry for taking so long to respond. It appears that I was unclear in my initial response, so I apologize for that as well. Let me try to clear things up.

    I think there’s a middle ground between your characterization of my phrase and the one Kane uses. There is a difference between saying “the Nazis and queer people were bosom buddies” and arguing that some homosexual activists supported the Nazi party. I don’t necessarily subscribe to either of those positions—the former is patently absurd and the latter is the subject of an historical debate which I am unqualified to resolve. I simply objected to the move Kane made from “certain activists supported the Nazi party” (which says something only about the activists and not about the party) and “the Nazis and queer people were bosom buddies” (which suggests that the Nazi party generally had a positive and reciprocal relationship with queer persons—a position very easily discredited).

    Your criticism of the overall part of the reference in his argument seems fair to me. I don’t really know what he hoped to accomplish by identifying persons of a particular sexual persuasion with past total ideologies, since the overall argument seemed geared toward saying how “sexual politics” has emerged as a new ideology. So, as I said, I wouldn’t have taken the position he takes, my only concern was the straw man erected by Kane.

    Despite all that, it doesn’t require, as you suggest, affirming that “Because certain men were sexually active in ways that Christians would consider perverse, those men were willing to aid the Nazis.” Most of the people engaged in sexual acts “that Christians would consider perverse” were persecuted by the Nazis and had no desire to aid them. The causality Baskerville was attempting to identify was relating to the type of total government measures that may be invoked in order to secure complete sexual freedom. The correlation he (perhaps ill-advisedly) identified related past sexual ideologues to other total ideologies. Again, this correlation, in my mind, neither does much work in his argument nor was sufficiently justified historically, but neither does it have to be taken in the way that you interpret it.

    With regard to your question about the church, I’ll have to confess that I’m not aware of those facts. I know there were churches that were receptive to Nazism, but I also know that a staggering number of Christians were executed in camps (less than Jewish persons, but far more than those persecuted for their sexual preferences). If you wanted me to make a conjecture, it looks like churches responded with a mixture of compromise (bad), agreement simply to camouflage (bad, but understandable), or resistance (commendable).

    “And nowhere have either you or Baskerville established that the purported homosexuals who were involved with Hitler were so because of their sexuality, anymore than the so called Christians who supported him were doing so because of their Christianity.” I think you’re right about this, which is another reason that I consider his statements ill-advised.

    You state, “’The argument of the paper, however, had little to do with Nazism and nothing to do with the factual accuracy of that single statement.’ How does one write an academic speech/paper in which the factual accuracy of the statement/s contained therein have nothing to do with the argument being made?”

    Technically, one should never do this. A well-crafted argument will set forth only the premises that are necessary to justify the conclusion and will avoid irrelevant digressions. Unfortunately, rarely does this happen in lengthy papers or lectures – people use examples and analogies that are not perfectly suited to their argument but are also not necessary as support for the argument. I think I’ve stated why I don’t think the comparison to Nazism is unnecessary in the argument (since it is about the rise of an ideology—supported in many cases entirely unsuspectingly).

    So, to put it in terms of your analogy to the house, the reference to Nazism is more like hanging a Nazi banner on the outside of the house for adornment. One can tear it down and do no violence to the structure. In fact, removing the banner would, in my opinion, be a significant improvement.

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