David Starkey and the threat to academic freedom

The sole criteria for membership of the academy used to be scholarly ability. Now you've also got to hold the right views.

Benjamin Schwarz

Topics Free Speech UK

‘Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?’ With that sentence, in a video interview posted earlier this month, David Starkey, the Tudor historian and documentarian, destroyed his career. Defenestrated by the institutions that had honored his scholarly achievements (Lancaster University; the Royal Historical Society; Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge), that had given him an academic home (Canterbury Christ Church University), and had paid him (his publisher, HarperCollins), Starkey, age 75, is now, and will certainly forever be, adrift and unemployable. No one has publicly defended Starkey’s comment, and Starkey himself has called it ‘clumsy’ and ‘deplorably inflammatory’. And surely it is entirely a private matter, if, because of that utterance, Starkey’s acquaintances and colleagues should choose to upbraid or to shun him. However, in the case of the above institutions, with one partial exception, the only appropriate response would have been no response whatsoever.

Except for Starkey’s publisher, those institutions are academic bodies that recognised, supported or employed Starkey not because they approved of his politics or his ‘values’ (a nebulous term to which all those institutions genuflected when banishing him), but because they recognised and approved of his scholarship. The sole purpose of any academic institution is – or should be – to pursue and advance knowledge and understanding. This requires a forum free from official censure, so that scholars may pursue any question and consider any view, however despised. Such institutions cannot, therefore, apply any political or moral litmus test to the ideas and speech of their constituent scholars. Thus, in a controversy that heralded the Free Speech Movement, Ernst Kantorowicz, the German emigre medievalist and deeply conservative anti-Communist (and anti-Nazi), famously argued in 1949 that, by requiring a loyalty oath to weed out Communists and Communist sympathisers on its faculty, his adopted institution, the University of California at Berkeley, would destroy itself as an academic community. For the academy to serve its proper function, Kantorowicz recognised, the only criteria for membership must be professional competence and scholarly ability – not the forswearing of any creed, however apparently reprehensible. Furthermore, because academic ability is the only basis by which scholarly institutions can judge their scholars and students, and because those institutions must provide an unfettered environment in which the individual scholar can pursue truth as he or she sees it, these institutions must, themselves, be strictly neutral on political, social and moral questions, no matter how right and settled the answers to those questions may seem.

The most forthright and eloquent argument for such institutional neutrality remains the 1967 statement drafted by the great constitutional scholar, Harry Kalven Jr, for the University of Chicago. The ‘Kalven report’ states that ‘a university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices and institutions’. But, the report explains, ‘the instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.’ Because a university must ‘maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures’, it is ‘a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.’ And because the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, the Kalven report argues:

‘It is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favour a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues… It should not, therefore, permit itself to be diverted from its mission into playing the role of a second-rate political force or influence.’

In short, as the Kalven report explains, scholarly institutions must refrain from deciding social and political questions on behalf of their students and faculty, and they should simply not concern themselves with the views of their students or faculty, no matter how deplorable some or most may find those views.

The Kalven report’s embrace of institutional neutrality, and of the notion that a scholarly institution’s remit doesn’t cover policing the opinions or non-academic conduct of the scholars within it, was hardly limited to American academe. Twelve years after the Kalven report was issued, the British intellectual establishment was riven by the case of Anthony Blunt, one of Britain’s two or three most esteemed art historians and the former director of the Courtauld Institute at the University of London. Blunt had served as a Soviet agent from early 1937, through his wartime service in MI5, and up to 1964, when he was forced to confess to the UK security services (he was only publicly unmasked as a traitor in 1979). Blunt’s actions were, as today’s nomenclature would have it, problematic. In a period that encompassed the Great Terror, he had committed treason on behalf of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the most murderous regime in history; he passed on 1,771 secret documents to that regime, many even while it was allied with Nazi Germany, a state with which Britain was at war, and the secrets Blunt gave to Moscow may well have been conveyed to Berlin. Soon after his unmasking, Blunt was fairly described by the critic George Steiner as ‘a KGB minion whose treason… almost certainly did grave damage to his own country and may well have sent other men – Polish and Czech exiles, fellow [British] intelligence agents – to abject death’.

Although some academic institutions with which Blunt was affiliated, revolted by his treachery, disassociated themselves from him, the most important ones did not. Oxford did not withdraw Blunt’s honorary degree (unlike Lancaster University, which is set to withdraw Starkey’s honorary degree) (1). London University, where Blunt was an emeritus professor, held that his position there had been conferred solely for his academic achievements, achievements that were unaffected and undiminished by his personal, moral and political transgressions. The British Academy took a similar line, its fellows voting by a 3-1 majority that Blunt should remain a fellow. As another fellow, and the director of the London School of Economics, Ralf Dahrendorf explained, ‘the British Academy is about scholarship, and that was the decision we took – by a handsome majority’. The arch-Tory historian Hugh Trevor-Roper justified his vote not to expel Blunt more crudely: ‘The Academy is not a tribunal of morals. If we say we’ll expel so-and-so because he’s a shit, we’ll have to have a whole new set of rules.’

Apparently that new set of rules has been applied to Starkey. It’s not exactly that British academe has forgotten the old rules, it just applies them selectively. Although a chorus of critics called for Cambridge to punish its professor Priyamvada Gopal for proclaiming on Twitter ‘White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives’, Cambridge responded – rightly – that ‘the university defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial’. Cambridge’s stance on Gopal’s academic freedom also reflects the law. The Education Reform Act of 1988 and the Higher Education and Research Act of 2017 require that universities ‘ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions’ (emphasis added). Strictly speaking, Starkey might not be considered to have been a staff member of any of the institutions that defenestrated him (the Acts don’t define the term ‘academic staff’). But the Acts’ provisions – and Cambridge’s position on Gopal – merely reflect the principles of academic freedom and of the institutional neutrality that safeguards that freedom: the institutions that expelled Starkey, as academic institutions, should abide by those principles. Instead, in justifying their expulsion of Starkey, these institutions cast aside those principles to indulge in an oleaginously bullying enforcement of what they see as political morality. Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge was particularly brazen in its doublethink, declaring in the same sentence that ‘we support and promote freedom of speech in our academic community, but we have zero tolerance for racism’. Obviously, the preening slogan in the second clause – nicked from the American War on Drugs – renders the first clause meaningless.

Plainly, had Starkey, say, worked to deny the hiring of a black scholar or the admission of a black student because of that person’s race, then his conduct would violate his duty to scholarship and to academe, and these institutions would be justified in punishing or expelling him. But just as plainly, that is nothing like the case here. Violating the principles of institutional neutrality and of free expression – and echoing the Cold War era’s loyalty oaths – those institutions have imposed a set of non-academic criteria (what they call ‘values’) to which their members must adhere. Utterances that deviate from those widely held and perhaps laudable values will be punished with expulsion. The stance of Starkey’s publisher also corrodes academic and intellectual life. True, Starkey’s publisher isn’t a university press, and is therefore not bound to uphold academic freedom; it can choose not to publish anyone for any reason. But in addition to avowing never to publish Starkey’s work in the future, HarperCollins has promised to consider withdrawing from publication Starkey’s ‘existing backlist in light of his comments and views’. Why Starkey’s recent comment would provoke a reevaluation of his books on the Tudor monarchy is difficult to discern. Moreover, memory-holing books because their author has been deemed politically or morally suspect is not only Stalinesque — worse, it vandalises intellectual and literary life. It literally reduces our store of knowledge and understanding. This isn’t a question of being unfair to Starkey; it’s unfair to the public. Needless to say, after Anthony Blunt was unmasked his books rightly remained in print; (academic) presses continued to publish his work; and the TLS, Burlington Magazine and other journals continued to publish his articles. But the reactions of the scholarly bodies to which Starkey belonged shows how far we have progressed from those unenlightened days when the historian AJP Taylor would see fit to declare, when asked if the British Academy should jettison Blunt: ‘It’s none of our business, as a group of scholars, to consider matters of this sort. The academy’s only concern should be his scholarly credentials, which are unaffected by all this.’

Benjamin Schwarz is the former national and literary editor of The Atlantic.

(1) See ‘The Cleric of Treason’, reprinted in George Steiner: A Reader, by George Steiner, Oxford University Press, 1987

Picture by: Getty.

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16th July 2020 at 10:05 pm

Slavery has been around for thousands of years and a certain community makes, or made eunuchs out of their male captives. The British empire is the only civilization, that at least made an attempt to ban the trading of slaves in 1807 and ban it altogether with William Wilberforce’s Bill in 1833, after which the Royal Navy, spent at least 50 years chasing down slave ships. The Royal Navy still have that policy, especially in the middle east. Nothing much is said about that.

silly billy

14th July 2020 at 11:32 pm

The rot began with Blair’s expansion of tertiary education, and British universities are no longer bastions of independent criticism or freedom of speech. Having students openly discuss awkward issues is the LAST thing they want. Go against the conventional wisdom and see how your grades will drop. The system is a boiler-room scam, conning youngsters that they’ve enjoyed a university education, while churning out naive fodder, blinded by identity politics, acquiescing to jobs being filled by quotas of disadvantaged victims, rather than candidates of merit. Still, ignorance of the real world and crippling student debt is a great tool towards supplying a compliant workforce. Back in the day, you had to be married, mortgaged, with the missus in the family way, before you buckled down to working for the man, and keeping your gob shut.

Jim Denham

14th July 2020 at 3:57 pm

So Spiked has finally (and belatedly) decided: any form of racist abuse and epithet should be defended as part of the culture-war against “wokeness”: fine, at least we know where you stand and your pretence of being in some way on the “left” is down the drain. Now just have the guts to come out openly as far-right libertarians.

In Negative

14th July 2020 at 11:05 pm

It is a perfectly defensible position to say that a racist’s academic career should not be destroyed on the grounds of his racism. A scholarly article is about the exploration and statement of a position regarding the interpretation of facts and events. If a book or paper can survive peer review and academic criticism, it matters not a jot what the opinions or moral character of the individual writer were. Einstein’s theory would be no more or less legitimate were he a mad racist or child killer. This is slightly less true of historians, but an inspiring, insightful or revolutionary interpretation of some event is no less inspiring, insightful or revolutionary whatever the opinions of the scholar. Such should be the values of academic institutions – judge the man by the quality of his work, not the content of his character 😉

Everyone knew who Starky was – he’s ill-tempered, petulant, sometimes nasty and often on the wrong side of unpleasant. It’s beyond hypocrisy to defrock him at this point. It’s not like it’s a secret that he’s a difficult character.

Nor am I convinced that he is a racist. I think he’s been incredibly clumsy and has lived too long in an environment where he hasn’t been properly challenged, but who hasn’t? There is something true in most of the things I’ve heard that he has said (in the infamous interview and beyond) – like that working class whites have become black. Obviously it would have been clearer to say working class whites have assimilated a lot from poor black culture or something; this is surely an interesting thing that is worth talking about? Worth finding the correct language of articulation? Worth too pressing Starky on whether or not he thinks that is a bad thing and why?

Philip Humphrey

14th July 2020 at 3:10 pm

I don’t think there’s a threat to academic freedom, sadly I think it’s already gone. When I took a degree back in the late seventies you could talk to our tutors and freely discuss ideas without fear of recrimination. Starkey clearly comes from that world or perhaps a little earlier. Nowadays I get the impression that many academics are either incapable of that, or too fearful to do so. I’ve seen too many “brittle” responses from academics, often taking “offence” or simply not understanding or wilfully misunderstanding anything outside their “woke” paradigm. Fortunately there are some wonderful academics like Jordan Peterson who is willing to engage with ideas freely and naturally, but sadly far too few. I also think that the overexpansion of universities in the last few years has greatly diluted the quality and academic ability of both students and staff, and that may be part of the problem .

John Little

14th July 2020 at 2:07 pm

I deeply regret that I am not fabulously rich and powerful because if I was I would hire the most vindictive conservative legal team I could put together and sue the ass off every academic institution and publisher that has tyrannised and persecuted Starkey over this incident. I’d make sure they paid dearly for their Stalinist attitude and betrayal of free speech. I’d ensure their lives were made a misery. Meanwhile that fat blusterer Johnson, (the play dough Churchill), has sat on his podgy hands and done nothing to support Starkeys academic right to his honours or say one word in defence of free speech, or even queried the actions of the universities.

JP Edwards

14th July 2020 at 2:04 pm

If the Universities won’t defend free speech or at least apply their ‘made up’ rules consistently then defund them.

Reminds me of when in 2019 Jordan Peterson had his invitation to the Cambridge University Divinity faculty withdrawn. At that time we had an terrorist sympathising avowed Marxist as the leader of an anti-Semitic mainstream political party in this UK and Jordan Peterson is barred from CU because he inadvertently had his photo taken standing next to a person wearing a T shirt with the ‘wrong’ message.

Stef Steer

14th July 2020 at 1:41 pm

It seems it has always been one rule for the left (however far left) and another for everyone else in academia. When the left were pushing freedom of speech I think in retrospect it was just a reaction to Mccarthyism rather than a principled belief.

When you show the massive difference between the way Starkey was treated to the way blunt was it really does make academia look like a joke.

Unfortunately its not wholly abstract for me. First off my daughter may well go to university in the not too distant future and she will obviously in order to do well have to not indulge in any wrongthink even if that is what she believes (Her views are far from formed as far as I am aware) plus obviously anything she will be taught will be skewed (this is all not to mention that a degree is probably not worth the debt these days) and we will both have to pay something towards this.

Also any retraining that i personally might want to do (and I potentially do) seems pointless when I will probably spend the whole time treading on eggshells and again in order to do ok, will have to spout the bullshit.

Without higher education earnings and potential career are affected so you have to subscribe to this to have any chance of getting on in life.

This is very wrong and not the country I thought I grew up in.

George Whale

14th July 2020 at 3:09 pm

My advice would be to study hard science or technology, as those areas are much less affected.

Neil John

15th July 2020 at 2:15 pm

The humanities/gender studies left have been targeting STEM subjects for years, there are many items in the academic press that illustrate their hatred for free thinking that still has some space to wriggle just a little, their pushing of the athena swan agenda and other ‘divershity’ projects onto STEM has caused much damage already.

Puddy Cat

14th July 2020 at 12:30 pm

The moral maze was a proper programme when Starkey and Daley appeared on it. Back then, they refreshingly avoided pap and were constantly remonstrated with by the stuttering chairman of the debate. This interruption was the very antithesis to what the show suggested it might be created for. Not the usual anodyne approved commentary but, rather, employing people of intellect (an historian God forbid. Not use to fabrication, a seeker of truth) to endorse the whims of left liberal management who seemed to run the show to have their views endorsed, disseminated.

Shutting-up Starkey is rather like ridding of us of the turbulent priest, decried by free spirits and intellects as a political act in denial of scholarship. When you have a real churchman riding the zeitgeist, as Canterbury does, you become aware of what a comfortable life is led by those that find it easy to conform (as opposed to those who always see suspicion in acquiescing and want to challenge contortions of fashion, the easy life, the false positive of the scoundrel hiding under the skirts of mountebanks and the insubstantial).

The names of the executioners do not spring readily to mind but Becket lives on. Norman Davies, the historian, in his book on Europe, devotes a section to the emergence of and the persistence of Witchcraft. He wonders why during a period of great learning and discovery so many innocents were dealt with so cruelly (a Pendle survivor died at the beginning of the 19th century, the last burning of a witch having taken place in Scotland twenty odd years previously). It seems that people are living such safe but curiously unfulfilled existences they want no one to rock the boat lest demons be released. We saw it with Brexit and we see it now in our social revisionism.

But how can we live with ourselves if we, through study, intimacy or experience cease to state something tangential to the herd. Without sharps and flats, augmentations, music would not have melody. The novel has been completely subverted, turned into manuals of modern appropriateness. There will never be another Zola as long as we provide this oxygen for censoriousness. Who is there to be our St. Jerome to give us access to understanding? Would we trust the modern day Jerome who who inevitably would be mindful of discerning the sensibilities of the universal we and predicting what they might think?

Garreth Byrne

14th July 2020 at 12:25 pm

The word ‘darned’ once literally meant what it said up to the 1960s. Those were the frugal times when children went to school wearing darned socks. Damned used several centuries ago could result in being drowned as a witch or burnt as a heretic. David Starkey apologized for using using the expression ‘so many damn blacks’ when referring to ‘woke’ trends of public discourse. He darned well socked it to the perceived over reactions of the woke movement. But respectable academics will have to be extra careful and leave damn, darn, bloody and other dodgy words out of their informal conversation. Otherwise they’ll face bloody darn consequences.

James Knight

14th July 2020 at 12:24 pm

Can somebody please find some actual racism for us to unite against and fight? Superannuated stuffed shirts in big institutions engaging in empty virtue signalling doesn’t really cut it for me.

Bob Kindles

14th July 2020 at 12:01 pm

If a brilliant physicist just so happened to be a Holocaust denier, who spent most of their free time publishing materials denying the Holocaust, would we consider that a problem?

I ask this as a serious question because the line between the unfortunate positions that someone may happen to hold (in their “private” life as this author puts it) and their professional responsibilities is not always easy to draw. In theory, yes, it should be possible to be a Holocaust denier and a brilliant physicist – or a brilliant Tudor historian and someone given to making questonable remarks, depending on your point of view – but the issue becomes more difficult when pedagogical responsibilities are involved.

George Whale

14th July 2020 at 12:35 pm

As long as he leaves his holocaust denial at home, there’s no conflict. Of course in Germany they just lock them up, problem solved.

Bob Kindles

14th July 2020 at 1:10 pm

That is consistent, but it doesn’t resolve the issue of whether such things can really be “left at home”. Part of the problem here is that the author of the article relies on a vision of the university, or rather the life of academics, as a house of learning and scholarship, that doesn’t approximate the reality – which is to say that, for better or for worse, academics do not just engage in pure scholarship, they also have pedagogical responsibilities, they are also responsible for administrative decisions concerning hiring, admissons and the rest of it. If we were to object to the Holocaust-denying physicist, it would likely be because we accept that Holocaust denial is a set of beliefs completely beyond the pale, that are always bound up with anti-semitism and can therefore never simply be a matter of “polite” disagreement about historical evidence. Either we would question whether someone could serve in an academic position on those grounds alone, or we would doubt whether such an academic could ever be trusted to treat Jewish students with dignity and respect.

None of this is to suggest, obviously, that Starkey’s views are actually comparable to Holocaust denial. I do find his views and language pretty grotesque, but that’s not the issue – the issue is whether this distinction between private views and public responsibilities (or “home” and “work”) is neatly operative in the way people think it is.

George Whale

14th July 2020 at 3:31 pm

It’s a difficult one, because if ideas can be ‘beyond the pale’, who decides where the pale is? (Whoever holds power, I suppose.) Also, if the holocaust denying professor treats his Jewish students scrupulously fairly, where are the grounds for dismissing him? A less extreme example: even strong opponents of immigration generally treat immigrants fairly (because blame lies elsewhere, with politicians) – yet their anti-immigration sentiment can be used against them.

Bob Kindles

14th July 2020 at 8:18 pm

The acceptable grounds of public debate are, as you say, subject to matters of power – but I am personally quite happy to live in a society where the historical fact and injustice of the Holocaust does not constantly have to be proven, and is not a subject of polite debate. Even that historical evidence matters – that such an event can be said to have taken place, that the evidence is irrefutable – should be beyond debate, as a basic condition of all other forms of historical and political discourse. Speaking even as someone on the left, the idea that there are basic moral and epistemological truths that we assume in advance as the basis for speaking to each other, to say nothing of participating in a university, is, to my mind, a good, conservative idea – small-c conservative of course. Without them, any kind of reasoned discourse is impossible.

The clincher is, as I see it, the idea you raise of the Holocaust-denying professor who treats their Jewish students with impartiality. The logician in me agrees with you, that there should, theoretically speaking, be nothing wrong with such a person being a good professor of physics, but I would ultimately say that, even whilst denying the Holocaust should not, theoretically speaking, have any implications for whether you accept the latest developments of quantum physics or not, yet to hold such a belief marks such a failure in terms of both morality (because, after all, to deny the Holocaust can never be separated from anti-Semitism) and respect for evidence (which is ultimately the basis of the scientific method as well as hiatorical learning) that it cannot be compatible with holding a senior position even in an unrelated field like physics. The very distinction between private beliefs and public responsibilities has to collapse when the belief in question is so morally repugnant.

This doesn’t solve the issue of Starkey of course, because he is not a Holocaust denier. But a complicating factor with him, which renders the distinction between private beliefs and public responsibilities more unstable to begin with, is that he straddles multiple realms – he is an academic but also a public historian, and his remarks about the non-genocide of Africans were made in a public realm. It is not a belief that he holds as a private individual or which he voiced on, say, Twitter. So a further issue is whether someone in his position has responsibilities that do not impinge on, say, the unknown physicist whose views are not made accessible to the public or broadcast for the nation.

I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions, and I don’t think the original article quite realized their complexity.

Bob Kindles

14th July 2020 at 8:46 pm

Just to add – there are already broad precedents for these sorts of issues. We know that members of far-right parties are not allowed to serve in the police force or in education – not because being a member of a far-right party is illegal, or because all members carry out criminal acts, but because holding the beliefs associated with a far-right party can never be a merely private matter, and that such beliefs are fundamentally incompatible with the specific responsibilities involved with those types of positions.

Putting it in the terms of the article itself, when the author writes that universities “have imposed a set of non-academic criteria” on peoplike Starkey, the problem is whether the criteria in question are indeed “non-academic”, and whether there are not criteria other than merely academic ones that are relevant to decisions about the running of a university.

Jerry Owen

14th July 2020 at 4:44 pm

Just avoid reading articles about holocaust denial.
It can’t be any simpler.

Bob Kindles

14th July 2020 at 7:47 pm

But that’s not the issue at all. It’s not a matter of me finding Holocaust denial reprehensible (though I do). Nor do I think that Holocaust denial should be illegal – if it were, the issue would be solved, because someone undergoing criminal convication wouldn’t be working in an educational capacity at all. It’s about whether there are any conditions under which someone’s explicit commitments are grounds for not giving them the moral and intellectual responsibiltiy that comes with being an educator – when those commitments do not, one might say, technically conflict with their immediate province of expertise.

Claire D

14th July 2020 at 11:16 am

Excellent article, thank you.

James Clark

14th July 2020 at 10:41 am

Starkey, like Katie Hopkins, says controversial things to get noticed. Live by the sword…

Jim Lawrie

14th July 2020 at 10:58 am

Your post shows you do not know anything of David Starkey’s career and achievements and so have not read the article, from which you would have gleaned something of it.
Argument by analogy in mentioning Katie Hopkins is cheap, lazy and has nothing to do with the subject matter.

James Clark

14th July 2020 at 11:10 am

I did read the article and I stand by my claim that Hopkins and Starkey have similar methods of attracting attention to themselves.

Jerry Owen

14th July 2020 at 4:47 pm

James Clark
Starkey had a very successful career, to suggest that he had to say something risky to attract attention shows you know absolutely zilch about him.

Michel Houllebeq

14th July 2020 at 11:45 am

Saying the truth, not controversial.

James Clark

14th July 2020 at 11:54 am

Opinions aren’t necessarily true and are often controversial, Hopkins likened migrants to cockroaches.


17th July 2020 at 11:33 pm

The Starkey interview- minus its controversial remark- is on YouTube where I watched it. As ever Starkey is immensely watchable, his knowledge ranges far and wide and he has the gift of making it both informative and entertaining.
He has absolutely no need to make controversial comments merely for their effect, nor does he.
The comment in question was unfortunate but he is very erudite and probably just got carried away. I shall continue to watch his interviews at every opportunity.

Mike Stallard

14th July 2020 at 10:39 am

I am 81 years old. In the olden days, when I started teaching, politics was nothing to do with the classroom. It was tradition that did that. A level and GCE were run by scholars who were looking for other scholars.
University was for a few people who could handle scholarship ruthlessly and who knew how to argue with people without fisticuffs or girlie name calling or stopping them being part of our “secret society”.
Now the Master of my Cambridge College is a straight political appointment: a gay politician (retd). His predecessor was rewarded for loyalty to the Labour Party. Nuff said…

Andreas Roth

14th July 2020 at 11:49 am

Dear Mr Stallard,
I fully agree with you. When I was at secondary school in Germany in the mid 1980s, my history teacher was a moderate conservative by today’s standards but always not only allowed and but encouraged me to voice my – at the time – Trotzkyist views in class. I have been a teacher myself now for 22 years and hear from former students that at their universities conservative views are silenced, one student was even banned from a seminar for expressing right-wing views. Judging from my own experience as someone with – especially socially – conservative views, it has now become always impossible to engage in discussions with fellow teachers, who with very few exceptions, have been brainwashed into streamlined left-wing wokism. It breaks my heart to see these ideologues now busy at work, implanting their own politics into the minds of young people, who are already exposed to social-media generated wokism. Such a Sisyphus task, trying to keep the teenagers’ minds open!

christopher barnard

14th July 2020 at 10:31 am

The current intolerance in academia is a mild example of an age-old phenomenon where a powerful and influential group of people are convinced they are correct about everything and have the right to silence everyone who dissents.

History shows us things could be much worse – heretics burned at the stake, psychiatric hospitals and gulags in Soviet Russia for dissidents and terrible fates for people who dared to speak out about the Nazis.

Brandy Cluster

14th July 2020 at 10:59 am

What gives you the idea that this isn’t what’s in store for us already? Surely we already well on the slippery slope to authoritarianism.

christopher barnard

14th July 2020 at 12:48 pm

I doubt it.The effects of the current ‘liberal’ intolerance is largely confined to the small and relatively unimportant spheres which they control, eg academia.

They have less and less influence on wider affairs.

They are an angry and impotent bunch who don’t have the knack of persuading people to vote for them.

George Whale

14th July 2020 at 1:08 pm

“The effects of the current ‘liberal’ intolerance is largely confined to the small and relatively unimportant spheres which they control, eg academia.” Not so, unfortunately. They are the ruling establishment, promulgators of the dominant ideology that infects every area of national life including education, medicine, the law, the police, the public services and (increasingly) the private sector.

Linda Payne

14th July 2020 at 2:07 pm

The coronavirus has increased the power of section; now it only has to be one ‘health professional’ (which could be just about anyone who says they are) who has this power rather than two. Now this is nothing to do with care because thousands of inpatient beds have been cut and nothing to do with public safety as the police already have that power, so why was it introduced in the coronavirus bill?

Linda Payne

14th July 2020 at 10:24 am

If your working class its just long term unemployment for you, no one will take up your case, I really like Starkey but he’s lucky he’s famous and people will support him

michael harris

14th July 2020 at 10:50 am

Dead right. Linda. But if Dr. Starkey can’t be defended what hope is there for the unnoticed? And, so far Dr. Starkey has defenders, but… which of them will give him a platform to entertain and instruct us? Spiked, perhaps?

George Whale

14th July 2020 at 12:40 pm

Wouldn’t it be great – just once – to hear a university tell the baying mob to go get stuffed? Where are the institutional leaders with intellectual and moral courage?

Mor Vir

14th July 2020 at 10:24 am

Starkey was completely daft to use that phrase. There is a legitimate discussion about what constitutes ‘genocide’ and about hard and weak, literal and analogical definitions. In the literal sense, British imperialist slavery was not genocide, although it was mass murder as with Colston.

On the other side, slavery is offensive enough without construing it as genocide, which implies that it is not offensive enough. Likewise mass murder. Offensive – yes – mass murder – yes – literal genocide – no. Starkey could have legitimately explored those topics, and it was just unbelievable that he blurted out what he did.

Likewise, it could have been legitimately discussed whether British imperialist slavery was ideologically associated with genocidal r acial narratives, such as that later made popular by Charles Darwin, and which was drawn on to justify the near genocide in Australia. But we would have to look at what was being said in the earlier period to assess that.

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the n/ or Australian and the gorilla.” – Darwin, Descent of Man.

So, there certainly were genocidal narratives in play in the later British Empire. Starkey might have explored whether that was so in the earlier period when slavery was rife, and what other racial narratives were in play instead. Again, just unbelievable what he blurted out, it was like jaw drop.

Gareth Edward KING

14th July 2020 at 10:04 am

I bet few had even listened to the interview with Grimes. David Starkey is a well-known historian; few can hold a candle to his works on the Tudor period; he’s also a ‘bit of a lad’ and he’s often been seen to ‘flirt’ with his interviewers, in short, he’s a charming, elderly man. The context is everything, but by having used ‘damn’ he’s been hung, drawn and quartered. His comments weren’t racist (what isn’t these days?), he was simply referring to the obvious fact that slavery and genocide are two quite different things. He recently referred to ‘woke idiocy’ (I think it was in an inteview with Brendan O’Neil) as a puritanical force unique to the Anglo-Saxon sphere.

George Whale

14th July 2020 at 9:59 am

The problem (in arts and humanities at least) is not so much the sacking of established academics but the screening of job applicants who face, on the interview panels, batteries of far-left zealots whose role (as they see it) is to maintain a certain ideological dominance.

Barry O’Barmy

14th July 2020 at 9:41 am

Criteria is a plural noun. The singular is criterion.
Repeat 100 times and do not forget, Mr. Schwarz.

In Negative

14th July 2020 at 9:38 am



I think John Berkow might be due a letter of apology…

David J

14th July 2020 at 9:32 am

Having enjoyed Dr Starkey speaking live in Oxford, I think it would be a tragedy if his incisive mind is shut down permanently to become a loss to us all.

Sure, that one word was enough to damn him, but these are fevered times, not least because of Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown.

Let’s hope the situation eases, and these mad months will be viewed in the future as the high tide of the perpetually offended and their ilk.

steve moxon

14th July 2020 at 9:34 am

No it most certainly was not. An ‘intensifier’ is not invective, and to misconstrue it as the latter is the fault of totalitarian willful misinterpretation.

Treacle Tart

14th July 2020 at 10:06 am

The one word was not enough to damn him. He meant to say “so damn many blacks” but he made a slip and said “so many damn blacks”. He should not lose his career, all his positions, his reputation and his book deals just for that.

George Whale

14th July 2020 at 11:01 am

I doubt the alternative locution would have saved him.

michael harris

14th July 2020 at 9:27 am

Thanks for the mouth, Spiked. Now where’s the trousers?
Give Dr. Starkey a regular -and paid – column right away.
His style and wisdom are still available on Triggernometry. You have smaller cojones, Brendan, than
those guys?

Eric Praline

14th July 2020 at 10:13 am

Something of a red herring?

In Negative

14th July 2020 at 11:13 pm

He’s an occasionally fun piece of media furniture, but let’s not go nuts and deify him. He ain’t all that.

Kevin Turner

14th July 2020 at 9:11 am

I’m not particularly in favour of adding to the statute books, but it’s high time we had a law that prevents employers from sacking their employees for thoughts and opinions they may hold, or comments and statements that they make, in public or in private, that do not directly relate to said employer/employment.

Not least because the double standards, hypocrisy, and duplicity on display (especially in the case of Cambridge University) are quite staggering. And because the criteria by which those who are deemed to have contravened a set of values that no one signed up for seems to be not the deed itself, but the doer of the deed.

Mor Vir

14th July 2020 at 9:50 am

There is no way that the TP would ever pass such a law, as noble as it might be. TP actually wants the social control that sackings offer.

It would be a good policy for the Reform Party to pick up once it gets going. Such a law really is a precondition of a free society and it is about time that the UK at least made some pretence of being one.

This society needs a constitution that protects free speech and that excludes by law all forms of punishment such as sackings or institutional records about people’s views.

Key TRP policies might include: PR, abolition of the unelected HOL, protections of free speech. It could be a truly liberal democratic party.

steve moxon

14th July 2020 at 9:07 am

David Starkey did nothing wrong at all. What he said was all factually correct and his use of the word ‘damn’ was merely as an intensifier; it was not invective.
At worst he was clumsy in using as an intensifier a word that could be misconstrued in context as invective.
If this is the basis of not being able to retain your job then the entire UK workforce will end up being sacked within the next few weeks.
That would be a desirable goal for ‘identity politics’ totalitarians, though they’d prefer us all in ‘re-education’ camps, with jail for all those in any way not co-operating … with moves to mass execution the next step?

Jo Shaw

14th July 2020 at 11:06 am

Precisely. Many of his generation, and earlier, used the word without wishing to damn anybody. My father used it all the time – “this damn weather”, “that damn dog barking all day”, “sprained my damn ankle again” etc. It just trips off the tongue.

Putting things into context seems to be beyond the ability of so many people now, or has it just been used as an excuse to get rid of him?

Jerry Owen

14th July 2020 at 9:02 am

If Starkey hadn’t have used the word ‘damn’ I suspect he’d have survived this. However one word is all these authoritarians need.
And so the metaphorical book burning looks like it’s started.
Your career can end on a ‘word’.
That should give fear to everyone.

James Knight

14th July 2020 at 12:44 pm

Yes, it is like a modern blasphemy law. One word is enough to trigger the mob. As on the Life of Brian: “You can’t say Jehova!” and everyone drops a stone on him.

The problem with blasphemy is that it reveals intellectual weakness, rather than strength.


14th July 2020 at 8:16 am

It’s even worse than you describe. Priyamvada Gopal has not only been defended by Cambridge, she has been promoted to professor.

A man called Jake Hepplle flew a banner stating ‘White Lives Matter – Burnley’ He has been sacked, despite a police investigation which found that no offence had been committed.

The expression ‘white lives don’t matter’ is clearly more offensive than ‘white lives matter’

Mr Hepple worked for a precision engineering firm, where his views were irrelevant to the work, which is not the case in a university.

steve moxon

14th July 2020 at 9:11 am

Yes, this Left religious insanity is not long for this world. The insanity is now impossible to deny, except by Leftards, of course. People are becoming genuinely woke: awakening to the fact that the lunatics really have taken over the asylum.

Brandy Cluster

14th July 2020 at 11:03 am

It’s all playing into the hands of Donald Trump, in any case.

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Deplorables — a spiked film