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Claudine Gay, Jimmy Lai and the Truth of Things

To my mind, the most cringe-inducing moment in the drama of Claudine Gay and her resignation as president of Harvard University was not when she whiffed at unambiguously condemning genocidal threats against Jews as violations of Harvard’s norms for student behavior. That was horrible, to be sure. Even more telling, though, was Gay’s subsequent apology, in which she expressed regret for having “failed to convey what is my truth.”

Hard as it may be for normal people to grasp, the notion that there is only “my truth” and “your truth,” but nothing properly describable as the truth, is virtually axiomatic in the humanities departments of American “elite” universities, and has been for some time. Now, following the Orwellian script in Animal Farm, the woke plague has created a situation in which some of those personal “truths” are deemed more equal than others’ “truths”—the superior truths being the “truths” of political correctness. As dean of the Harvard faculty, Claudine Gay was a vigorous proponent of the new axiom that some truths are truer than others. But in her apology, she reverted to the basic, postmodernist absurdity that “truth” is a matter of personal conviction rather than conviction anchored in reality. Her downfall thus illustrates another axiom, one that antedates postmodernism by almost two centuries: The Revolution devours its children (Jacques Mallet du Pan, writing from Paris 1793 as the tumbrils rolled).

When postmodernism first reared its head decades ago, some Christian thinkers suggested that its mantra of your-truth/my-truth might provide an opening to serious intellectual exchange with non-believers, which was impossible with those academic nihilists and relativists who denied that there was any truth at all. This always struck me as a forlorn hope. For what happens when there is only “your truth” and “my truth” and our “truths” collide? Absent any agreed horizon of judgment (call it “the truth”) against which we can settle our difference, either you will impose your power on me or I will impose my power on you.

Which means the death of serious conversation, of scholarship, and, ultimately, of democracy.

Seven thousand, four hundred and ninety-four miles away, I doubt the thought occurred to my friend Jimmy Lai; but the fact that the Claudine Gay affair coincided with the beginning of Jimmy’s trial on charges of having violated Chinese “national security” by defending the basic human rights of his fellow Hong Kongers nicely illustrated Oscar Wilde’s point about life imitating art—including the arts of irony.

Read more at First Things 

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