A senior National Union of Students official has defended the organisation’s Safe Space policy by insisting that “some people have more equal rights than others.” He has denied the Orwellian nature of the phrase claiming he meant only that some had more power than others.
In 1943/44 George Orwell wrote Animal Farm as an allegorical warning against the sort of violent revolution such as that enacted by the Bolsheviks in early 20th Century Russia, particularly in the light of Stalin’s consequent dictatorial reign.
In his story, farm animals, led by a small group of pigs, turn their drunken human keeper out of the farm and take over. They swiftly enact the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important of which is, “All animals are equal.”
Over time one pig rises to become a dictatorial figure, adopt human ways including a love of drink, and the Seven Commandments are abridged to a single phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
It was this phrase that Richard Brooks, Vice President of the NUS stumbled upon as he attempted to explain the NUS’s No Platform policy and how it differs from the Union’s Safe Space policy during a recent BBC debate on the matter.
“[The No Platform policy] is all about making sure that students feel safe on campus and that we extend their freedom of speech by not being marginalised when they’re debating,” he said, adding: “This is very different to a Safe Space policy which is based on the idea that every single person has freedom of speech and everyone has equal right to freedom of speech, however some people have more equal rights than others.”
When challenged over the Orwellian nature of the phrase on Twitter, he insisted that he had been misquoted, commenting “weird”
@Leon_French01 Utterly bizarre misquoting. I just said some power have more power than others so we should try to redress that. Weird.
— Richard Brooks (@Just_RichardB) April 27, 2016
When Breitbart London recounted his words to him, transcribed directly from the BBC footage, he refused to retract the denial. Instead he insisted that he had merely meant that some people have more power than others, apparently unaware that this was precisely how George Orwell had meant it in his book.
Mr Brooks may be sanguine about the phrase, and the NUS’s policies, but his critics are not. Ben Harris-Quinney, chair of The Bow Group, Britain’s oldest Conservative think tank told Breitbart London that he regularly debates on British campuses and the only “oppressed minority” he has encountered are the few students who may fell that conservatism may be the answer.
“But I wouldn’t subject them to a safe space from the left because there is no greater advert for its bankruptcy,” he said.
“There are those who feel things were ever thus on campus, and students will grow out of communism when they meet reality. I’m not so sure we should be taking such a passive attitude. The views being put forward by he left on campus are just as dangerous as any form of extremism. I wouldn’t seek to ban them, but they must be challenged rather than ignored by the vast majority of reasonable people in Britain who find what is currently going on in Britain’s universities contrary to their purpose.”
Perhaps the greatest critic of Mr Brooks and the NUS is Mr Orwell himself. In his original preface to Animal Farm, written in 1945, Orwell made an impassioned plea for freedom of speech, writing: “If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilisation means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way.”
But he recognised that the intelligentsia, “the very people who ought to be the guardians of liberty,” were “beginning to despise it, in theory as well as in practice.”
The observation caused him to note, with remarkable prescience in light of the NUS’s Safe Space and No Platform policies: “One of the peculiar phenomena of our time is the renegade Liberal. Over and above the familiar Marxist claim that ‘bourgeois liberty’ is an illusion, there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy by totalitarian methods. If one loves democracy, the argument runs, one must crush its enemies by no matter what means.
“And who are its enemies? It always appears that they are not only those who attack it openly and consciously, but those who ‘objectively’ endanger it by spreading mistaken doctrines. In other words, defending democracy involves destroying all independence of thought.”