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05/02/2017

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Bruno Verbeek

Eric, your comments on this whole sordid affair are interesting, but I think you skate on very, very thin ice. If I summarize your claim it amounts to the following: in a (liberal) society where certain minorities are marginalized, there is no obligation on those minorities to accept in their midst outsiders who are committed to the minority 'identity' (I use this as placeholder for whatever it is that sets apart the minorities and what it is the outsider is commited to. It could be religion, gender, race, ethinicity, the works.)
Now, how to justify such a stance of refusal? What gives (orthodox) rabbis the right to refuse people into conversion class? Tuvel gives just one such ground and you approve: namely if the neophyte outsider is not *really* committed in the rabbi's judgment. Similar considerations then apply to race-, gender- and ethnic groups. I doubt that is sufficient ground to justify a systematic exclusion of the outsider into the minority community.
But there are other arguments liberals could help themselves to. One could invoke liberal-communitarian arguments a la Kymlicka who defends the right of Canadian first nations to refuse Anglos into the reservation. However, even in the Kymlicka type of justification (which, if applicable, would justify systematic exclusion of outsiders) I don't see how racial minorities could exclude outsiders. First, because racial minorities (at least in the US) are not (usually) groups with a 'societal culture' that needs protecting. Secondly, even if there is such a societal culture, admitting outsiders (in this case) does not threaten the culture, far from it.
Finally, I heartily disagree with your view that "others [have] wide latitude to criticize each other's scholarship in rather vehement ways (and most latitude toward those who lack professional and social/economic standing)." I think common norms of decency and courtesy apply here. Criticizing scholarship, after all, is not like starting the revolution, so there is no latitude for the kind of internet abuse that Dr. Tuvel experienced.

Eric Schliesser

Dear Bruno,
On your first (set of) question(s): I think the general justification falls under the freedom of association (and drawing on ideas about privacy and, in some cases, religious freedom) as well as a liberal preference to keep the peace in light of some harm principle. On my interpretation this permits groups from having particular entry requirements that themselves are not justifiable on liberal grounds because they may appeal to substantive conceptions of the good, or religious traditions that are not liberal, or illiberal procedures, etc.
The previous paragraph does not settle the matter, of course, because there are going to be cases where exclusion of willing outsiders may well cause genuine harms to the functioning of liberal institution of society or may offend settled liberal norms of public morality greatly.
But in general, I resist the overreach of my liberal friends to impose liberal values on minorities and I find such imposition on marginalized minorities fundamentally illiberal.
I am no anthropologist, but we disagree when you write that racial minorities (at least in the US) are not (usually) groups with a 'societal culture' that needs protecting.

On your final point, we agree that Dr. Tuvel and, I would add (and I find it revealing you overlook this), some of her critics as well as people who have merely called for civility should not have received various kinds of internet abuse. (As somebody who is on receiving end of such abuse not infrequently, I am certainly not going to belittle it.)

But my point was a different one: it's okay to call attention critically to features of scholarship in ways that themselves are not especially scholarly (including petitions, press coverage, etc.). There is a Meme out there that the only legitimate critical response to a publication one wishes not to ignore is to write another publication. That Meme I reject.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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