Harvard ranks bottom in free speech ranking showing parallels with South Africa’s decline – Shawn Hagedorn

Shawn Hagedorn highlights the decline in free speech at Harvard and in South Africa, attributing it to the framing of issues within oppressor/oppressed narratives on elite college campuses. He discusses how Marxist ideologies have influenced these environments, leading to the suppression of centrist and right-leaning views. In the South African context, the ANC’s failure to transition into a 21st-century ruling party is noted, with the emphasis on Marxist-styled patronage hindering opportunities and contributing to a severe youth unemployment crisis. Hagedorn argues against prioritising equality at the expense of economic vibrancy and social cohesion, asserting that the majority of young people in South Africa are the least well-off due to policies framed within the context of racial inequality.

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How SA’s decline coincides with Harvard’s

By Shawn Hagedorn*

By earning zero points, Harvard came in last in a recent survey of free speech across 250 US universities. While free speech is still respected here, both South Africa and Harvard are declining due to how issues are framed.

On many elite US college campuses free speech has been suppressed to accommodate administrators, professors and students framing social, political and economic issues within oppressor/oppressed narratives. Debates are routinely, and often crudely, framed within an identity politics context. People eventually become so accustomed to such framing that they ignore how it impedes solutions.

A small number of scholars and public commentators had long been warning about universities in North America blocking criticisms of progressive views while purging right-leaning professors and administrators. Then, in the immediate aftermath of 7 October, prior to Israel initiating its response, open intimidation of Jews evidenced much tolerance on campuses for anti-semitism. They needed only to collectively label all Jews as oppressors.

Read more: 🔒 South Africa is a nation defined by “Stagnation and Exclusion” – says Harvard

Justice versus judging

While South Africa’s charging Israel at the International Court of Justice with genocide may or may not succeed based on legal arguments and evidence, it epitomises a desire to judge with little regard for pursuing solutions. South Africa’s legal grandstanding should be contrasted with Egypt seeking a permanent ceasefire agreement whose terms include Hamas and Islamic Jihad relinquishing power in the Gaza Strip.

That the 7 October attacks immediately provoked various displays of anti-semitism on university campuses has attracted much scrutiny from the right and the left of oppressor/oppressed framing. It was central to Marx’s criticisms of capitalism exploiting workers. He predicted that workers would suffer under capitalism and then rise up to create a communist revolution. When it became clear, by the middle of the last century, that workers were doing quite well under capitalism, Marxist intellectuals shifted the definition of which groups were being oppressed from workers to focus on race and gender. They also shifted their expectations of who would rise up and how. They specifically targeted universities and media.

This would seem like a conspiracy theory if there wasn’t such an abundantly populated audit trail. György Lukács, considered the father of the new Western Marxism, as opposed to Soviet Marxism, was far more anti-capitalist than Marx had ever been. The same can be said of Herbert Marcuse, the father of the “New Left” who is very much associated with the university protests of the late 1960s. That Harvard along with so many elite universities has sought to block centrist and right-leaning views is precisely what Marcuse encouraged.

Marx’s 20th century advocates never developed solutions for his deeply flawed economic analysis. They rather concentrated on criticising the status quo and on creating racial strife. They therefore developed critical race theory which broadly attributes the world’s many injustices to “white privilege”. 

The core problems with this intellectual movement revolve around their wanting to destroy the rules-based order which has plunged global poverty over the past few decades. Their stoking racism and wanting to curtail free speech speak to their ruthless resolve. Their justification for the harm they cause is that they despise unequal outcomes. The alternative they offer is to make everyone worse off – except, of course, the new leadership juntas. South Africa’s key contribution to the debate is to demonstrate how prioritising equality becomes profoundly counterproductive, for everyone but the ruling elites.


The ANC, whose DNA is that of an early 20th century Marxist liberation movement, needed to transition into a 21st century ruling party. This hasn’t happened and the consequences for South Africa have been severe.

It was inevitable that our 1990s political transition would expand opportunities for blacks from a very low starting point. However, as this was accomplished through emphasising patronage, the gains were always going to be modest and fragile. The goal should have been to create a very large black middle class. Unfortunately, this was incompatible with the ANC’s embrace of Marxist-styled patronage.

Both Mandela and Mbeki sought to balance redistribution and middle class growth. Zuma then prioritised patronage and Ramaphosa has tacitly endorsed this path. The ANC’s rapidly declining electoral competitiveness in Gauteng and KZN traces, in large part, to patronage eradicating opportunities.

The language used at Harvard and across America is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, DEI. The ANC equivalent has been racial inequality. The genuine pursuit of diversity and inclusion would advance racial equality in South Africa through spurring economic vibrancy and social cohesion. Rather, the ANC uses a version of DEI that might have been formulated by Bell Pottinger.

Youth unemployment

While citizens of few countries can imagine South Africa’s overall unemployment rate, the far larger threat to our society is our youth unemployment rate of 60%. Remarkably, this obscene statistic understates the depth of the crisis.

Including drop-outs and graduates, about a million South Africans cease attending school or training each year and, roughly speaking, about 70% of them will seek employment. Yet most will never be meaningfully employed. Even if, contrary to most forecasts, the economy soon begins to sustain healthy growth, those with prior work experience and recent school leavers will be favoured ahead of ‘young adults who have been persistently unemployed’.

Read more: SA’s collaboration capacity in question as ANC fails to meet investment expectations – Shawn Hagedorn

More than four million South Africans would meet this description and that number is set to grow by roughly three to four hundred thousand per year for many years.

This constitutes both an economic and a humanitarian crisis yet it is packaged politically as a fiscal challenge to be addressed with sub-subsistence grants. If this was economically sustainable, following this course would be politically astute – though profoundly immoral.

It is unrealistic to expect twentysomethings who have never been employed, and whose prospects are expiring, to believe in our experiment with democracy. Nor do any of our leaders offer plans which would lead to most of them ever being employed, so even a pittance of patronage is sufficient to discourage them from voting for change.

In the mid-1990s it would have been difficult to imagine how our freshly christened democracy could so thoroughly fail “born free” black South Africans. Looking back, it’s hard to overstate the damage caused by framing nearly every key policy issue within the context of racial inequality.

If the Marxists were right, prioritising equality would have advanced social justice and those least well off would have been the primary beneficiaries. We must exercise our free speech to shout from the rooftops that those least well-off in South Africa are the majority of young people who will never know the dignity of having a real job.

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For 20 years, Shawn Hagedorn has been regularly writing articles in leading SA publications, focusing primarily on economic development.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission