Judith Butler and Ed Whelan share little in common—save their willingness to direct cruelty against ordinary people in defense of eminent colleagues.
Judith Butler and Ed Whelan have probably never met. And if they did, we may be quite certain that they would have very little use for one another. After all, what does the professor of comparative literature, author of (among other works) Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly who teaches in the Critical Theory Program at Berkeley, have to do with the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the co-editor of Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith and a Life Well Lived? And yet, they find themselves embarrassed by nearly identical behaviors, forced to make shamefaced admissions that they have behaved like nasty, irresponsible idiots.
Butler wrote a letter, signed by 50 other professors, urging New York University’s president and provost not to implement disciplinary sanctions on Avital Ronell, a professor of German, comparative literature, and English, for sexual harassment of a graduate student whom Butler described as having “waged a malicious campaign against [Ronell]” with “malicious intention.” (Style point: It’s bad for anyone, including literature professors, to repeat the same strong adjective in one paragraph). Ronell, who also holds the Jacques Derrida Chair of Philosophy at the European Graduate School is, needless to say, a very important person in the world of critical theory.