Liberty, Equality, Fraternity… Modesty?

I learn that one of Oxford student journalism’s many aspirants has resigned from a mid-rank post at Cherwell because his article wasn’t published online.

Well, good riddance, I would think. Such self-publicists – often averse to the slog of promotion, and always eager to find a fast track in controversy – are sadly a frequent blight on student journalism. They usually get short shrift from higher-ups who know the type, and dishonourably evaporate from the scene once they get a whiff of Spring Week. But this particular character had a brassy determination which invites at least a tip of the hat. Freddie Hayward took the opportunity to write about his brave sacrifice and condemn Cherwell’s supposed culture of censorship in the New Statesman, a magazine I read and subscribe to. Taking advantage of the NS editor’s email address – which he had presumably obtained from the very student newspaper he was decrying – Hayward informed us that “the freedom to criticise ideas is being eroded.” How convenient for him that he happens to be our Solzhenitsyn, with a nice credit on the CV to boot! Purely incidental, I am sure.

If I have developed one new feeling about the English private schools since arriving at Oxford, it is an admiration for this shameless ingenuity that they instil in their customers. While Mr Hayward (King’s School, St Peter’s) pulls out nails of censorship from his hands and displays the stigmata for a popular weekly magazine, another student (St Pauls, Exeter) demonstrated similar instincts when he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Oxford Union presidency this week. Standing for the ‘insert verb’ slate, this hack assured floating voters that he alone stood for liberty, being “the only candidate for President to have voted NOT to disinvite Steve Bannon” last year. Well I don’t have a major objection to that per se, but one might take these defenders of free speech more seriously if they weren’t posting about their heroic deeds on Linkedin. If the ultimate goal is a well-paid job, which invariably it is, the value of the struggle is just a little diminished. In David Dwan’s recent book on Orwell, he has highlighted the great man’s uniquely conflicted understanding of the French revolutionary triptych of ‘Liberty’, ‘Equality’, and ‘Fraternity’, where each acts as a moderating force on the excesses of the others. To this end, perhaps we could add ‘Modesty’ to the old formula?

Author: Ethan Croft

I am a writer and journalist at the University of Oxford, studying History at Hertford College. Currently I am Editor of Cherwell, the independent student newspaper.

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