Vanderbilt Law Review

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In Babette's Feast, the French housekeeper for two dour Protestant sisters living in a remote Danish village where life is hard decides to mark her fourteenth year of working in this repressed environment by preparing a huge feast. Using money she has just won from the French lottery, she imports turtles, quail, and the finest wines, and serves them at a long table to the sisters and their congregation. But she has not counted on the experience's novelty: Until now, the God-fearing folks gathered at her table have not touched a drop of liquor or eaten anything other than dried fish and other plain foods in their entire lives. During the dinner, they refuse to acknowledge the delectable dishes they are eating, talking exclusively about the weather, the crops, and God's will.

The response of some neoconservatives to the campus hate- speech controversy reminds us in some ways of Babette's feast. Lacking a ready category for what is taking place under their noses, neoconservatives fail to notice what everyone else sees, or maintain that it is really something else. As with the villagers, ideology plays its part, as well. When something happens that conservative thought does not predict, it is forthrightly denied, leading to some strange alliances, as when Babette ends up playing to the returned General, the one diner who allowed himself to appreciate and enjoy the meal. This Essay is about neoconservatives, the hate-speech controversy, and the politics of denial. It is about mindset and the rhetorical structures and strategies we choose, often unconsciously, to deal with an uncomfortable reality and a changing legal environment.

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