In the spirit of the First Amendment, which states that “hate speech is not free speech”, Middlebury students ran another controversial speaker off campus. Not only shouting down Charles Murray’s presentation but also physically injuring a faculty member and swarming their car as they tried to leave campus.
As is usual for liberal thinkers and intellectuals, it was justified because words are violence but (their) violence is free speech. From the New York Times:
But an open letter to the college from more than 450 alumni objecting to Mr. Murray’s presence on campus said it was not a matter of free speech. The letter, written before Thursday’s event, said that his views were offensive and based on shoddy scholarship and that they should not be legitimized.
“In this case, there’s not really any ‘other side,’ only deceptive statistics masking unfounded bigotry,” the letter said.
Bear in mind that Murray’s talk was in promotion of his book Coming Apart, which is an examination the white working class; not his controversial Bell Curve, which made racist claims such as intelligence is an important factor in economic, social and general success in the United States.
If I were a betting man, I would wager that 99% of the protesters haven’t even read the Cliffs Notes version, but rather heard from someone who said it was racist eugenics who heard it from someone who read that it was “debunked”.
So how did we get to the place where it is acceptable to violently disrupt people who hold beliefs that people do not agree with? It takes surprisingly little effort to work up a mob.
In college I participated in anti-Apartheid rallies. My girlfriend felt passionately about the cause. She went to see Bishop Desmond Tutu speak. She played Peter Gabriel’s Biko for me. We even took a day trip up to Berkeley to participate in a “real” movement. It was exciting to be a young person with energy and a sincere desire to make the wrongs right. Not coincidentally, those traits easily manifest as rage.
What was most eye-opening for me wasn’t the anti-Apartheid part; that was a noble cause. It was the whole student protest mentality.
One evening while sitting on the steps of one of Berkeley’s buildings with friends who were camping out, a rather frenetic guy comes running up to us. He was sputtering something like “Milton Friedman, Chilean death camps! Milton. Right wing. Chile! Death! Camps!”
So without knowing anything about economics, Milton Friedman or Chile, about six of my group peeled off and went to disrupt the economist’s presentation.
This last weekend, “Antifa” thugs took to the streets to protest the pro-Trump protests like those who shut down Charles Murray’s. Armed with the belief that they are fighting for some higher motive like “against hate” or “against fascism” these young, angry people are committing violence, destruction and dehumanization of their opponents. The protesters, like I was back in the Eighties, are easily manipulated and largely ignorant of life. It seems in retrospect that the less I knew, the more I believed in the absolute rightness of what little I did know.
There’s a whiff of the lynch mob or the lemming migration about any overlarge concentration of like-thinking individuals, no matter how virtuous their cause.
P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores (1991)
We are seeing a resurgence in the violence and anarchy that plagued the United States in the late Sixties.
The right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment is to be cherished as a basic human right. Its opposite is silencing by mob violence and oppression. I just hope that in each generation, the youthful learn the difference before they destroy it in a fit of righteous anger.