Two generations ago there was a conservative establishment in the United States that ran the nation’s political and economic affairs. While moderate and benevolent in comparison with other regimes of the twentieth century (Germany, Italy, Spain, the Soviet Union, China), they censored freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
When this establishment, in conjunction with the military-industrial complex, began to send hundreds of thousands of young Americans to Vietnam in the second half of the 1960s, the establishment vs. activist battle had its catalyst. The Free Speech Movement emerged at UC Berkeley as a call to defend individual rights against this establishment: freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, civil rights, freedom of the press, and individual liberties.
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60 years later, the greatest threat to freedom of speech is not posed by a right-wing “establishment”, but by the American Left: speech codes, trigger warnings, “safe spaces”, a perpetual “victim” mentality…and now…as we have seen at Middlebury College…it has extended beyond words (screaming, shouting, name calling, obscenities, cursing)…to actual violence.
Today’s campus protesters are not interested in being part of an academic community: they are interested in attending a politically correct day care center. If someone comes to campus who holds views that do not concord with their politically correct narrative, then it’s acceptable to shout, scream, throw a tantrum, pull someone’s hair, or even punch a female professor at the Middlebury College campus.
Just this weekend, the “social justice warriors” revealed their true ugly nature at what is normally a quiet, bucolic, and tranquil liberal arts campus nestled at the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountains. The professor in question, Allison Stanger, agreed to host a discussion with political scientist Charles Murray, author of the controversial book The Bell Curve, which, among other things, addresses the relationship between race and intelligence.
Mind you, he was not at the Middlebury campus to discuss this book, but that was of little consequence to the mob of several hundred protesters who swarmed the event with the express purpose of shutting it down.
As professor Stanger soon discovered, a free and open exchange of ideas and dialogue is of little interest to today’s generation of radical “social justice” warriors, or to some in the academic establishment who encourage them. Stanger addressed the violence in a lengthy Facebook post:
“I am a Democrat…all of my courses are nonpartisan, and this was a chance to demonstrate publicly my commitment to a free and fair exchange of views in my classroom. As the campus uproar about his visit built, I was genuinely surprised and troubled to learn that some of my faculty colleagues had rendered judgement on Dr. Murray’s work and character, while openly admitting that they had not read anything he had written. With the best of intentions, they offered their leadership to enraged students, and we all now know what the results were.”
So a group composed of Middlebury students, Middlebury professors, and some outside agitators, did the very best that they could, not just to drown out speech that was disagreeable to them, but to use violence to ensure that controversial (conservative, libertarian, XYZ) speakers will know that they are not welcome on the Middlebury campus. In the future, professors will think twice about inviting speakers who do not fit into a neatly packaged, mundane, and inoffensive politically correct worldview.
What is very, very fortunate is that the “activist” left-wing student protester of 2017 constitutes an extremely small minority of Americans. Even among this subset of American college students, I doubt very few would consider it appropriate to behave the way that the Middlebury mob did this past week.
This incident should be troubling for anyone who cares about freedom of speech on today’s college campus. Cheers to the University of Chicago, whose faculty recently said (in so many words)…this is a research university, not a day care center. Here we are not going to have “speech codes” “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”…if you don’t agree with someone on campus, then you are free to oppose their point of view through any number of wondrous technological mediums at our disposal in this wondrous age we live in. But you do not have the right to punch them, pull their hair, or drown out a campus speaker with showers of obscenities.
Every college and university professor in America should be discussing what happened at Middlebury College this weekend. Unfortunately, few will.