Seeming to give credence to Bertrand Russell’s observation that “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts,” a student-written op-ed that ran in the September 25th issue of The Daily Princetonian argued that conservatives should not have the benefit of free speech, and do not even have the right to expect its protection because, given their ideological stance, “they are appealing to a right that does not exist” for them.
“In my belief,” student Ryan Born continued in this astounding piece of sophistry, “when conservative ideas are opposed, there is no right that is being infringed.” In fact, he seemed to be saying, the essential worthlessness of conservative ideology—as opposed to the virtue and fundamental truths embodied in progressive thought—means that instead of debating their ideological positions, conservatives should recognize the errors in their thinking and abandon their views. “Some ideas will already have been judged wanting,” Born wrote, and “Conservatives ought to question why some ideas are so stringently opposed and then adapt their arguments, instead of begging for ‘free speech.’”
And unlike progressives and leftists like himself, who Born apparently felt have the right to unbridled free expression without having to actually defend their ideas in the marketplace of ideas, conservative speech “is something much different,” he claimed, while exhibiting behavior that psychiatrists term projection, because “conservatives are interested in being able to propose their ideas without any political opposition to their right to speech.”
Where did the colossal intellectual arrogance of this op-ed come from which allows liberals to make the leap from purporting to endorse freedom of expression for all on their campuses to reserving that right, in actual practice, only for favored groups? For many on the Left who were students and young faculty members during the 1960s, it was the influence of Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who believed that the repressive force of the existing establishment could not be weakened unless its ability to control speech—and ideas—was diluted. That would only be accomplished, according to Marcuse, by favoring “partisan” speech to promote “progressive” or revolutionary change, and that speech would be, by necessity, “intolerant towards the protagonists of the repressive status quo.”
For evidence that academia is currently awash in this type of execrable sentiment, one only has to look at the number of campuses which, just in the opening months of this semester, have experienced the actual shutting down or exclusion of conservative speech—purportedly with the intention of rejecting “hate speech,” right-wing thought, white supremacy, fascistic ideology, and a host of related extremist modes of thought the progressive left on campuses has conjured up as being an imminent threat to their emotional safety and well-being.
Now, any speech that the left wishes to suppress or avoid it categorizes as being equivalent to violence; conservative ideology is thought of as being weaponized as “hate speech” and potentially harmful to listeners. Any speech that is labeled as “hate speech” condemns that expression to lacking the protection of free speech, and because it thereby falls outside the bounds of acceptable expression, it is undeserving of being heard and justified in being suppressed. Conservatives in general are accused of harboring racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and homophobic views, and they are deemed unworthy of expressing those views precisely because they are thought to represent unacceptable, hateful beliefs. Speakers who question prevailing liberal orthodoxy are said to be committing virtual “violence” against marginalized victim groups on campus who might be exposed to these extremist ideas and be injured by them in some way, and speakers are disinvited or obstructed proactively to ensure that victims are never threatened by ideas they do not wish to hear or tolerate.
Because campus progressives have shown themselves perfectly willing to shut down speech that they themselves have decided is unworthy of even being heard, it is no surprise that, fortified with moral arrogance and boundless self-righteousness, liberal activists have repeatedly sought to, and have been successful at, silencing speakers with opposing views. This behavior is not surprising given a 2017 national survey of 1,500 current undergraduate students at four-year colleges and universities conducted by John Villasenor of Brookings Institute. When asked if it is acceptable for students to shout down and disrupt a speech by a “very controversial speaker . . . known for making offensive and hurtful statements,” 51 percent of those polled agreed that, yes, shutting down such speech with the “heckler’s veto” is justified. Even more troubling was the response to a follow-up question which asked respondents if they believed in using violence to interfere with and shut down the controversial speaker’s appearance; astonishingly, 19 percent of students answered affirmatively that a violent response to the controversial speaker’s ideas and words was appropriate and justified.
These intolerant liberals are not even interesting in engaging with their ideological opponents.
Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.