Of Free Speech and #Resistance
March 14, 2017 4 Comments
Steven Hayward at PowerLine tells us about a Bloomberg column, here, by Professor Stephen Carter of Yale law school. It’s a good one, explaining The Ideology Behind Intolerant College Students. Both links are excellent, and here’s Steve.
Alas, the downshouters represent something more insidious. They are, I am sorry to say, Marcusians. A half-century-old contagion has returned.
The German-born Herbert Marcuse was a brilliant and controversial philosopher whose writing became almost a sacred text for new-left intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s. Nowadays, his best-known work is the essay “Repressive Tolerance.” There he sets out the argument that the downshouters are putting into practice.
For Marcuse, the fact that liberal democracies made tolerance an absolute virtue posed a problem. If society includes two groups, one powerful and one weak, then tolerating the ideas of both will mean that the voice and influence of the strong will always be greater. To treat the arguments of both sides with equal respect “mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society.” That is why, for Marcuse, tolerance is antithetical to genuine democracy and thus “repressive.”
He proposes that we practice what he calls a “liberating” or “discriminating” tolerance. He is quite clear about what he means: “tolerance against movements from the Right, and tolerance of movements from the Left.” Otherwise the majority, even if deluded by false consciousness, will always beat back efforts at necessary change. The only way to build a “subversive majority,” he writes, is to refuse to give ear to those on the wrong side. The wrong is specified only in part, but Marcuse has in mind particularly capitalism and inequality.
Opening the minds of the majority by pressing one message and burdening another “may require apparently undemocratic means.” But the forces of power are so entrenched that to do otherwise — to tolerate the intolerable — is to leave authority in the hands of those who will deny equality to the workers and to minorities. That is why tolerance, unless it discriminates, will always be repressive.
Marcuse is quite clear that the academy must also swallow the tough medicine he prescribes: “Here, too, in the education of those who are not yet maturely integrated, in the mind of the young, the ground for liberating tolerance is still to be created.”
Today’s campus downshouters, whether they have read Marcuse or not, have plainly undertaken his project. Probably they believe that their protests will genuinely hasten a better world. They are mistaken. Their theory possesses the same weakness as his. They presume to know the truth, to know it with such certainty that they are comfortable — indeed enthusiastic — at the notion of shutting down debate on the propositions they hold dear.
Excellent articles, but the main thing we must remember is this: Without free speech, there is simply no freedom. How can one have what one cannot describe?
Mr. Murray is left to worry about academic freedom and to note that many of his assailants resembled figures from “a film of brownshirt rallies.” Middlebury’s agitators might ask themselves how a man whose work they regard as racist acquired the right to compare them to fascists. Students everywhere should wonder how free speech, a central liberal value, is instead becoming the banner of conservatives.
Of course, anybody with two brain cells to rub together knows perfectly well that those who shut down such events don’t really resemble “a film of brownshirt rallies.” They simply are fascists, the characters portrayed in those films.
Over at History News Network, an article contains short reviews of four books that are on our topic today, I haven’t read them so can neither agree nor disagree, but the tone of the article is quite balanced and interesting.
This article concerns these four books
● Frank Furedi, What’s Happened to the University? A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation (Routledge, 2017)
● Claire Fox, ‘I Find that Offensive!’ (Biteback Publishing, 2016)
● Jonathan Zimmerman, Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2016)
● Campus Speech in Crisis: What the Yale Experience Can Teach America, Introduction by Nathaniel A.G. Zelinsky (Encounter Books, 2016).
Throughout American history, every genuinely progressive reform movement has found free speech to be its friend. This is notably true of the abolitionist movement and then the civil rights movement. And it has been especially true of student movements—most prominently, the aptly-named Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964. Nowadays, however, in the words of more than one observer, students seem not to want freedom of speech but freedom from speech. How and why did this come about? And what does it mean? The four books reviewed here offer some answers.
That paragraph is certainly true, and quite frankly, if you can’t win in the marketplace of freely expressed ideas, you don’t deserve to win, go figure out what you’re doing wrong, or simply admit that you’re wrong, and get on with life.
Then there is this, and it angers me greatly, too. Far too often our leftist friends can’t be bothered to express their ideas (if any) and simply appropriate labels that belong to other, often very brave, people, for example ‘#Resistance’. Sadly these leftists aren’t brave at all, they’re simply snowflakes, running away from debate, let alone real opposition. Joel D. Hirst puts it very well.
Resistance is fleeing from North Korea’s monstrous regime (buy this book!); resistance is a Tuareg man in Gao, Mali boldly going on television to demand that his clan, his people put down their guns; resistance is dousing yourself in gasoline as a final desperate act of violence in protest at a seemingly endless dictatorship, not because you want to die but because the police just seized your entire livelihood and you don’t know what else to do; resistance is joining a pro-bono law firm, running around behind the tens, hundreds of people arrested by Venezuela’s totalitarian regime, trying futilely to bend the regime to the law through the force your will and your righteousness alone – and sometimes even paying the ultimate prize.
No, sorry, you aren’t a resistance, because USA is not a dictatorship. Nobody is persecuting you; none of your rights are being violated; no illegal purges enacted; no tortures and disappearances. You didn’t like the results of an election – and want to pretend it is illegitimate, because you don’t want to do the hard work of rebuilding a constituency alienated, “Because you thought correcting people’s attitudes was more important than finding them jobs. Because you turned ‘white man’ from a description into an insult (…) Because you cried when someone mocked the Koran but laughed when they mocked the Bible. (…) Because you kept telling people, ‘You can’t think that, you can’t say that, you can’t do that’,” as Brendan O’Neill has said. Alas, the only people losing their legitimacy are you; who wear little pink hats and take off all your clothes and wander through public spaces offending friend and foe alike; who vandalize coffee shops and write little slogans misspelled on cardboard. No, you aren’t a resistance, and you don’t get to have that word.
For those who have fought and suffered for their liberties, it is far too sacred to let it – too – be defiled.
Bravo Zulu, sir!