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4 Thoughts On Free Speech And #NoPlatforming

By  Ben Shapiro

On Wednesday, I wrote a piece at National Review concerning the troubling phenomenon of conservatives buying into the legitimacy and decency of people simply because the left hates those people. In introducing that article, I offered a scenario: David Duke has been invited to a private campus. Radical leftist protesters show up and get themselves pepper sprayed. Does this mean inviting Duke was worthwhile?

Naturally, my answer was no.

This set off my friend Ace of Spades, who promptly misread the article as an attempt to “no platform” people. First, he misread my question – he suggested that I would have disinvited Duke (he wrote, “Now, Shapiro asks you — do you support the disinvitation?” – which is not a question I ever asked or wrote or even suggested). For the record, I would not. I don’t think Duke should be banned from campus, but I also think that groups in their right mind shouldn’t invite KKK members. If they have invited those KKK members, then the event shouldn’t be shut down, and should be protected to the full extent of the law.


But this does raise a broader issue: some folks like Ace seem to conflate #NoPlatforming with some sort of broad right to access somebody else’s platform. That’s ridiculous. Here’s Ace, in high, wildly-misdirected dudgeon: “I object the left’s (and now the right’s) acceptance of #NoPlatforming and pressure groups creating barriers to the marketplace of ideas… A principle, Mr. Shapiro, is not just a weapon one wields against one’s enemies, limiting what they may do. A principle is supposed to be a restraint on ourselves first and foremost, imposing limits on us ourselves before it’s ever applied outwardly to restrain other people. A line which we ourselves will not cross even though we’d really like to do so.

The italics mean he’s serious. The bolding means he’s really serious.

But in actual seriousness, let’s define our terms.

1. Viewpoint Discrimination Is Forbidden In Public Areas Under The Constitution. Such Discrimination Is Obviously #NoPlatforming. Your legal right to free speech exists on campuses regardless of your point of view. To deny somebody access to such a public forum based on viewpoint is clearly #NoPlatforming, stupid, and outrageous.

2. You Do Not Have A Right To Someone Else’s Platform. It is not #NoPlatforming in any meaningful sense for CPAC not to have Barack Obama keynote. He has no right to their platform. It is not #NoPlatforming for a historically black college to refrain from inviting David Duke. I do not have a right to speak at DePaul University, which is why I didn’t get myself arrested there when they banned me. Here’s the truth: if you think you have a right to somebody else’s forum, you’re on the left on this issue, because this is precisely the logic of the Fairness Doctrine crowd that says that the government should force talk radio to admit leftists on privately-owned stations.

3. Not All Speech Is Worthy Of Earning Invitation From Every Group. I didn’t say it was illegal for DePaul to block me, or that they violated my rights. I said it was wrong, because they claim to be a university that cares about open exchange of ideas, and my ideas don’t conflict with any of the central principles for which they purport to stand. I wouldn’t expect the local Muslim Brotherhood chapter to host me anytime soon, nor would I say it was wrong for them to avoid doing so. By the same token, I don’t think it’s wrong for a Catholic college not to invite Wendy Davis. My problem with #NoPlatforming groups is that they seek to deny invites to people who are well within the mainstream, not that they stand against inviting everybody. I welcome Ace to invite Richard Spencer to dinner if he disagrees and thinks every viewpoint should be sponsored in every forum.

4. It Is #NoPlatforming To Block Speakers Who Have Already Been Approved Based on Viewpoint Backlash. I do think it would be wrong for a Catholic college to block Wendy Davis from speaking after she had been invited and approved. As I say, if I were the head of a College Republican group, I wouldn’t invite David Duke to speak. With that said, I would fight for his right to speak – as indeed I have said about people with whom I strenuously disagree ranging from Richard Spencer to Milo Yiannopoulos. I don’t think CPAC should have disinvited Milo, by the way – they shouldn’t have invited him, because he’s not conservative or decent, but once invited, it’s wrong to disinvite him based on a year-old tape. Milo paraded around to love for nearly a full year after these tapes were posted on YouTube with the caption “Milo Yiannopoulos defends pedophilia and pedophiles.” It was all public. Milo didn’t get caught – CPAC did. I have also publicly opposed banning either Milo or Spencer from Twitter – Twitter proclaims it is a free speech hub, but then bans people seemingly arbitrarily from a leftist set of principles that it has not expressed publicly. If Twitter called itself Leftwitter, that would be a different story.

So, enough with the sloppy logic. I would fight for your right to say whatever you want no matter how much we disagree – but I wouldn’t necessarily invite you to my house. There is a difference. And failing to acknowledge those differences invades private rights.

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