In a unhinged op-ed published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, a female professor from Skidmore College posits that colleges should shut down conservative speakers from speaking on campus in order to forestall violence.
Jennifer Delton writes:
Here’s the dilemma college presidents face in the fall: Either uphold free speech on campus and risk violent counterprotests, or ban conservative provocateurs and confirm the “freedom of speech” crisis on campuses. Either way their institution’s legitimacy is undermined.
Delton argues that conservatives caused the dilemma, then quickly segues to saying their techniques were “perfected by the alt-right.”
Once she is in alt-right territory, she argues that they “seek to destroy liberal cultural hegemony, which they associate with a bipartisan, globalizing, multicultural, corporate elite, and which, they think, is perpetrated in the United States by the mainstream media and on college campuses … that its provocateurs seek to bait liberal institutions by weaponizing the concept of free speech, which is an issue that divides the liberal left.”
Then, Delton’s historical justification for shutting down free speech. She notes:
New Deal liberals and unionists — including President Harry S. Truman, Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers — were staunch anticommunists who effectively shut down the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), forcing communists out of unions, civil rights organizations, jobs and universities. They did so because communists were a disruptive force that was baiting and dividing the liberal left. Communists were also in a party directed by Moscow just as the Cold War was commencing. Their presence in liberal organizations made liberals vulnerable to Republican and conservative attacks. So those liberals interested in political success (and in preserving the New Deal) drove them out of politics.
Pointing out that liberals were attacked by communists for their hypocrisy regarding free speech, she adds, “… anticommunist liberals made a series of arguments that justified denying communists these rights on account of their disingenuous intentions and totalitarian ideology. Most famously, liberal activist Arthur Schlesinger Jr. argued that communists hid behind the First Amendment to attack liberal democracy, using it as a shield as they sought to destroy the democratic system that upheld those rights.”
Delton argues Schlesinger understood that communists could “divide progressive forces and thus create an opportunity for conservative Republicans to take power and repeal the New Deal, which he believed would in turn destabilize American capitalism and possibly tilt the balance of international power to the Soviets. Liberals would be chumps to let a principled commitment to ‘freedom of speech’ undercut the pragmatic goal of political survival, which was the only way to ensure progress in civil rights and social welfare.”
Delton cites philosopher Sidney Hook, who “said liberals had no problem with communists’ ideas, which they were free to expound upon and disseminate. The problem lay in their organized actions, which involved ‘all sorts of stratagems, maneuvers, and illegal methods, evasions and subterfuges‘ developed by Lenin to subvert democracy.”
From there, she mounts her attack:
… given our current political moment and the threat posed by the actions of alt-right provocateurs, Schlesinger’s and Hook’s arguments may bear revisiting … Both understood that the CPUSA, like the alt-right, was engaged in a struggle to destroy the cultural and political legitimacy of western democratic liberalism. And both understood that First Amendment absolutism was a luxury that only a stable, peaceable society could afford. I can’t help but think that even William F. Buckley would have agreed with this.
Delton references the ACLU’s fight to defend the American Nazi Party’s right to march in Skokie, Ill. in 1977, but argues, “ … neither its actions nor its ideas posed a threat to the political or social order, which was stable. The situation is different today, with an erratic President Trump in the White House, elites in disarray and white nationalism on the rise.”
One reason the right has been able to so effectively exploit “free speech” is because campuses have become places where the free exchange of ideas has been curbed by peer pressure, self-policing and a self-righteous call-out culture, as described by Jonathan Haidt, Jonathan Chait and Mark Lilla. Until university presidents offer real leadership in reconciling the liberal critique of “identity politics” with a new generation of diverse students, faculty and staff for whom such politics represent progress, they will be unable to protect their institutions from conservative attacks.
There has been much talk, whether accurate or not, about how President Trump has enabled the alt-right with some of his rhetoric. Would anyone on the Left be as eager to condemn The Washington Post, which cries, “Democracy Dies In Darkness,” for countenancing this sort of drivel, which enables those on the Left to shut down free speech from the Right?