On Thursday, The Washington Post published a piece by John Woodrow Cox titled: “Berkeley gave birth to the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s. Now, conservatives are demanding it include them.”
Cox’s piece is a gorgeous example of the progressive mind at work, and it would be a crime not to analyze it.
In the article, Cox writes of the Free Speech Movement (FSM). For the uninitiated, the FSM was a series of incidents that occurred between October and December of 1964 – protests and demonstrations in which the student population demanded that the University of California, Berkeley, “stop restricting political activity on campus.”
On a December evening in 1964, 1,000 students marched into the Berkley’s Sproul Hall and sat down. The protesters were inspired by the Free Speech Movement…
The students slept, sang, studied and talked until after 3 a.m., when the chancellor showed up and demanded that they leave, according to news accounts. A few did, but most stayed. Then things turned violent.
Approximately 796 students were arrested, some cried “brutality,” and Berkeley eventually backed down, “loosening its rules against political activity on campus and making Sproul Hall a place for open discussion,” according to Cox.
Cox cites the San Francisco Chronicle‘s 50th anniversary article on the FSM, which claims the movement sparked protests at campuses across the nation, leading to broadened speech rights at other schools.
This is all well and good. Free speech – political speech in particular – is a necessary right, which is probably why it’s enshrined in the very first amendment to the United States Constitution. There are dozens of quotes from the founders, as well as their contemporaries, advocating for the freedom of speech, as it is a foundational principle of a functional republic.
While the FSM may have been a critical movement in the fight for free speech on campus, free speech itself has been enshrined as a human right in the United States for more than 220 years.
Through omission, as well as though implied linkages, Cox makes three fallacious arguments. First, free speech is a progressive cause. Second, conservatives are only now advocating for it because they need it. Third, Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Richard Spencer are conservatives.
The title, as well as the structure of Cox’s article, implies that the battle for free speech on campus was waged solely by progressives. If progressives were the heroes, who were the villains? That’s easy enough to suss out.
By claiming in his title that conservatives are only now jumping on the free speech train at Berkeley, and by mentioning the Free Speech Movement protests in conjunction with Vietnam war demonstrations – something frequently associated with leftists – Cox is strongly implying that the antagonists in the free speech war were conservatives. This encompasses points one and two.
Conservatives have long been champions of free speech. Accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1964, Barry Goldwater said:
“… we see, in cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments. We do not seek to lead anyone’s life for him – we seek only to secure his rights and to guarantee him opportunity to strive, with government performing only those needed and constitutionally sanctioned tasks which cannot otherwise be performed …
We must not see malice in honest differences of opinion, and no matter how great, so long as they are not inconsistent with the pledges we have given to each other in and through our Constitution.”
Conservative icon, Milton Friedman, made a similar remark in 1978:
“People will be best able to distinguish truth from falsity if they have the opportunity to hear a variety of different opinions … so let’s by all means have a clash of opinion, let different beliefs clash in the marketplace of ideas, but let’s not have a monopoly or subsidization of one brand of ideas versus another.”
Cox’s implication that conservatives are only now advocating for free speech is inaccurate. Conservatives are simply becoming louder in their advocacy in response to the culture on college campuses which seeks to censor conservatives – the very culture the FSM fought to change. The oppressors in this scenario happen to be progressive activists.
In 2017, free speech on campus is being shut down because progressive activists refuse to tolerate diversity of thought. Considering that, it is only reasonable that conservatives are becoming more assertive in the way in which they advocate for free speech.
Now let’s examine Cox’s implications as to the individuals who represent conservatism. He first mentions Ann Coulter:
Modern conservatives, including Coulter, are aware of Berkeley’s history — and have seized upon it. Even before the school decided to let her speak on campus in early May, Coulter had promised to go ahead with her speech.
“What are they going to do? Arrest me?” she said Wednesday on the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
While Ann Coulter espouses some conservative viewpoints, she is not a conservative. Cox’s mentioning of her makes sense, however, because of the current brouhaha regarding her upcoming speech. Here’s where Cox cleverly manipulates his readers. After speaking of Coulter, he moves right to Milo Yiannopoulos:
The fear among Berkeley officials stemmed from the upheaval that exploded on campus in February, when violent protests forced university police to cancel a speech by another right-wing firebrand, Milo Yiannopoulos. People set fires, chucked rocks and tossed Molotov cocktails.
Yiannopoulos is not a conservative. He’s an ethno-nationalist populist whose opinions are often anathema to conservatism. After Yiannopoulos, Cox dives right into the deep end, mentioning white supremacist, Richard Spencer:
On Tuesday night, white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at Auburn University in Alabama, and protests turned violent there, too, leading to three arrests. Convinced that his racist message would appeal to students weary of politically correct campus culture, Spencer had promised last year to begin giving speeches at universities around the country.
Cox mentioning Coulter, Yiannopoulos, and Spencer in the same breath might lead one to believe that these three individuals represent the conservative movement in America – especially considering the title of his piece uses the word “conservatives.” Cox threads these three together in a neat little line, leading his readers to the conclusion that conservatism is frighteningly provocative, racist, misogynistic, etc.
This type of manipulation is common among progressive writers who want their audience to see conservatism as a sick philosophy. Cox is clever about it, but not clever enough.
Conservatism is freedom of speech, diversity of opinion, and free-market capitalism; conservatism is tolerance, reason, and diffusion of powers. Don’t believe for one second that the three people mentioned by Cox are representative of that philosophy.