LISTEN TO TLR’S LATEST PODCAST:
In the past several months we have seen a debate on free speech that has had been festering for several years. With speech codes and “free speech zones” prevalent at colleges across the United States, the 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech has been restricted. We have seen this debate on my own campus, with the Free Speech Wall and the invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos by the Cal Poly College Republicans. The Free Speech Wall was subjected to vandalism, being taken down several times, while various groups on campus tried to get Milo’s event cancelled. And when those attempts failed, they showed up in black masks and waving anarcho-communist flags pretending they’re making a difference.
Conservatives were the original anti-free speech defenders. Joe McCarthy and his witch hunt against communism in our government (who was defeated in part by Dwight E. Eisenhower.) Or the FBI’s constant monitoring and assault on communist and progressive groups in the Red Scare. Ronald Reagan was elected partly on the base of dealing with the “Berkeley problem” where the original Free Speech Movement began in response to restrictions on academic freedom and political activities. They still are in a way; just as Reince Priebus and Donald Trump about libel laws and the 1st Amendment. Or banning books they don’t like because it has LGBT characters.
However, even with all this, conservatives and other speakers now find themselves under assault both in their freedom of speech and sometimes physically. Like Ann Coulter’s speech was cancelled at UC Berkeley or Charles Murray’s speech at Middlebury College, the author of the Bell Curve, which was rocked by violent protests where a progressive professor who had attended the speech was assaulted and injured. Richard Spencer basically got the U.S District Court to force Auburn to host his speech because they tried to cancel it and it was rocked by violent protests.
Do these speakers sometimes hold views that most people would fine horrible? Yes. Especially Richard Spencer who has somehow gained prominence because the media keeps talking about him. But attacking him, by throwing punches and committing violence against his supporters and others you don’t like, you’re not helping your cause.
We live in the United States, a country built on the freedom that you should be able to speak without the government silencing you and that you have a right to hold views that are morally wrong and repugnant. John Stuart Mill in On Liberty defended speech because if you silence an opinion, you are essentially elevating it. He wrote,”‘If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.”
Free speech should be defended to the utmost. College is about learning and refining our ideals and beliefs. I myself, have gone through this transition, with spirited debates and exchanging of ideas. And yes, protesters have used their freedom of speech as well, by voicing their opposition or support. The groups who protest outside of Milo events without violence are good. The ones who have beaten up his supporters, pepper sprayed them, and caused property damage are not.
And by using violence or government force against your opponents is sending a message of intolerance and that you are afraid. It is the tactic used by fascists in the early 1930s when they used violence against screenings of All Quiet on the Western Front and then banning it when they came into power. Or how modern and historic communist regimes suppress speech despite the father of modern communism, Karl Marx, defending it .
Free speech is for all people, not just the ones you like. It’s for people like Richard Spencer and Linda Sarsour. For people like you and me. Defend it for all.