Left wing protests aimed at blocking a speech by libertarian sociologist Charles Murray turned violent late last week. Not only did organized protesters shout down his speech, but afterward a mob of protesters attacked both Murray and Middlebury professor Allison Stanger.
The latter is actually a political liberal, and a critic of Murray’s, who was scheduled to debate him and challenge his ideas after his speech. Not only did she not get that chance, she ended up a neck brace thanks to protesters.
You can read her account of what happened here. A video of the event is below.
At The Atlantic today Peter Beinart, himself a liberal, scolds campus progressives for their behavior in attempting to silence right-of-center speakers on campus. “Liberals may be tempted to ignore these incidents, either because they are uncomfortable appearing to defend Charles Murray, or because, in the age of Donald Trump, they’re worried about bigger things,” he writes. “That would be a mistake. If what happened at Berkeley, and now at Middlebury, goes unchallenged, sooner or later, liberals will get shouted down too.”
I wish Beinart hadn’t couched his criticism in concern over mainstream liberals who aren’t far enough left for the far-left campus progressives. That makes it seem as though the threat to conservative speech on campus is only worthy of criticism in so far as it could creep into a threat to mainstream liberal speech.
His condemnation is welcome, though. Conservatives and libertarians have been decrying the sorry state of free speech on campus for years now. It’s gratifying to see at least some on the left waking up to the problem.
Still, I’m not sure mainstream liberals like Beinart are aware of just how much they’re contributing to the attitudes which justify violent disruption of conservative or libertarian speech on campus. It makes them uncomfortable, sure, but they’re part of the problem.
Take this passage from Beinart’s column in which he works very, very hard to ensure that his readers know he thinks conservatives are a bunch of bigots:
But if conservative students cannot invite speakers who hold what I and many other liberals consider reprehensible views, then they cannot invite many of the most prominent conservative thinkers and Republican politicians in the United States today. Like many liberals, I consider it bigoted to oppose gay marriage. I consider it bigoted to support voting restrictions that disproportionately impact African Americans and Latinos. I consider it bigoted to deny trans students the right to use the bathrooms of their choice. I consider it bigoted to claim that Islam is inherently more violent than Judaism or Christianity. I consider it unconscionable to oppose government action against climate change.
Yet on the American right, these views are all mainstream. If conservative students can’t bring Charles Murray to Middlebury, how can they bring Ted Cruz, Newt Gingrich or Clarence Thomas?
Each of those issues Beinart refers to are the subject of much heated debate in America today. And yet, he blithely decrees that anyone straying from liberal orthodoxy in those areas is a bigot.
He lives no room for honest disagreement. The choices we are left with, then, is to either be bigoted or agree with him.
Which is perhaps why progressive zealots on campus have rationalized their violent and disruptive behavior. “This is not an issue of freedom of speech,” a letter signed by the Middlebury activists states.
Why isn’t it a free speech issue? Because Murray is a bigot, they claim. “This is the same thinking that motivates eugenics and the genocidal white supremacist ideologies which are enjoying a popular resurgence under the new presidential administration,” the letter writers say of his work.
Whether or not Murray really is a bigot is beside the point. It shouldn’t matter matter if the man were a Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan. The proper response from his critics should be peaceful demonstrations and robust rebuttal, not violence and disruption.
Many on the left have convinced themselves that, in opposing conservatives and libertarians, they are literally fighting evil. That misguided and dangerous belief has its roots in attitudes of political absolutism such as Beinart’s.
Meanwhile, the sort of left wing violence Beinart decries is moving off campus. Progressive demonstrators rioted for days after Trump’s election day victory. His inauguration prompted more violence. Over the weekend pro-Trump rallies also invited violence from the left, notably in California and Minnesota.
Because the left has come to believe that Americans have two choices: Be liberal, or be evil.