'Speech Freaks' Don't Want to Protect Speech

They want to destroy it. Liberals are helping.

Image result for Kyle Kashuv

Preface

As you read the following, bear in mind the scandal involving Kyle Kashuv.

He’s one of the Parkland, Fla., teens who rose to prominence after a gunman killed scores of his classmates. But instead of participating, as his peers did, in a revived gun control movement, Kashuv declared his love for the Second Amendment, and a star was born.

Turns out Young Master Kyle said a few very racist things on social media. That got Harvard’s attention. The school had accepted Kashuv for admission, but this week rescinded its offer, thus sparking a firestorm of “debate” about free speech and higher education. —JS


You may know there is a debate going on over the role of free speech in American universities. What you may not know is that this “debate” is not a debate, that free speech isn’t the point, or that its role in American universities isn’t the issue.

I take that back. Among liberals and anyone who cares about democracy, there is indeed a genuine debate. For these citizens, free speech is the point, as is its role in American universities. For them, free speech is central to the people’s ability to govern themselves and a necessary check against the tendency of centralized power to become corrupt. Moreover, liberals place high value on knowledge and wisdom in the belief that they are a surer path than most to political equality and individual freedom.

Liberals, being liberal, are therefore in the habit of taking every argument, no matter how vile, on trust and in good faith. Liberals tend to presume, even when they should not, that anyone claiming free speech is in jeopardy on college campuses, and that its infringement signals the republic’s decay, really does want to engage in a genuine conversation with deference to known facts, sound reasoning and proper etiquette. Liberals tend to believe that even the cruelest person and virulent views should have access to the public square, and that protecting them is protecting everyone.


The conservative mind runs into a problem. It can’t attack equality and freedom openly.


This is the first mistake. It’s a mistake to give complainants of the kind seen in virtually all quarters of the conservative commentariat the benefit of the doubt. They should not be given the benefit of the doubt, because they do not care about protecting free speech on college campuses. They do not care about the ideals and integrity of intellectual inquiry or the pursuit of knowledge. They do not even care about debate, per se, because debate requires a shared understanding that one’s claims must be substantiated, one’s conclusions falsifiable, and one’s goals ultimately benevolent.

And because complainants of the kind seen in virtually all quarters of the conservative commentariat do not care about the same things liberals, liberals are making a categorical error in believing that they do. So the first step is stop. Next step?

What is their real objective? The goal, in almost every circumstance, when you drill down far enough, is to silence free speech even as they claim to be its champions. And their goal is to attack American universities even as they claim to uphold the university’s noblest virtues. When you think about it, it’s much simpler than most understand. So-called conservatives don’t like what lots of people talk about when they go to universities, and so-called conservatives want them to be quiet. Why?

Because universities, for all of their many problems, are still the most fertile forum in this country by which individuals discover self-awareness and self-realization, which is to say that American universities are still the best place for our society to achieve its highest ideals. And by that, I mean political equality, justice, liberty, the whole shebang. It’s a republic if you can keep, Ben Franklin famously said. Part of keeping it is arming the citizenry with the tools and resources that an education provides.

This, to the conservative mind, is troubling, because, to the conservative mind, equality is not an indisputable good, nor is freedom for people empowered by equal treatment before the law. These are not good things to the conservative mind, because the conservative mind is radically and inexorably hierarchical. (It can’t not be.) There are those at the top of society and those at the bottom, and any meddling with the natural order is profaning God. Such meddling must be stopped, thinking goes. Moreover, it must be punished for disrespecting the authority of the order.

But the conservative mind runs into a political problem. It can’t attack equality and freedom openly. That hurts you. That tactic backfires. “So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

That quote, as you may know, is from Lee Atwater. George HW Bush’s advisor was talking about presidential campaign rhetoric. But the same methods have been used by those attacking universities and the exercise of free speech. No one in his right mind would accuse universities of defiling the sacred order of God’s universe without looking helplessly old-fashioned. No one would attack speech, freedom and equality.

So instead, people like David Frum, Ben Shapiro, David French, David Brooks and others attack or tut-tut “Marxism” in the name of free speech. They blast “liberal indoctrination” in the name of intellectual integrity. They critique “cancel culture” as if it were a real thing. It is not a real thing, not in the way it’s said to be, which is another reason never to give so-called “speech freaks” the benefit of the doubt.

—John Stoehr

Liberals Must Name the Evil

Suffering is central to fascist politics. Indeed, "sadism" is the point.

Image result for immigrants concentration camps

Editor’s note

Hi! Today’s edition goes out to everyone.

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Subscribe today by clicking the red button below.

Many thanks! —JS


The United States is on the edge of what I’ve called a new era of apartheid. By that, I mean, among other things, a long period in which the politics of fascism, if perhaps not fascism itself, has emerged, grown and flourished right before our eyes.

I’m humble enough to say I don’t know if we are there yet. I’m confident enough, however, to say it’s coming if we fail to act. By “we,” I mean us. I mean liberals.

I suspect most liberals can’t quite bring themselves to believe fascist politics is happening. Liberals are deeply moral and open-minded yet skeptical. We have a good nose for bullshit, and cries of fascism! sound a bit hysterical. And anyway, that happened in Europe. It’s what Germany did. Fascist politics can’t happen here.

As long as American liberals can’t quite bring themselves to believe that fascist politics is happening, fascist politics will have opportunities to prevail in plain sight. As long as American liberals cluck their tongues at the world’s Cassandras, admonishing people of color to pay attention to “real issues,” our government—constituted of, by, and for the people—can perpetrate grand evil in our names. Without belief in the truth, there is no resistance. Without resistance, evil won’t stop.


Adam Serwer is right but not right enough.


As I see it, a major problem is naming the evil.

“Fascism” smacks of foreignness. It’s relevant to people and places far, far away. American liberals are more fluent in the native vernacular of white supremacy. We are more adept at identifying domestic practitioners. Ronald Reagan, for instance, launched his 1980 presidential bid in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights activists were murdered in cold blood. For American liberals, especially liberals of color, conservatism has been for decades another word for white supremacy.

Liberals should take the next step. Sure, “fascism” still sounds foreign, but our history suggests that’s a distinction without a difference. Arthur Goldwag (a subscriber to this newsletter!) wrote The New Hate. In it, he said Adolf Hitler was inspired by Henry Ford, whose newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, spread anti-Jewish propaganda. Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works, told me that the fuhrer admired US behavior toward indigenous peoples. Death camps were not a German invention. The Nazis perfected, by way of gas chambers and ovens, an American innovation.

Despite this history, liberals struggle to properly name the evil. That’s partly due to Reagan’s success. His landslide victory in 1984 (winning every state but one!) made it virtually impossible for respectable liberals to use “fascism” or “white supremacy” in mixed company. But liberals struggle for another reason: they are, well, liberal.

Liberals tend to believe that everyone has the right to the public square no matter how reprehensible a person’s views are. In trying to tolerate the intolerant, American liberals tend to believe they are being good liberals and by extension good Americans. The marketplace of ideas, they believe, will sort out the whole truth in time. But the reverse is the case. What they are really doing, in a context of fascism politics, is helping fascists exploit liberal principles to undermine and replace democracy.

I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s partly because fascist politics is so very hard to believe. Fascist politics, though it seeks power, doesn’t know what it wants to do with it. Power itself is the ultimate good in fascists politics. Once it’s attained, that’s it.

If this sounds like a tautology (they want power because they want power?!) that’s because fascist politics is utterly tautological, which is another reason that liberals can’t quite bring themselves to believe that fascist politics is happening. No one can be so dumb, liberals tend to think, as to want power but not know what to do with it.

Oh, but they can be!

In an influential and hotly debated essay, Adam Serwer of The Atlantic came close to properly naming the evil. In the following passage, he refers to Southern lynchers smiling for the camera as black bodies dangle behind them. Serwer wrote:

Their names have mostly been lost to time. But these grinning men were someone’s brother, son, husband, father. They were human beings, people who took immense pleasure in the utter cruelty of torturing others to death—and were so proud of doing so that they posed for photographs with their handiwork, jostling to ensure they caught the eye of the lens, so that the world would know they’d been there. Their cruelty made them feel good, it made them feel proud, it made them feel happy. And it made them feel closer to one another (my italics).

There was no point to the American South’s crimes against humanity except one, Serwer said. “Cruelty,” he titled his essay, “is the point.” And indeed it is. But even Serwer, whom I take to be a liberal’s liberal, does not take it far enough, I think.

“Cruelty” does not evoke the emotions he describes. “Cruelty” does not, in my view, explain the appeal of fascism. Something made these murderers “feel good,” “feel proud,” and “feel happy.” The word I’d prefer American liberals use is “sadism.”

“Sadism,” politically expressed, explains why some people want power but don’t know what they want to do with it except use it to make others suffer. Why is our government interning immigrant children on military bases and encampments on the border? We’re told it’s for deterrence, but that’s not it. It’s not a deterrent—we know this—and no amount of explaining that will change that view. Why?

Because deterrence isn’t the point any more than policy is. To the president’s supporters, immigrants deserve their suffering, because they are immigrants. Because they are immigrants, they deserve their suffering. Yes, it’s tautological. Yes, it’s insane. That’s what you’d expect from people who take pleasure from others’ pain.

—John Stoehr


Taking Democracy for Granted

The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer is always a must-read.

Last week, he wrote a piece in keeping with key themes in the Editorial Board.

Black Americans did not abandon liberal democracy because of slavery, Jim Crow, and the systematic destruction of whatever wealth they managed to accumulate; instead they took up arms in two world wars to defend it. Japanese Americans did not reject liberal democracy because of internment or the racist humiliation of Asian exclusion; they risked life and limb to preserve it. Latinos did not abandon liberal democracy because of “Operation Wetback,” or Proposition 187, or because of a man who won a presidential election on the strength of his hostility toward Latino immigrants. Gay, lesbian, and trans Americans did not abandon liberal democracy over decades of discrimination and abandonment in the face of an epidemic. This is, in part, because doing so would be tantamount to giving the state permission to destroy them, a thought so foreign to these defenders of the supposedly endangered religious right that the possibility has not even occurred to them. But it is also because of a peculiar irony of American history: The American creed has no more devoted adherents than those who have been historically denied its promises, and no more fair-weather friends than those who have taken them for granted (my italics).

Thoughts?

—JS

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