Former Clinton secretary of Labor and current professor of public policy at UC Berkeley Robert Reich has spoken well of Berkeley's decision to reschedule rather than prevent entirely a speaking engagement by conservative commentator Ann Coulter. Reich's words on his Facebook page were eloquent:
Free speech is the central idea of a university. If unpopular views can't be expressed at a university, university education is severely compromised, and the First Amendment is reduced to a popularity contest.
Speech should not be blocked because it's offensive, provocative, or even hateful. The essence of education is provocation. Students should be able to directly hear and question someone who utters offensive or hateful things so they can understand why such statements are brainless and vacuous, and also gain a deeper appreciation for openness and tolerance.
Other luminaries in the US progressive establishment agree. Quote Bernie Sanders:The only exception is when hateful speech is calculated to -- and is likely to -- incite violence by others toward groups or people against whom the hateful speech is directed. But even then, universities must make every effort to protect those individuals or groups rather than prevent such speech.
Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.
To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness. If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world?”
This after it was discovered that "groups responsible for recent clashes during demonstrations on campus and throughout the city planned to target Coulter’s event."What are you afraid of ― her ideas? Ask her the hard questions. Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.
Representative and deputy chair of the DNC, Keith Ellison (D-Minn) agrees:
The dissenting views turned up in the comments sections on Reich's Facebook page. There are several stock responses on part of those who would advocate the no-platforming of Coulter, and they are worth considering.Absolutely protest these people you don’t like, absolutely write against them, denounce them. But the solution to bad speech is good speech, the solution to bad speech is more speech. Once you start saying, ‘You can’t talk,’ then whoever’s in power gets to impose that on whoever’s not in power and that’s not good.
Objection: "Free Speech means that the government cannot regulate your speech, and cannot punish you for it. It does not mean that you are entitled to a platform for that speech, or money for that speech, or an audience for that speech, or that people will not pelt you with tomatoes when issuing such speech."
Response: This is true, as far as it goes. But the authority to deny a platform, and the authority to provide one, are ultimately the same. If UC Berkeley has the right to deny Coulter a platform to speak, they also have the right to grant her one. It looks like they offered to grant her one. Now what?
This is a bogus response. The right of UC Berkeley to choose who to allow to speak is not the issue here. The kinds of progressives that raise this objection made perfectly clear their respect for UC Berkeley's right to make these kinds of decisions when they rioted and burned half the campus down in reaction to Milo Yiannopoulos's Feb 2 scheduled speech, among others. Entitled and self righteous regressives reserve for themselves and themselves only the right to decide who may or may not speak. This is a consummately authoritarian mindset. Recognize it as such.
Objection: "I think it is easy for people who have historically not been impacted by structural violence to say that people who spill vile from their mouths should speak. It would be a very different if Ann Coulter's rhetoric was her own and did not have any real impact on people however that is not the case. The White Nationalist anti-immigrant words that spill from her mouth have been widely supported and have translated to policies that target people based in their race and have over simplified a problem. The things that she is saying are dangerous and have real life very violent consequences for the Undocumented, Mixed Status people who they affect."
Response: I've seen multiple variations of this idea. They all boil down to the idea that censoring hate speech is a necessary measure to take to protect the rights of the marginalized. It is based on what is essentially a slippery slope argument. Which is itself a logical fallacy. Violent and hateful speech leads to violent and hateful actions, especially on part of the privileged against the marginalized, or so we are told.
I would suggest that the real centers of power and privilege would be those with the authority to decide who may or may not speak. A common error among those who suggest that oppression and hate are "structural" or "institutional" is that they then proceed to attach the label of "powerful" or "privileged" to identities rather than institutions. The ears of one marginalized group are thus protected from "hate speech" only by marginalizing another group through censorship. Censorship has always been the tool of the powerful, never of the marginalized.
Finally, stopping Ann Coulter speaking at UC Berkeley will not stop those who really harbor white nationalist views from having access to those views. It is not at all hard to access those views online. No-platforming Coulter only legitimizes the far right's own narratives of victimhood and marginalization. It is bad strategy for Coulter's opponents to adopt.
Many other responses simply degenerate into "everybody who disagrees with me is evil Hitler." With all of the vacuous signalling and faux cleverness that so often attend the expression of regressive views, some commenters suggested that "What could have stopped Hitler was 'moar freeze peach!' Wow. Just wow. He mispelled "more" and "free speech." What cleverness! What wittiness! I just can't get past how brilliant the online social justice crowd is!
Does anybody remember when, during the Bush administration, liberals used to say that if we curtail civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, the terrorists win? If we give into fear, the terrorists win?
That's what Al Qaeda wanted. To make our hatred and fear of them be the cause of our remaking our society in their image: violent, repressive and fundamentalist. A lesson the alt-right would do well to learn.
Now apply that same logic to fascism.
We adopt fascist methods in order to defeat fascism, the fascists win. We censor them, they win. We violently disrupt their meetings, they win.
Do you want to truly defeat fascism and fundamentalism? Do it by openly challenging their ideas. Rather than no-platforming them, give them all the platform in the world and let them hang themselves on their own stupidity. Of course, that also requires good, smart liberals - of the Sam Harris and Bill Maher mold, to step in and rip their ideas to shreds.
Not so long ago, the likes of Maher and Harris had the religious right on the run. They didn't do this by trying to censor the evangelicals. They did it by making damn good and sure everybody knew exactly what the evangelicals had to say and how utterly ridiculous it was. How hard could it be to do this with the alt-right? If you can't be bothered to prove that Hitler was a complete maniac who slaughtered tens of millions because of utter nonsense racial conspiracy theories, that's just inexcusable intellectual laziness.
But this seems to be too much to ask of a progressive establishment characterized by the twitter social justice mob, who regards unquestioned agreement with their views as being their birthright because "marginalization", rather than their responsibility to win due to sound argument. Instead, let's contribute to the Hitler mystique by trying to hide and bury his ideas and turn complete poppycock racial pseudoscience into an alluring forbidden fruit. Good thinking!
You try to censor and no platform fascists, you're telling them you're afraid of them. That feeds them. That makes them stronger. You can't stop people from accessing fascist ideas. I can download Mein Kampf right now on PDF. How are you going to no platform that?
You recognize the fact that people turn to extremist politics when they've lost confidence in mainstream politics. That means cleaning up the corruption and getting money out of politics. Actual government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Fascism arose the first time in the 1930s - the height of the great depression. An empty stomach will vote for anyone who promises to change that. A fearful populace, as the population of Weimar Germany were of the Soviet threat, and a humiliated and shamed populace, as the population of Weimar Germany were after the Versailles Treaty, are more receptive to the honeyed words of demagogues delivering scapegoats and easy answers.
What you don't do is blame the rise of fascism on the presence of free speech and other civil liberties. That's like blaming the outbreak of war on the existence of peace. They became authoritarian because they weren't authoritarian in the first place? Sure.
As something of an aside, I do think there are are legitimate public safety concerns here. It is becoming apparent that Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin has ties with radical left groups in the Berkeley area. While he is within his rights to hold whatever views he wishes, it bears mentioning that he also owes a duty of care to the citizens of Berkeley and to the students attending UC Berkeley. The lack of police presence at the Milo riots and more recent clashes with alt-right counter protesters has been noted.
Arreguin should be subject to a federal investigation to determine whether he's had a hand in this. So too should staff and faculty at UC Berkeley, and those found having a hand in inciting or participating in riots should lose their jobs in addition to being subject to prosecution. Students who participate in or incite riots must face expulsion and charges. These consequences need to be made clear ahead of time, so that wannabe revolutionaries can think long and hard about how much this ridiculous LARPing is really worth to them. This in stark contrast with the right to peaceful, non-violent and non-disruptive protest, which must be protected for student, faculty and political representatives alike.
It's worth noting that the violence has been escalating, and that following recent violent clashes, Berkeley antifa has expressed an interest in acquiring guns and learning how to use them.
This is no laughing matter. Injuries may now become fatalities. It is Arreguin's responsibility to deploy Berkeley law enforcement to actually do their jobs and arrest rioters guilty of offenses, on both sides. If they cannot do this alone, State and Federal officials should be contacted and the National Guard deployed to restore order, if needed.