There’s a war raging over the freedom of speech, and it is one that constitutional conservatives cannot afford to lose.
A recent study revealed that, today, nearly one in five college students believes that violence is an acceptable response to speech one deems offensive or hateful, and that an astounding half of them believe that it is appropriate to counter the ideas of a “controversial” lecturer by simply shouting them down. These alarming statistics come on the heels of an earlier survey that found less than a third of college students strongly agree that it’s “safe to hold unpopular ideas on campus.”
There’s no question that the closing of the college mind is a maddening and worrisome cultural development for our country. But the explosion of political violence that has erupted across the U.S. reveals that there is much, much more to the anti-free speech movement than coddled college kids seeking safe spaces and post-lecture counseling; there are anti free speech forces at work in America far more sinister than a fraction of delusional, oversensitive college students.
The rise of Antifa and its flawed, pervasive faux-intellectual political philosophy has exposed that the anti-free speech movement is simply an angry mob, falsely dressed up as an intellectual movement on an illiberal, unenlightened and destructive mission to try to legitimize the insane idea that certain types of speech should be considered literal violence. It is an attempt to scrub both the words “speech” and “violence” of their inherent meanings and to replace them with Newspeak version of themselves — versions “deliberately constructed for political purposes…intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them.”
It sounds ridiculous — and it is — but many have already succumbed to this ludicrous notion. Here’s a New York Times article written by a Ph.D holder that attempts to scientifically prove that some forms of speech are, in fact, literal violence. Here’s a report that details the astronomical costs of providing adequate security for conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s recent address at U.C. Berkeley: a jaw-dropping $600,000, just to protect the speaker’s God-given right to free speech and to protect the attendees and campus from violent far left protesters. Here’s a Washington Post column whose author argues that traditional Catholics are “alt-right”–an only somewhat softer way of calling them fascistic and bigoted. In less than five minutes, I found six news stories–here, here, here, here, here and here–detailing six different cases in which leftists use violence against peaceful Americans whose politics, speech and, in some cases, mere existence they deem immoral, offensive, or otherwise unacceptable.
Now, there’s no shortage of other political buzzwords whose original meanings have been totally eroded by repetition and political repurposing. But makes the anti free speech movement so uniquely dangerous is that, for centuries, the words “speech” and “violence” have been impervious to any erosion of meaning. The definitions of both words have been crystal clear and have gone widely unquestioned in America for generations without complaint or confusion, and because of their universal acceptance, they’ve been free to play pivotal roles in some of the most important dialogues in modern history–from the Founders’ debates about the nature of our God-given rights to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s commanding rejection of violent protest throughout the Civil Rights Era (particularly in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize lecture).
For a while, it had been a covert operation, but the anti-free speech movement tipped its hand when Antifa thugs started beating up innocent people for simply expressing their first amendment rights. If “offensive” speech–which is frequently just conservative speech–can be deemed violent, and it becomes justifiable to respond to “speech violence” with literal violence, then we’ll have built a culture that enables ski mask clad losers to beat up peaceful conservatives–or anybody, really–merely for speaking their mind.
By any stretch of the imagination, that line of thinking isn’t intellectual, intelligent or enlightened. It’s not even ideologically liberal, really, at least not in any recognizable philosophical form. It’s regressive garbage-logic that begs to be cast into the wastebin of history. If the anti-free speech movement is successful in its attempt to strip “speech” and “violence” of their true meanings and repurpose them as political weapons, our nation’s ability to engage in civil discussion will be permanently obliterated.
The war over free speech is one of the highest-stakes philosophical and political conflicts in America today. It is imperative that First Amendment conservatives be disciplined and happy warriors in their cause, because they–not the thugs in the black ski masks–are on the right side of logic, history and common sense. They should fight this fight as if the dignity of America’s founding principles depends on it.
Because it does.
Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.