This election year may be revealing a crisis of faith in and the legitimacy of the institutions whose credibility we might have taken for granted. Some of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning are wrestling with the thorny issue of free speech.
Or to be more precise, how to say no to the snowflake bully crowd which insists on a paradigm of free speech in which they control the speech, choose the speakers and dictate the reaction.
But our leaders set the tone. When they are weak, they invite further provocations, further encroachments and increased threats to actual free speech — never mind, actual intellectual discourse and probing academic research.
With that in mind, I give you this brief excerpt from Yale University President Peter Salovey’s fundraising email to alumni earlier today:
“We have been wrestling with difficult and complex matters: how to ensure and encourage free expression while prohibiting harassment, intimidation and coercion; how to make our campus welcoming and inclusive to an exceptionally diverse student population; and how to understand and commemorate the past.”
The problems in that phrase are evident. The use of the terms “harassment,” “intimidation” and “coercion” as qualifiers limiting free speech invites the abuse of sophistry by the self-declared social justice warriors. It also serves to signal the university’s true intent: lip service to the broad principle but actual conformity with its limits. The result is selective, reaction-permissioned speech; that is, speech which is allowed only if approved by certain quarters whose fairness and reasonableness are to be assumed and accepted without question.
Such Ivy League appeasement of intolerance is not new. It surely was known to William F. Buckley, Jr. And it was known to me 25 years ago within the walls of Yale Law School.
For it was one quarter century ago that Clarence Thomas fended off the Anita Hill accusations during his confirmation hearings. I noted the reflexive support for Hill, and denigration (or worse) of Thomas among virtually the entire professorate and student body.
To be a libertarian or conservative in those days (and it’s no different now) was to really go against the grain. Great training for the future, for today. Sure, there were some very tolerant and intellectually honest classmates back then, some of them salt of the earth. But others exercised a sharp ideological litmus test, refusing even the barest of civilities to those who did not adhere to their positions and who simply refused to be bullied.
Yale is not alone in acting as a Petri dish for the development of some of the most intolerant and divisive opinion leaders we have today. However, it can act as a legitimizing springboard for yesterday’s snowflakes, my peers, to spread their spores among today’s impressionable and equally fragile youth.
It should be no surprise that one of the campus radicals back then is now a bespectacled national commentator. And that another one is presiding over a tidal wave of anti-Israel sentiment among student groups at Brooklyn College where she now serves as President, in a development that would have been flatly unthinkable when I attended that college nearly three decades ago.
The rise of the snowflakes has had its share of aiders, abettors, collaborators and secret provocateurs. Today’s campus intolerance had its roots in prior decades, prior times and, yes, prior failures to confront the intolerance of the politically correct.
But if readers are appalled at these developments, a great way to respond is simply to shut off the spigot. Withhold your alumni donations. Entirely.
Believers in free speech, constitutional rights and free markets will have their place in Western society increasingly under attack until we resolve to stop feeding the hand that punches us.