Earlier this week in the Washington Post, Skidmore College professor Jennifer Delton wrote an opinion piece in which she challenged university administrators to confront the notion of free speech on campuses because the alt-right engages in “weaponizing the concept of free speech.” She argues that conservatives on campus have led to the anger-tinged tactics of the alt-right, while ignoring the fact that the left has its share of violent actors who take free speech to its extreme just as often.
Oddly enough, Delton spends much of her piece patting the left on the back for weeding out communists from its ranks in the mid-2oth century by denying them the right to speak out and assemble.
That’s right, New Deal liberals and unionists — including President Harry S. Truman, Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers — were staunch anticommunists who effectively shut down the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), forcing communists out of unions, civil rights organizations, jobs and universities.
They did so because communists were a disruptive force that was baiting and dividing the liberal left. Communists were also in a party directed by Moscow just as the Cold War was commencing. Their presence in liberal organizations made liberals vulnerable to Republican and conservative attacks. So those liberals interested in political success (and in preserving the New Deal) drove them out of politics.
Somehow Delton makes this assertion while ignoring or forgetting that the Democrats and unions of that time were crawling with communists and we had actual Soviet spies in the government. But none of that matters because it doesn’t fit her narrative that it’s fine to deny free speech when it’s convenient to do so.
What about constitutional protections of free speech and assembly? Ah yes, the pesky Bill of Rights. Delton addresses how the First Amendment gets in the way of squashing ideas with which she disagrees:
What about the First Amendment, you may ask? Well, this was a point of contention that likewise divided the liberal-left community. Liberals had historically supported freedom of speech and assembly; they saw themselves as champions of the First Amendment. To deny communists freedom of speech and assembly — to run them out of politics on the basis of their ideas and political connections — seemed like the height of hypocrisy. Communists constantly pointed this out, as did those liberals who rejected the anticommunist agenda.
So anticommunist liberals made a series of arguments that justified denying communists these rights on account of their disingenuous intentions and totalitarian ideology.
Don’t agree with somebody? The answer is simple: just make “a series of arguments” that they don’t deserve the right to speak, and you can deny their rights. I’m sure that’s exactly what the founding fathers had in mind when they put their belief in free speech into action.
Here’s the thing: the alt-right possesses horrible tenets and opinions. Their ideas and tactics are disgraceful. But they have a right to say what they say, and denying them also denies right-thinking people the opportunity to (nonviolently) confront their awful beliefs.
Delton also fails to mention (or intentionally omits) the elements on the left that weaponize free speech and twist it toward violence. What about Antifa? Or Black Lives Matter?
How about the mob threatening violence that shouted down author Heather Mac Donald because she dared to state that Black Lives Matter made wrong assumptions about cops? Are their speech rights acceptable to Professor Delton?
Angry shouts and threats of violence lead to the cancellation of mainstream conservative speakers on campuses all the time. Is this behavior worthwhile? Is denying their free speech rights allowable?
Denton’s closing sentence is problematic because it’s where she lumps the alt-right in with all conservatives:
Until university presidents offer real leadership in reconciling the liberal critique of “identity politics” with a new generation of diverse students, faculty and staff for whom such politics represent progress, they will be unable to protect their institutions from conservative attacks.
Certainly diversity should include different political ideas, right? Shouldn’t varying schools of thought on politics engaging in civil debate be a good thing? Not for Delton, because the cretins of the alt-right and thoughtful, intelligent conservatives are all attackers. They’re one and the same in her eyes.
It’s rich how leftists like Jennifer Delton want to curb free speech when it’s convenient. It’s also mystifying that she’s concerned about the alt-right when elements on the left are just as pernicious. Delton and her ilk continue to give higher education a bad reputation for tamping down true variety of thought in the name of false diversity.