March 7, 2017


The fact that two different speeches triggered violence at two different campuses within the space of a month suggests that we may be entering into a new and more dangerous phase of the anti-free-speech movement. Free-speech advocates, particularly the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, have done a great job pushing back against overweening college administrations that try to curtail the speech of students and professors. But these are actions coming from the students. Who do you sue to keep a mob of students from resorting to the heckler’s veto, or their fists, to combat ideas they don’t like?

I reached out to Greg Lukianoff, the president of FIRE, to ask him that question. Greg agrees that while it’s early to call this a trend, there are definitely some warning signs. Hitting people with sticks and starting fires “does seem to us to be a new and scary thing,” he says.

Why is it happening? He points to one possible contributing factor. “One thing we really noticed that things had changed was the progression of ‘safety’ into meaning ‘perfectly comfortable,'” he said. Once you’ve defined words as being equivalent to assault, then you’re plausibly justified in using violence to repel the threat.

That’s basically the logic of the editorials that the Berkeley student newspaper published in defense of the rioters.

Well, people who have never learned to think or argue can’t use their words. So, like a toddler, they scream. Funny, you never see these freakouts at trade schools.