Protests against free speech in the name of free speech have become the political flavor du jour. Although the MSM tends to avoid covering these unseemly episodes, anyone with a computer and the interest to go with it can witness online these totalitarian irruptions at universities, colleges and libraries across the continent: Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, Jordan Peterson at Queen’s University, Heather Mac Donald at Claremont-McKenna, Gavin McInnes at DePaul, Charles Murray at Middlebury, and so on ad vomitatum. But one gets a different perspective — obviously more immediate, more appalling — when one is present at these public displays of doctrinaire belligerence and repressive violence so dear to the Left. One cannot shake a sense of disbelief and moral shock, at least at first.
Just the other day and not for the first time, I experienced this feeling of helpless rage and moral incredulity when my wife Janice Fiamengo was invited by a newly formed undergraduate group, the University of Ottawa Students for Free Speech, to give a lecture titled “Is the University about the Pursuit of Truth or about Protecting Approved Ideologies” at the Ottawa Public Library. When we arrived, we found the doors blocked by a crowd of Antifa offshoots calling themselves, variously, the Revolutionary Student Movement and Ottawa against Fascism, pre-programmed automatons wearing masks, carrying placards and blaring slogans through bullhorns. One of these slogans was paradoxically apt: No Platform for Hate. No Debate.
A scuffle broke out. We were barred from entering by a phalanx of massed bodies. Janice was slandered as a fascist, a hater and a rape apologist. I got into a shoving match to defend my wife from potential harm. The paid security guards merely backed away. The police finally arrived and eventually cleared the entrances, but did so with kid gloves, patiently explaining to the assembled thugs that they had the right to demonstrate but not to prevent entry — an instance of “soft” or “selective” policing that is now the norm. When I pointed out to the officers that the protesters were in violation of the law — Bill C-309 which makes it a criminal offense to wear masks in public and the Trespass to Property Act which likewise establishes penalties in the Criminal Code for obstructing access to public venues — and that immediate arrest of the lawbreakers was in order, I received a non-committal shrug in response. I should say that I do not blame most of these officers; they are acting under strict orders from higher up.
The saga was not yet over. As we were setting up in the designated auditorium and Janice was preparing her talk, the fire alarm was pulled and we were forced to evacuate the building, which put an end to the proceedings. The false alarm, of course, is a standard tactic of disruption and yet another convictable offense. We have experienced this so often that I’ve suggested we come equipped with ear plugs.
Another thing that strikes me about these protesting hordes — apart from their proclivity to break the law with customary impunity — is the monumental ignorance they exhibit. The few protesters I have actually managed to talk to over the years have never read the works of the people they are shutting down. Among an abbreviated list: They know absolutely nothing about Paul Nathanson or Cathy Young, whose public lectures they have disrupted. They have not read a word of David Horowitz, who speaks accompanied by bodyguards. They have not consulted Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life or attended his lectures on Jungian archetypes, Christian theology or English Common Law. They have no familiarity whatsoever with the magisterial oeuvre of Charles Murray. It goes on.
They do not even know their own origins, having never cracked the spine of Das Kapital or heard of Antonio Gramsci and “the long march through the institutions,” his colleague Goerg Lukacs, or the Frankfurt School kingpins like Theodore Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Erich Fromm. They are ignorant even of Herbert Marcuse whose theories they are aggressively putting into practice. Like a contemporary, ideologically primed version of the Star Trek Borg, they march in lockstep, spout slogans and commit acts of violence, regarding themselves as heroes of the coming Utopia. (Obviously, they have never heard of Thomas More either.) We have seen this commitment to mindless violence in the service of a presumed higher good before in Hitler Youth and Sixties-inspired groups like the Red Brigades in Italy and Baader Meinhoff In Germany.
The current brigades are vastly more ignorant than the latter two groups, who at least knew their sources, but for a sect that doesn’t know what it’s doing but knows how to do it, they are remarkably adept. Masks and hoodies not only obscure identification but prevent personal contact. Placards are used as door-jammers and sometimes as weapons. Bullhorns prevent dialogue, in other words, No Debate. The term “fascist” endlessly repeated as a slur against speakers is both a misnomer and a misapplication — in other words, a Platform for Hate — since it is the protestors who are employing fascist methods of intimidation and closure.
Their ideology, formulated in Marcuse’s seminal 1968 essay, Repressive Tolerance — that is, freedom depends upon repressing others, particularly conservatives and free marketers — and in his widely circulated One-Dimensional Man, functions as the ground of their actions. Marcuse advocated in the latter for “new modes of realization,” by which he meant, inter alia, “freedom … from earning a living,” a condition perfectly exemplified by the shiftless and materially idle population of militant students and welfare-supported political hoodlums who assault law-abiding citizens, monitor ideas, snuff out open discussion and pull fire alarms. Marcuse, a cynosure of the left, was himself an escapee from fascist Germany, but as Jonah Goldberg points out in Liberal Fascism, the same techniques of totalitarian repression are common to both Marxism and fascism.
All this is bad enough, but what is even more alarming is that the Borg enjoys the support, whether tacit or explicit, of university administrators, a politicized professoriate, a suborned media network and the police establishment whose officers, as I have mentioned, are instructed to tread lightly. Although in this case one protester was arrested for mischief — a rarity — generally the police will nab those who fight back as if they were the instigators of public disturbances. Thus, the bureaucratic echelon that represents the law effectively breaks the law by refusing to enforce it. Authority is complicit with the violators. The phrase “law enforcement” becomes another misnomer.
And the irony is palpable. As Janice pointed out in a post-event interview and an Ottawa Citizen report, pro-life activists on campus peacefully holding signs and obstructing no one are immediately apprehended and face disciplinary proceedings, for example, at the University of Calgary and Carleton University, among others. It is no stretch to imagine that a group protesting an Islamic colloquy or a feminist conclave would be arrested on the spot and charged with creating a public nuisance. What we are observing is not only selective policing but the selective application of the law.
The hooligans who prevented my wife from delivering her talk numbered maybe two dozen, sufficient to sink an articulate analysis with a barrage of loudly chanted drivel and obloquy — perhaps less distressing than the occasion at the University of Toronto when she was hustled into a police cruiser for her protection. But whether in small or large deployments, the guerillas adopt the same tactics and are motivated by the same ideology. I still have trouble believing what I see, but as they say, seeing is believing. Naturally I need to be particularly sensitive and alert since I cannot allow harm to befall my wife. Jordan Peterson has called her “a tough cookie” but that is no guarantee against libel and physical threat.
In any event, sanctioned anarchy, especially when one experiences it intimately and on a more or less regular basis, serves as a vivid wake-up call. I could wish more people had the dubious opportunity to note first-hand what is happening to their culture. Possibly then something might be done about it. Regrettably, many I have spoken to have no idea of the current state of cultural disarray, the decline of civility, media corruption, academic decadence, authoritarian indifference to democratic principles and the rule of law, and the political subversion practiced by the revolutionary Left. They fail to realize that we are in a state of war and that truth, honor and decency are daily casualties. They have never contemplated Pastor Niemöller’s premonitory poem. They think the term “progressivism” means “progress.”
It is as if our cultural and political leaders, like the elite in Constantine Cafavy’s great poem, were eagerly awaiting the barbarians and were bitterly aggrieved when they didn’t show. There is no longer any reason for disappointment. Our mandarins have got their wish. Peterson wryly remarked, as swarms of Antifa clones were pounding at the door and breaking windows during his brilliant presentation at Queen’s, that “the barbarians are at the gate.” In a way, this was not quite accurate. They are here milling among us, inhabiting the universities, marching in the streets, dismantling the civil order, engaged in the perversion of values, and, like Marcuse, promoting tyranny in the name of freedom. Their freedom.
The barbarians are not at the gate. The barbarians are inside the gate.