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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Is the Left Eating Itself?

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- Good evening, everyone.

Hello, thank you so much for coming

and welcome to this Spiked US Unsafe Space Tour event,

"Is the Left Eating Itself?"

My name's Tom Slater, I'm deputy editor of Spiked,

the online magazine.

I'm also coordinating this Unsafe Space Tour

and I'll be moderating this evening.

Thank you all for coming.

Also, big thank you to the New York Law School

for hosting us,

being just about the only college on Manhattan

who would have us after the antics

we've been getting up to

in the previous couple of days

and also to Nadine Strossen who is a professor

here at New York Law School

former president of the ACLU, great defender of free speech

who's hosting tonight, there we go.

(audience applauding)

So, she's hosting us tonight

even though she's not actually here,

but nevertheless she's with us in spirit,

so is the left eating itself?

So, at Spiked, we're a left-wing radical humanist magazine

and we've always stuck up for free speech,

no ifs and no buts and as a result of that,

you often find yourself defending the right

to speak of people who you either

vehemently disagree with or downright despise,

but what's been quite interesting is that whilst seemingly

even about over the last 10 years you could say

that generally speaking the sorts of speakers on a campus

or more broadly who would find themselves

protested against subjects of calls for censorship

tended to be conservatives right-wingers

through to downright reactionaries,

things seem to be changing over the last couple of years.

So, not only does it seem that the bar for censorship,

for what is beyond the pale on campus

seems to be getting lower and lower,

but even avowed left-wingers, progressives feminists even,

found themselves as subjects of protests

and calls for censorship from campus

activists, and a number of those people

are actually on this panel tonight,

but even beyond that you don't have to go far

to look for examples of it,

whether it's the feminist Germaine Greer being

picketed for her views on transgenderism

or someone like Slavoj Zizek

who is protested at the Left Forum

here in New York last year

for some colorful comments he'd made previously

about the refugee crisis

so that's really what we want to look at tonight,

that dynamic if indeed it does exist

and have today's young radicals abandoned freedom of speech,

are they turning on their forebears

or is something else going on?

Are they simply holding previous

generations of progressives to a higher standard

and indeed is this all just a little bit overblown?

Are these unrepresented groups of students

who for whatever reason universities

and institutions are capitulating to,

so that's the sort of thing

we're going to be getting into tonight

and I'm delighted to be joined by what is to my mind

the perfect panel to discuss this.

So, I'm going to introduce them

in the order in which they'll speak.

So, first up, my immediate left is Brendan O'Neill.

Brendan is the editor of Spiked.

He's also a columnist for Reason and The Spectator

and the author most recently of A Duty to Offend

and most potently for this evening,

he was banned from the University of Oxford in 2014,

a debate on abortion where he was due

to make the pro-choice case

on the basis that he, as a person without a uterus,

their words, wasn't sufficiently credited

to contribute to that debate,

so be interesting to hear from Brendan.

Speaking after Brendan, on his left is Laura Kipnis

known to many of you I'm sure.

Laura is a feminist essayist and academic.

She's a professor of media studies

at Northwestern University and the author of many books,

but most recently Unwanted Advances

which really builds on a lot of her critiques

of what she called sexual paranoia on campus

and her writing on this subject

has not only earned on protest at Northwestern,

but also some pretty shocking Title IX investigations

which I'm sure we heard a little bit about as well,

so it's fantastic to have Laura here.

Speaking after Laura, we've got Angus Johnston.

Angus is a historian of student activism

and student government.

He's a professor at the City University of New York.

He's contributed to many publications, Rolling Stone,

the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed,

you might see him on MSNBC and C-SPAN

and he regularly speaks on campus and is a very staunch

AND passionate defender of student activism,

past and present,

so it'll be fascinating to see what Angus has to say tonight

and then finally on my far left,

we've be hearing from Bret Weinstein.

So, Bret is an evolutionary theorist

and a former professor of biology

at Evergreen State College,

the reason he is former is the fact that

as many of you all know,

he was at the center of a big national news story

when he criticized an anti-racist protest on campus

which was asking white student

and faculty to stay away from the day,

as a result the subject of a lot of protests

and calls for his resignation.

So, our speakers are going to speak

for about five to seven minutes tops.

We may have a little bit of discussion on the panel,

but as quickly as possible,

I'm gonna throw it out to you guys

for your questions and your comments

and that's how we'll go for the rest of the evening.

So, Brendan, do you wanna kick us off?

- Thanks, Tom.

My answer to the question is the left eating itself

is no for the simple reason that what we have on campuses

in the US and the UK today is not left.

This hyper racial consciousness,

this insistence on female fragility,

this paranoid philistinism,

so that books are defaced with trigger warnings

and everything from tabloid newspapers

to sexy pop songs can be banned,

this disavowal of your own autonomy,

your own adulthood and you're pleading with bureaucracy

to provide you with psychic comfort,

this use of racial phrases like white men

as if all white men have the same privilege,

as if class, the building block of left politics,

was irrelevant or such a small thing

that it didn't bear talking about,

none of this is left,

none of this is what I understand to be left.

In fact, it has far more in common with the politics

of reaction than it does with the politics of the left.

It is a replay in my view of the carnivals of reaction

that greeted the rise of Enlightenment thought,

the birth of mass democracy,

the liberation of women and ethnic minorities

from second-class oblivion.

In my view, today's campus agitators better resemble

the reaction against those progressive

radical leaps forward for humankind than they do

the progressive radical leaps forward themselves.

They are not left.

I know this sounds like semantics,

but it's incredibly important that we get this right.

I know they call themselves left,

but North Korea calls itself a democratic republic,

people lie and more importantly people

use progressive phrases to disguise reactionary agendas

and is a longstanding historical phenomenon

and that is what we face on campus today,

the dressing up of the new reaction

against Enlightenment thought as something progressive.

I think what we face on campus today

and across many institutions in the west

is something far worse than left on left battles,

we face the slow-motion agonizing death

of Enlightenment thought

and the return of reactionary ideas,

just on why I think they are not left-wing

and we really must stop calling them left-wing,

just a few examples.

The first thing is that they, this new campus radicalism,

completely grates against the idea of universalism

which is one of the key ideas of left-wing politics

from the French Revolution onwards,

the idea of the common man,

the rejection of the biology or the politics of race

and the politics of division in favor

of emphasizing common interests,

the new radicalism completely grates against that,

it does it through always emphasizing

the fragility of black students,

the culpability of white students

who benefit from historical privilege

and therefore are culpable for the crimes of history.

When I visit American campuses,

I'm really shocked by the politics

that is on offer to students,

it's either black self-pity or white self-loathing,

that seems to me to be the only options

in radical politics on campus today,

a highly racialized hyper racial politics

and it's really emphasized in the phrase stay in your lane,

don't ever dare to mix too much with the other race

or offer too much solidarity to the other race

'cause you're getting above yourself

you should stay in your lane.

You can also see in the way in which this new radicalism

completely grates against the idea of class

as I was saying earlier their use of the phrase white men,

this amorphous phrase you know white men are bad,

of course all white men are bad,

even the white men who historically helped

to develop the Enlightenment and radical thinking

and so on, they're all bad, they're all the same,

and they all enjoy privilege,

it's complete negation of the idea of class,

the key dividing line in modern society

and the foundation stone of left-wing politics.

You can also see the way it's not left

in the way it demeans women and ethnic minorities.

Women are presented as fragile,

as requiring Victorian style chaperoning through daily life,

they couldn't possibly negotiate the ups and downs

of public life and student life and sex life on their own.

You think that's left-wing,

can you imagine Rosa Luxemburg or Frida Kahlo,

famous communists who had affairs

with all sorts of people,

shrinking if someone offered to buy them a drink

or if someone touched them on the shoulder, it's ridiculous,

this is not left.

They demean ethnic minorities, too,

with their acquiescence to the idea of microaggressions

where everyday conversation is presumed to be hurtful

to certain minority groups,

or their champion of the removal of certain statues,

or the renaming of certain buildings,

I've heard radical students talk about

the environmental menace of statues of old white men

as if ethnic minority students are incapable

of walking past a statue

without being wounded by it.

It is not left to push such a demeaning racial view

of certain groups in society.

And in fact what it does,

it actually reinvents the biological determinism

of the old racial politics,

but in the language of historical determinism,

they are wounded by history,

so in so many different ways, this is not left,

this is a reactionary liberal politics

and in my view it has far more in common

with the old reactionary politics,

particularly the reactionary politics

that emerged in the aftermath

of the development of Enlightenment thought

and there was a famous reactionary,

18th century French philosopher who hated the Enlightenment.

He thought it was the worst thing that ever happened.

His name was Joseph de Maistre,

his famous line was, "There is no such thing as man."

He said, "There are French men,

"there are Italian men, there are black men,

"there are white men, there are poor men,

"there are rich men, "but there is no such thing as man,"

and whenever I hear student radicals crying about

white men, black people, women,

and everyone having different ideas and different views

and the needs of control public interaction

to protect people's feelings,

I always hear the echo of the anti-universal,

anti-progressive, anti-radical cry,

"There is no such thing as man."

I think what we have to recognize

is that on campus right now,

we face something far worse than left versus left

or left versus right

or the alt-right coming in and stirring things up

and left-wing people crying as a consequence,

we face a generation that has been schooled

to reject Enlightenment thought,

schooled to reject due process,

schooled to reject a freedom of speech,

schooled to reject the idea of autonomy

and encouraged to see themselves as fragile and weak

and requiring bureaucratic, therapeutic scaffolding

in every area of their lives,

that is not left, that is the opposite of left,

that is the opposite of radical,

and it needs to be challenged by everyone

who seriously considers themselves to be a left-wing person.

- Thank you, Brendan.

So, Laura, your thoughts, please.

- In answer to the question posed,

I'm also going to say provisionally no

I thought I was gonna be the first one to say no.

If by left, we mean broadly anti-capitalist

and if by eating itself,

we mean broadly the free speech on campus issue

which I take to be the subtext here,

I'm saying no though for a while,

even recently I might have said yes,

so let let me briefly describe my journey.

I don't come to punditry,

that is the task of delivering

oracular pronouncements in public especially happily.

I'm a left-wing feminist who

wrote some controversial things

about sexual politics on campus

because I find the direction of campus feminism

also at the moment conservative leaning

and indeed paternalistic,

some people tried to shut me up

by bringing me up on Title IX complaints.

In fact twice, so I wrote about the experience

of people misusing the Title IX process to shut people up

and later about other misuses of Title IX I learned about

and found myself plunked unexpectedly

into the middle of the free speech debates

and on the receiving end of a bunch of speaking invites

from various groups with a pro free speech agenda.

As someone whom others have tried to shut up,

I should naturally endorse the free speech agenda,

both out of self-interest

and because politically, I favor freedom

and disfavor authoritarianism.

I could easily use my allotted time

to rant about campus authoritarians and so on

instead for this occasion,

I'm gonna try out the role of the anti-pundit

and speak about the value of negative capability

which was Keats's phrase for the usefulness

of intellectual confusion and uncertainty

and the ability to think two opposing things at once

which is parenthetically what the political situation

of the moment demands of us, I believe.

To take a rigid unequivocal position or positions

in the midst of political disarray

in which the democratic experiment

looks increasingly imperiled,

in which calling your opponents fascist

is no longer hyperbole is to risk being an idiot.

When events are unfolding faster

than the adequacy of our language to describe it,

I suspect our positions

should be provisional and lightly held.

In that spirit and against my own self-interest,

let me try on the anti-free speech position

espoused by certain segments of the left,

but at its best version

rather than a shrillest or its stupidest

which is what I think

an intellectually honest interlocutor wants to do,

occasionally entertain the possibility

that your deeply cherish principles might require retooling

in response to changing circumstances or new information.

As a leftist myself, that is an anti-capitalist,

I have to start by acknowledging

the correctness of the premise

that there's basically no such thing as free speech,

there's no free marketplace of ideas

because some idea mongers have more purchasing power

than others or a better position in the idea marketplace.

Markets don't produce equality and never have.

In fact, they produce massive inequality, look around,

check out some wealth and income distribution data.

In this context, I do find it difficult to deny

that the free speech argument is a comforting illusion,

a cover for the fact the powerful interest determine

who can speak and who gets heard and by how many.

Will net neutrality last

for another five minutes by the way,

but I suppose that's the subject for another discussion.

Here's a personal example closer to our topic.

As a supposed free speech advocate,

I myself have been the beneficiary

of numerous speaking invites,

sometimes with quite nice honoraria attached,

to events where there are not infrequently

lavish catered dinners where you get served

expensive things like filet mignon

because I came to realize the free speech agenda

is a well-funded one with various foundations,

often libertarian conservative ones

funneling money from donors

whose politics align in uncomplicated ways,

i.e anti-regulatory economic policies

with this idea and not other ideas.

The other ideas don't get the filet mignon.

If you're Black Lives Matter or antifa,

you're probably lucky to get bus fare.

As an anti-pundit, I also have to acknowledge

that there's no credible absolutist position

on free speech.

When John Stuart Mill said back in the 1860s

that more speech was the solution to bad speech,

there were certain structural exclusions he was ignoring.

Did freed men and freed women have access

to the marketplace of ideas?

No because to have access to free speech,

you have to be able to represent yourself,

to be part of the discourse,

it's not a birthright, it's a political right,

that in the case of historically underrepresented

populations has to be fought for

which brings us to identity politics,

which I take to be the other subtext

of the question we've been asked to answer.

As a leftist that is in favor

of a politics of redistribution,

how can I not be on the side of identity politics

because I have to recognize that access to resources

depends first of all on the ability

of marginalized groups to be represented.

There are better and worse versions

of identity politics.

Let's pick the best one.

Nancy Fraser's formulation about recognition

versus redistribution is useful here.

We need both, that doesn't mean bowing

to the language of microaggressions,

it means that you only have to look

at wealth and income distribution patterns

to know that identity isn't a meaningless category

nor has race somehow been transcended.

Okay but here comes a contradiction,

I promised you some.

Look I fully believe there is a fatal anti-intellectualism

sweeping American campuses that has to be addressed

and much of it revolves around identity politics

and campus cultures that increasingly favor

feelings over intellect.

When I see videos of demonstrators at Evergreen

or Wesleyan saying they don't need to read books

because we know what our experiences have been

and shouting down faculty,

I, too, wanna blame identity politics,

but that's to be as simplistic as the students

who want to shut people up who offend or trigger them

instead we on campus and I mean faculty have to help

students get over the theory versus experience dichotomy

and understand that experience in itself,

by itself is meaningless.

The only way to make sense of it

is with distance and retrospect.

At the same time, all speech and all ideas

don't have a place on campus.

There are intellectual standards to be maintained

and principles to uphold and most importantly,

the most important one is that campuses

are inclusive places not venues to debate

whether blacks are Muslims or trans students

deserve social equality,

those debates have been settled.

If student Republicans want to invite

alt-right and edgy neo-fascist speakers,

they can invite them to off-campus venues.

If it were 1932, would we invite Joseph Goebbels

to campus to debate whether Jews and homosexuals

should be removed from Germany

on the principle that good speech

will obviously trump bad speech

and all ideas deserve a hearing?

No, and campus presidents should not be doling out

hundreds of thousands of dollars in security costs

to protect idiots with ignominious ideas

that are opposed to our core values.

The Goebbels analogy isn't very far-fetched

at the moment as we know.

We have white supremacists running the executive branch,

we have fascist gangs with guns terrorizing cities

and mowing down those who get in their way.

African-American voting rights

are being systematically clawed back

and yesterday I read in the Times

about a white 18 year old student

at the University of Hartford boasting on social media

that she tried to poison her black roommate.

Yes, I know all the invite Milo to campus arguments,

who do we want to appoint as the idea gatekeepers et cetera,

but if fascists and racists want to exclude

certain identities from the future,

these aren't ideas, they're threats,

and we have to start making that distinction.

The time to stop inviting fascists to campus

is right around now

and as a bonus, maybe the antifa would stay home, too.

- Sorry, Laura, if I could ask you to,

just final thought for a moment.

- Okay, this is my final thought.

Do I contradict myself, maybe so.

Do I know how these ideas would work in practice, no.

Do some of our comrades fail

on the negative capability front?

Do they have excess certainty?

Are they maybe a bit too quick

on the pronouncements and denunciations, yes.

Are they too quick to play the role

of authoritarians and censors?

Not exactly new tendencies as we know.

Yes again, but let's be tough minded and generous

and take them at their best.

- Thank you very much, Laura.

I should say now, Laura,

if you're expecting filet mignon tonight,

you're gonna be bitterly disappointed,

but Angus, your thoughts, please.

- Thank you.

I have a feeling, well, I don't know what Bret's gonna do,

but so far were three for three

on answering the question no,

but I really mean it actually.

I really really mean it

We're obviously in a moment

of incredible crisis as a country.

I will confess that I find the idea

that white male is a useless or amorphous category

a little confusing in a time when Donald Trump

is the president of the United States,

an aficionado and a maestro of white male identity politics.

This is a moment in history

when the politics of white male identity

have been not only ascended but weaponized.

That doesn't mean that every white male is evil,

I hope that that's not the case,

but it doesn't mean that whiteness and maleness

and all of that are topics that we need to be

thinking about and engaging with

and the idea that that we can have a universal left

is one that I find very appealing in a lot of ways,

but you don't get universalism by erasing difference,

you don't get universalism by pretending

that there are no distinctions to be made between us

and you don't get universalism by pretending

that we are not all oppressed in different ways

and along different axes,

that the way that we can build

a left that speaks for us all

is to build a left that speaks for us all

and that speaks for each of us in our specificity

and speaks to our specificity in the various ways

in which we are being run roughshod.

A left politics in the United States in the 21st century

has to be a coalitional politics.

It cannot be anything other than a coalitional politics

and so from that perspective,

my concerns about the concept of free speech

are in some ways similar to Laura's.

Although, I take it a little bit further

and say I'm somebody who's been beating

a very big drum for the free speech rights

of left-wing students over the last year

or two or several ten

and I have not been given a single filet mignon

for that position.

There's a lot of folks

who are really, really into free speech

who are relatively quiet

when we're talking about the free speech

of rowdy students on campus

and I think we do have a difficulty here that goes back

to the way in which we conceptualize civil liberties.

I'm an ACLU guy.

I'm a 1st Amendment absolutist guy

and as I was growing up,

thinking about the concept of free speech,

the place you would always go with Skokie,

that was the example that you would always give,

that if you really were for free speech,

you had to be for the free speech of the Nazis in Skokie

and the way that that was formulated

was that to be for free speech means to be most of all

for the free speech of the people that you hate the most

and the people that you hate the most are the Nazis,

so that's where you go.

I think that's wrong.

I think that to be for free speech

means that you have to be for the free speech the most

of the people who's free speech is most under attack.

If the people that you hate the most

are relatively privileged in terms of

having the ability to avail themselves

of their 1st Amendment rights,

then they're not the people that you need

to be supporting the most,

the people you need to be supporting most

are the people who are the most under attack.

It is very easy to defend the people

that we really really hate who are the exact opposite of us,

it's a lot harder to defend the people

who we really, really hate who are kind of like us,

the people who are sort of, kind of on our team,

but we think are completely messing it up,

that's the people that's really hard to defend,

that's the people it's really hard

to be in solidarity with.

Do I have like a minute left?

- Two minutes.

- Two minutes, excellent, great.

I won't use them both.

We talk a lot right now

about the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964,

particularly when Yiannopoulos was coming to campus

and he was being thrown off campus

and people were rioting against him,

everybody was talking about how all of this

was a betrayal of the principles

of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley.

I'm a historian of student activism.

I believe powerfully in that moment and that movement.

It's one of the places that I think of American students

as being truly heroic,

but the crucial moment, the crucial historical moment

in the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley

was that speech that Mario Savio gave,

the most famous speech in the history

of American student activism,

the cornerstone speech

of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement,

literally a speech that has been inscribed in stone

and the peroration of that speech,

the climax of that speech is this paragraph.

There comes a time when the operation of the machine

becomes so odious, it makes you so sick at heart

that you can't take part,

you can't even passively take part,

and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears

and upon the wheels, upon the levers,

upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop,

and you've got to indicate to the people who run it,

to the people who own it that unless you're free,

the machine will be prevented from working at all.

This is not the language of a man who wants to sit down

and debate the people who he is opposed to.

This is the mountain not the language of a man

who is insisting that the people who are oppressing him

need to be given a forum.

This is a language of a man who is putting his body

upon the wheels and upon the gears and upon the levers

and I think that we on the Left need to make

at least some sort of an effort

to reach out to the people who are also on the left

who are putting their bodies upon the wheels

and upon the gears and upon the levers right now, thanks.

- Thank you, Angus.

And Bret, your thoughts, please.

- My professorial instincts are kicking in

and I feel like I should try to synthesize

what I've been hearing and challenge a few things,

but I'm gonna try to stick to the plan.

the plan is to address the question

is the left eating itself

and I think there are a couple of ways

that we can answer this question.

One is yes, another would be yes, of course it is.

I mean, that may be my lived experience speaking here,

but it seems so transparently obvious

that is what is going on that I feel

inclined really to move on to the more interesting question

which is why is the left eating itself,

but that does mean that I have to address

some of what's been said here.

How can we disagree if it's so obvious to me

that the left is eating itself,

then how am I sitting on a panel with people

who are obviously well-spoken and informed,

maybe more so than I am who disagree

and I think in part it's going to come down to definitions

which could be a very semantic dry discussion

were it not for the reason

that the definitions are in flux

and so I think we should probably get there soon enough.

For the moment, what I want to do is suggest

a kind of approach to understanding why this really is

the left that is attacking some of us who all our lives

would have called ourselves leftists

and the first thing I would suggest is that we may have

a basic problem with the game theory of progressivism.

It is quite possible that what is taking place

is that the left has a bad actor problem that arises out of

some of the fundamental assumptions of progressivism

and I don't mean to strike a negative note.

I do think it is possible to structure a left

that would be more or less immune to a bad actor problem,

but what I'm witnessing in the present are bad actors

that have control over the entire dialogue

and that is a very dangerous situation.

So, the first thing that I recognized

a bit before things went haywire at Evergreen

or at least went haywire publicly

was that the people I was talking to

and most of the population at Evergreen is pretty far left,

but I recognize that there was a hidden dichotomy

between two populations within the left,

one of those populations earnestly wishes equality

and there can be some debate over what it is

that is being equalized,

but virtually everybody on the left would say

that they are for equality of opportunity,

then there is another population that does not wish

equality of opportunity,

what it wishes to do is to turn the tables of oppression

and the problem for us is that when these two populations

are intermingled they sound alike

until the point that you reach something

like equality of opportunity

and we are nowhere near that point.

At that point, they would clearly diverge

and you would discover that some of the people

who had been pursuing some nominal version of equality

were really about some radical version of inequity

with new people at the head

and I do think that that's what we are facing

and the most confusing aspect of it is that

the people who are earnestly seeking something

like equality of opportunity are unaware

that they have signed up

with something unholy and un-American.

One of the consequences of this dichotomy,

the bad actors having taken control of the movement

is that they have begun to erect structures

that lead a lot of people to sign up

before they really know what it is

that they're signing up for.

Across the dialogue of the left at the moment,

you'll find words that once upon a time

had a definition that you might have

struggled a little bit to resurrect it,

but you could have figured out

what words like equity probably meant

and those words have taken on

very different meanings in the present

and they're actually part of a larger structure.

So, we have what I would call linguistic booby traps.

We have policy proposals on college campuses

and elsewhere that are actually Trojan horses,

that are described as pursuing one thing,

but actually serve a function other than the one

that is on the title page

and then we have stigma that is playing

an incentivizing role or actually more correctly,

a dis-incentivizing role

so people like myself, who stand up against policy proposals

that put my institution in jeopardy, find ourselves faced

with a social penalty for having done so.

It seems funny in my case,

they came after me with the accusation that I was a racist

and then it turned out that there were a lot of people

who could tell you that wasn't true,

so it backfired on them a bit,

but in fact none of these stigmatizing concepts

really depends on being accurate,

the most important thing that they do is they isolate you

and that is a means to an end.

These are not logical arguments that are being deployed,

this is leverage that is being wielded against individuals

that are considered troubling

from the point of view of the movement

and I would argue that the best way

to conceptualize what this movement really is

is to understand that we don't get to listen in

on most of the actual dialogue

that results in the structuring,

what we listen in on is the public face of this movement

and the movement is really properly understood

as an insurgency that privately has decided

that it is entitled to disrupt

the functioning of certain things

that it regards as quote unquote problematic

and that once it has decided that you are problematic,

there are no holds barred

if you recognize it as an insurgency

and you stop listening to what it says

it is attempting to accomplish,

it will be much clearer what is taking place.

So, maybe that's where I should leave off

in light of the the differences of opinion on the panel,

probably the best thing we can do is try to hash them out,

but please consider thinking about this as an insurgency

engaged in an action that it understands far better

than those of us who are looking on from the sidelines.

- Thank you, Bret.

Now, I want to go out to the audience very quickly,

but first I've just like to offer you the opportunity

to come back on some of each other's points,

so if I could ask just make one point,

even though I'm sure there's plenty of things

that people want to respond to,

so we'll go down the panel one more time

before we go out for questions, so Brendan?

- Yeah, I want to defend free speech for Nazis

because the idea that you can have free speech,

but not for Nazis is such a profound contradiction in terms,

that's not free speech, that's licensed speech,

that's speech that you are licensed,

that is speech you are licensed to enjoy

so long as you are not a Nazi, that's not freedom of speech,

that is the end of freedom of speech.

The second you push someone outside of freedom of speech,

that's the end of freedom of speech.

I have to be really really honest here.

I'm disappointed to hear someone,

even someone who has been sucked into

the Kafkaesque censorship of modern day campus

make the case for silencing certain voices

and there are two basic reasons

why you have to have free speech for Nazis.

The first is if you argue for any kind of speech control,

the idea that it will just be limited

to people you don't like is crazy.

History tells you that's wrong.

It's never happened.

In Britain in the 1930s,

there were lots of very positive, inspiring

working-class uprisings against fascists

and some on the left, some ill-informed people on the left

asked the government to pass public order legislation

to prevent fascists from gathering in public

and the government said, "Yes, okay, we'll do that."

Guess who it was used against time and again,

this public order legislation.

It was used against the left.

It was used against communists.

It was used against socialists whose marches were banned,

whose gatherings were banned,

you are signing your own death warrant

when you support censorship of anybody

and that's such a grave folly.

The second reason you should support free speech for Nazis

is because the only way and this is a cliche,

but is a cliche because it's true.

The only way to challenge prejudice

is to confront it head-on in the public realm

and destroy it with argument and reason.

There was an era in which Nazis were arrested

under a kind of hate speech legislation.

They were punished, they were fined,

that was in Weimar Germany

in the 1920s and the early 1930s.

Nazis were arrested for what they published,

they were punished, they were fined for what they published.

Do you know what they did as a consequence of that?

They milked it, they presented themselves as victims,

they won more support among the public

and among the racist sections of the public

by presenting themselves as the victims of authority.

If you censor Nazis, you help Nazis,

that's what history tells us.

- Thank you, Brendan.


- Well I'll just respond briefly to that.

I mean, I understand all the points that you're making

because I could make them myself,

but you're speaking of a very abstract level

about ideas and theories

and I guess I'm talking about from the point of view

of somebody on campus who works on campus

and teaches and has classrooms of students

who are not snowflakes,

but oftentimes have personal circumstances

that lead them to feel endangered by political circumstances

or by threatening language

the first generation to go to school, people of color.

In the classes I teach,

you have like one or two students of color

facing like a roomful of white kids

and I mean those are real circumstances

and faced with real people,

so I guess that's partly

the experience that I'm speaking from.

but at the idea level, I applaud what you're saying.

At the reality level which is where I live,

I think it's more complicated than that.

It's easy to come up with the pronouncements,

I guess is what I would say to that.

I just wanted to say something I thought, Bret,

you were saying was incredibly interesting,

but it veers toward a kind of conspiracy level to me

that I would have question marks about

and I think that one of the things

that we haven't talked about that I'm very aware of

is there's some sort of propensity toward purity on the left

and this idea of clean hands

and that I think is kind of part of the phenomenon

that you're describing,

sort of that it's less conspiratorial,

but that there was a sort of psychological propensity

for the sort of all-or-nothing kind of politics

that we're seeing.

So, I mean, I think that what we need

are more descriptions that are not abstract,

but also kind of take into account

the sort of psychosexual issues around say purity campaigns

in the way that on the Frankfurt School approach,

the authoritarian personality,

so I mean I just think that that's what's kind of

lacking from the description which otherwise I think

is actually quite,

I mean I've been there, too, and believe the description.

- [Tom] Thank you, Laura, Angus?

- Just want to say two things about freedom of speech.

One is that I think this question of

does free speech and free debate work to defeat fascists

and that kind of thing, I think that's an empirical question

and I don't think it's sufficient to say that

in the Weimar Republic they persecuted Nazis

and then there were Nazis

and so therefore you have to have free speech for Nazis,

I think we need to do look at it

in a little bit more complexity.

I think one of the things that I would look at

is the question of whether the tactics of antifa

are working right now

and I think there is a case to be made

that they are successfully disrupting the organizing

of a lot of these white supremacist groups,

that the white supremacists

are having a hard time getting together

and one of the things that they need

is they need to be gathering in public spaces,

so that they, the Nazi-curious among us,

can connect up with them in real space in face-to-face

and if we make it harder for them to do that,

then it is harder for them to recruit.

Now, is that worth it?

Does that mean that we shouldn't do it?

Well, that comes back to the second thing

that I wanted to say,

is that when we're talking about free speech

and protecting free speech,

we need to be very, very clear on what we mean

because Milo Yiannopoulos does not have a right

to speak at the UC Berkeley campus

and I say that as a 1st Amendment absolutist.

Richard Spencer does not have a 1st Amendment right

to speak on any campus

and again I say that as a 1st Amendment absolutist.

The American campus is a place where,

it's a community and it's an institution.

It is not a place where anybody has an equal right to speak.

Fascists are like vampires,

they can't come through the door unless you invite them in.

They don't have a right to come onto your campus.

This is what Richard Spencer has done in the recent past,

is he has scoured the nation for campuses,

public campuses that have a policy

that say that anybody may speak,

that's not a 1st Amendment thing, that's a policy thing.

They have decided to open their doors to anybody

who wants to spend the money to rent a room.

It's basically like renting a room at a Holiday Inn

and they do this to raise funds.

I'll be done in a second,

but they do this to raise funds.

They do it to be nice to people in the community

who might not have a place for the knitting club to meet

and so what Richard Spencer does

is he engages with this policy in a parasitical way

and what campuses are doing in many cases

is they are changing that policy.

Texas A&M did it.

Richard Spencer wanted to come and they said,

"Okay, well, we're going to close our open door policy."

Nothing to do with the 1st Amendment.

His 1st Amendment rights weren't violated there,

but if you look at the media coverage

and the public debate around all these fascists on campus,

you will see it framed in a very unsophisticated way

as if what were in play was the 1st Amendment

and that is very frequently not the case.

- [Tom] Thank you, Angus, Bret?

- So, I wanna respond to a couple things.

Laura, to the issue of whether conspiratorial thinking

is the right way to look at this,

again this may be colored by my experience

but I did face a conspiracy,

the details of it are emerging slowly.

Friends on the campus are beginning to discover

that what in fact happened,

what explained 50 students that I didn't know

suddenly accusing me of racism

and then posting their accusation online

was actually motivated by forces

that had decided I needed to be removed from the campus

because I was an obstacle to something called

the strategic equity proposal which was a Trojan horse,

so I'm not saying it's always conspiratorial,

but if you doubt that there is a conspiratorial element,

look up the word ally

and then look up the word accomplice

and you will find openly discussed

within this pseudo progressive movement,

this illiberal left, is the idea

that the ally relationship

is not the peer relationship

that you would discover exists

if you looked it up in a dictionary.

The ally relationship is a relationship of subordination

and so this is a real problem.

Ruling out conspiracy would just be a mistake,

I think because that element is there

which doesn't mean that we should leap

to see it every time it's a possibility,

but it is something that occurs a certain amount.

With respect to the issue of free speech,

I must say I am also now being invited by lots of people

who are interested in having free speech absolutist

and I am a free speech absolutist,

but I also am left feeling a bit flat

by the idea that this is really

fundamentally a free speech issue.

I mean for one thing the 1st Amendment was built around

the founders' fears of governmental oppression

and the greatest threats to our free speech

are probably not governmental at this point.

So, does Richard Spencer have a right

to speak on college campuses?

Turns out legally he does if they're public.

Should that make--

- If they have an open door policy

which they don't have to have.

- He can go onto a public campus and he can speak

and if they rent--

- Plenty of public campuses have closed borders.

We can get into the nitty-gritty,

but let's say that your college has a policy whereby,

a public college has a policy whereby you can rent space,

then Richard Spencer has as much right

to rent that space at a public college as anybody else does

and you can't bar him,

so in order to bar him,

you have to eliminate the policy that allows that

and then there's the question

of the truly public space on the campus

which it's very difficult to bar such a person from,

but my basic point would be

there's a second reason that we shouldn't be so focused

on narrow free speech rights here

which is that stamping out the speech of those

who have abhorrent things to say isn't going to work.

The reason that those messages are resonant now

has to do with the place we are in history

and this is something I won't drag you into it,

I think the biological underpinnings of this are,

but I would say the the soundbite

is that tyranny is the end game of prosperity

and what we have is an era in which prosperity

has come to an end

and what we have messages

which I think Trump played on cynically to get elected,

there are messages that are now resonant

that wouldn't have been so 20 years ago

and so getting some individual

who has abhorrent things to say silenced

doesn't reduce the demand for the messages

that they are peddling.

The reason that these people are making progress

is that people are now listening for those messages

and anybody who deploys them is going to get a hearing,

so the way to approach this

is to look at the deeper questions

that have put us at a moment of austerity

that causes those messages to be resonant

rather than the narrow free speech rights

which are probably not adequate or useful

as a way to think about it.

- Thank you, Bret.

At this point, I'm going to throw it out to the audience,

I think we've got a roaming mic going around

if we can see some hands.

So, panel, I'm gonna take a handful

of questions and comments.

Please be as brief as you can

and then we'll bring it back,

so you can respond to anything you hear.

So, don't leap in if you hear your name straight away,

but yes, let's take this gentleman here

and then if you would just go

to that gentleman in the middle there, shoot.

- Hi, I have a question for Professor Johnston,

is this all right, okay.

So, you mentioned about antifa

working against the public assembly of white supremacists,

but something I've noticed is that the definition of Nazi

seems to be changing very quickly.

So, let's say that I get together with some friends,

so let's say that I get together

with some friends like three or four people from this room

and say I want to create a leftist platform

that will appeal to people

who believe in truth and free speech et cetera,

but that also goes in conflict

with some other campus policies,

push comes to shove and then I'm declared a Nazi by antifa.

- Well, tell me which policy

'cause you can't say, "And I wanna also do some other--

- Well, let's not get into

the particular policies right now.

- Actually, that actually doesn't matter

because if they declare me a Nazi,

can I finish my sentence, please?

- [Tom] Let him finish his point,

we'll move around and then we'll come back.

- So, the main thing I wanted to say is for whatever reason,

they have decided that I'm a Nazi

and that they decide to come out in force

and to prevent me from speaking.

So, really, they get to decide whether I speak or not

because they're more powerful than me,

because they have more numbers than I do,

because they're more intimidating, is that all right?

Let's say for example that they're wrong

and we can you decide that there is an objective way

to determine if someone's a Nazi or not,

what recourse is there?

- Thank you, thank you very much.

No one over here.

Could I see some hands on this side,

you wanna take the mic up there

while he's speaking, shoot.

- Well, let me just say first of all,

the gentleman over there kind of

had a similar question to mine,

but let me just say first,

Brendan, I want you to acknowledge your accent privilege

because we're such suckers for,

you started speaking I was just like he could say whatever

and I'm, that accent, forget about it,

Angus Johnston, we're gonna be I guess picking on you

a little bit with antifa statement,

but yeah to piggyback on this young man

over here on the corner.

For instance, yeah, who decides who's a Nazi,

you could say they're preventing

white supremacist from mobilizing which of course,

I think is something that's good I would say,

but I think about a commentator

like Ben Shapiro for instance,

he's called this and that,

he's stopped from going to campuses

and he's having his discussions disrupted.

I mean, what about a scenario like that?

Who determines who's the Nazi?

Some young kids in masks?

I don't think so.

- Thank you very much.

So, we have another one, just here.

- My question is for all the panelists

and it is what do you think is a bigger obstacle

for a socialist politics in the United States?

Is it fascism and white supremacy

or the democratic party?

- Interesting and there's a gentleman in a blue jacket,

I think just a couple rows back.

Yeah and then we'll come back.

- We've heard a lot about

what this group of people are doing,

what that group of people are doing,

and what people are saying,

and who's meeting in what auditorium,

I think what few people are talking about

is why are people so ready to hear

some of these messages and I think that people,

and it doesn't matter which group or whatever

that someone wants to identify with,

that there's a lot of fear,

whether it's fear of sexual assault

or fear that some white guy might do something to me,

I don't believe that,

but there's a lot of fear going on

and while we're spending time

talking about who's saying what,

what are we actually doing to move people

from the space where they are to a, excuse me,

a more ideal space?

What are we doing in action

because I believe that we can talk about

these things all the time,

but unless we are actually putting people to work

to actually accomplish something,

to move them from the position where they feel afraid

or where they feel they don't have options

by showing them the way to leverage

the resources that they have,

unless we're doing that, then what are we doing?

So, I mean this is for the panel,

what are we actually going to do?

- Thank you very much.

- Can I just say one thing about?

- Yeah, sure, by all means, jump in.

I mean, I think that we have principles on the one side

and then we have things

that we all know are true on the other.

I shouldn't say we all,

okay, I wouldn't rope you guys into this,

but I mean that on campus,

there are invitations going out to speakers

for particular political purposes,

which is to create divisiveness

and particularly, divisiveness along race lines on campus

and to try to create the message that some people

do not belong on campus and others do,

so when invitations are extended to certain groups,

I mean, it's with a sort of cynicism

and I sort of feel like the principles are great,

but we're also getting played.

So, anyway, I think Angus and I agree about it.

I'm not saying don't let people speak

and I also fully understand that somebody like Milo

is the creation of the left.

I mean, it is the creation of a kind of suppression

of a certain kind of quality

and so he's Donald Trump probably.

I certainly acknowledge the sort of dialectic of that,

but I also think the reality is yes,

let those people speak off campus not on

because there are certain values on campus

that have to do with inclusiveness

and the invites are a direct attack on that principle.

I mean, that's the subtext,

that's the thing we all know about them.

- Brendan, your response.

- I don't understand what's wrong with having principles

especially on freedom of speech.

You should have principles on freedom of speech

and also there isn't this neat divide

between principles and practical everyday life,

they inform each other

and that's the example I gave, of in Britain,

where we have public order legislation

that can ban a march and that came in as a consequence

of the refusal of the left to defend free speech

and freedom of association for Nazis.

These have consequences.

If you give up your principles,

it has devastating consequences in everyday life.

I think I disagree,

but I think this is entirely about freedom of speech.

I think that is the issue

in relation to all of this stuff.

I think freedom of speech is the foundational freedom,

it's the freedom that makes everything else possible,

it's the freedom, the right to vote,

the right to association,

the right to political organization,

none of those make any sense or are even workable

without freedom of speech,

without the right to say what you want to publish,

what you want to distribute,

so the fact that there is a new left

or students or society in general

that is increasingly uncomfortable with freedom of speech

should concern us enormously

and you know in relation to antifa,

antifa poses as this kind of radical lefty,

kind of you know like the International Brigades

that went off to fight the fascists in Spain,

do me a favor,

the antifa is a bourgeois, censorious, shrill

anti-democratic, anti-working class.

For George Orwell, anti-fascism meant going to Spain

and risking your life to kill actual fascist.

For antifa, it means getting a bus into town

and punching a working class Trump supporter in the face,

that's not the same thing.

Just the final point I would make is that

if you want to see the danger of censorship,

just look at people like Richard Spencer

and Milo Yiannopoulos, their fame, their power,

to the extent that they have it, their influence,

the fact that you all know who they are,

even though they don't have any good ideas

is entirely down to censorship.

The more you censor them, the more you chase them,

the more you create this culture of fear around them

as if these two people could destroy America,

the more you empower them.

Censorship empowers the people it censors,

it disempowers the audience,

ordinary people who are deprived of the opportunity

to challenge backward ideas.

Censorship benefits the censored in many instances.

Censorship is a real blow to ordinary people

who don't share these views

and would quite like to hear and confront them.

Censorship is a disaster in every single instance,

whether it's been enforced by the government

or bureaucrats at a university,

whether it's formal or informal,

whether it's state-led or in the words of John Stuart Mill,

the tyranny of wisdom, whichever area it's coming from,

it is a disaster and it will make life and politics worse.

- Thank you, Brendan, Bret?

- I wanna come back to this question about socialism,

but first, I want to just say I agree with you,

freedom of expression is fundamentally important.

What I'm concerned about is that free speech

being effectively synonymous in this country

with the 1st Amendment is not adequate

to defend free exchange of ideas

which is really the important thing

and equally important on a public campus as a private one.

So, anyway I would agree with you

that the issue of free expression is the fundamental issue,

the 1st Amendment isn't.

It's really inquiry and dialogue.

With respect to question of socialism,

how I think if I understood the question correctly,

how could we effectively make a socialist program viable,

which is a greater obstacle to it white supremacy

or the democratic party?

I thought that was kind of a cool way of putting it,

but I want to level a challenge back,

a thought experiment for all those

who have some sort of sympathy

with the ideals expressed by socialists.

I want you to think for a moment what would happen

if they simply faced no opposition of any kind

and were capable of instituting

the policies that they favor,

do you think it would work?

Now of course it would work.

Well, I have to say I'm ever less convinced that it would.

Now, I also think that if we did the experiment

on the other side of the spectrum,

if we handed power over to economic libertarians

and we allowed them to deregulate anything,

do you think it would work?

Absolutely not.

So, my point is actually this one,

if you're familiar,

I wanna be cautious about the political compass test itself,

this is an online test that allows you

to diagnose yourself in a four quadrant model.

I don't know how good the questions are

at actually placing people on it,

but I do think that the diagram that has two axes,

a left-right axis on the X

and authoritarian versus libertarian on the Y-axis,

is actually a very useful way of looking at things

and my point would be that the two libertarian quadrants,

libertarian left where I am,

libertarian right where the economic libertarians are,

those two quadrants.

Once they recognize that nobody in those quadrants

actually knows the description of the system

that we should be building have tremendous reason to unite

because actually we are agreed about values.

We are agreed about the fundamental importance of liberty

and now what we need to do is have a discussion

about how practical interventions might be

and what those interventions we might propose would be.

In light of what we now know that those who architected

the ideas behind socialism didn't know,

so I would say not to make it too black and white,

but the the enemy of those who hold liberty as a great value

are the authoritarians

and the two authoritarian quadrants

are actually not united.

They don't like each other and for good reason,

so there is great advantage in putting our differences aside

in those two libertarian quadrants

and recognizing that the differences we have

are about policy

and that none of us have the right answers on that front.

- Thank you, Bret.

Before we come back up, Angus,

some serious questions about antifa,

is the young gentleman over there a Nazi?

All that good stuff.

- So, let me just out of curiosity,

how many people in this room

actually personally know anybody who considers themselves

part of antifa or identifies as antifa?

All right, cool, more than I was expecting.

I think one of the things that needs to be recognized

is that antifa is not just about

punching people in the nose.

There's a lot of different tactics that go into it,

some of which are tactics

that I think everybody in this room would agree with.

Antifa is about organizing against fascism

in a variety of different ways

and so I think that it's important to say

that there is a spectrum of ways

in which you can organize against fascists

and that some of them are ones

that everybody in this room would agree with

and others of them are ones which probably

just about everybody in this room would disagree with

and then there's a bunch in the mushy middle

and one of the things that I think we really need to do

in this country is start having much more of a dialogue

about what exactly we mean when we talk about free speech

and let me just give you one example,

protesting against a speaker,

when is that an expression of your free speech rights

and when it is that a violation of their free speech rights?

There is no one sentence answer to that question.

At what point does--

- [Man] Oh, no, there is, too.

- We're coming back out to you--

- Wait a second, hold on a second.

You just interrupted me.

Wait, wait, wait, wait.

- [Student] You have the right to speak.

- Wait, wait, wait, no, wait,

listen to what I'm saying, please.

You just interrupted me,

did you violate my free speech rights?

(indistinct chatter)

Did you?

- [Woman] Didn't stop you from speaking.

- Wait, but did you just, right.

Okay, so, wait, hold on a second.

Wait, wait, wait, wait.

This is wonderful.

I am loving this so much

because I am being prevented from finishing my sentence

by people who feel like I am expressing

in opposition to free speech.

This is great.

This is exactly what I'm talking about.

Wait, hold on a second, give me a sentence,

give me one more sentence to say why I think

that you have the right to interrupt me.

I'm here, I've got a microphone, I've got a lot of power.

I've got a lot of power in this room,

not as much as the guy with the the clock,

but I've got a lot of power

and so if I have a microphone, I can speak over you.

If you are interrupting me, I can push on past you.

I can wait 'til you're done and then I can respond.

I can get the last word.

There's a lot of stuff that I can do

and so I would say that when y'all

start getting real frustrated with me

and interrupting me,

you are not at all violating my free speech rights,

you are expressing your free speech rights,

you are exercising your free speech rights.

There comes a point probably maybe you cut the mic,

maybe you storm the stage, maybe you pull a fire alarm,

maybe there does come a point where my free speech rights

have been violated by your disruption,

but certainly the disruption that we just experienced

was not a violation my free speech right

and so it's not just one sentence thing

because it's complicated.

There is a mushy middle

- [Man] Hold up, hold up.

- [Woman] Excuse me, you like antifa,

I'm just doing what they do.

- And I'm gonna do what they do and tell you to be quiet.

- Can I just say one thing and then we'll move on?

This room of civil libertarians is the first time

I've ever been interrupted as a speaker,

so that's wonderful.

(Tom laughing)

- Excellent, well on this note,

we're going to go back out to the audience, not to you,

that gentleman over there in the blue shirt please

and there's a gentleman in the white shirt down here

will be next, yes, please.

- I feel like there's been something

very like omitted from your general conversation

and in general around the surprise kind of like reaction

to the fact that these kind of politics

are prevailing in our present and why.

I mean, we kind of have that ready-made answer,

we know that over the past decades,

I mean, we can time scale it differently,

that the left has been in decline in this country,

globally in general, the two parties in power

don't offer contrasting programs.

They don't offer different rights, they really don't.

I mean, they're all part of a bureaucratic nanny state

that's been increasingly developing means of control

to keep productive population relatively happy

in a period of capitalist crisis that has been going on

basically since the socialist uprisings

in the early 20th century,

so I feel like why is that not being discussed?

Why is the absence of politics

that are allowing for this

as if it's a matter of the left,

as if the left is somehow real in the present

because I'm the leftist

and I'm a member of a socialist party

and a member of a study group,

kind of like you know lots of things I've done

over the past decade as a leftist,

but I also acknowledge that I'm in no position of power,

you say you have a lot of power

because you're the microphone,

I have the microphone right now,

I don't feel empowered.

As a leftist, I feel disempowered

relative to the social situation that were part of,

so I just feel like you guys

need to comment on that, the decline of the left.

- Good, point well made.

Gentlemen here and then who on this side wants to speak?

Someone in the middle there in the gray shirt

and we'll go to you first.

- So, I think the the kind of pace of indignation

at the moment is blistering

and it's really hard to kind of keep up with it,

but I also think it's really corrosive

and I'm interested in whether or not

you think a model established

by Shelby Steele in White Guilt is relevant.

So, if you think of an oppressing group,

you know acknowledges the the sins of the past

that creates the loss of moral authority

and then there's this power dynamic

between the oppressors and the oppressed

and there's stigma that goes with it

and I think Bret, you kind of alluded to this a little,

I wonder if you think that model is true

because I sort of thought it was true

until I looked at the kind of Weinstein sex minister scandal

because there I think there is a kind of loss

of moral authority which sets this thing up,

with of course the exception that

actually this loss of moral authority

is largely an invention and kind of hysterical.

So, I wonder if the left has gone from

being aligned to historic causes that had substance

to really being nothing but hysteria these days.

- Thank you very much.

This gentleman just there

and then we'll go to that lady there

and then we'll come back, yeah?

- I heard an idea today that I hadn't thought about much

which was that the right hates ideas and philosophies

and the left hates people

and when people talk about Richard Spencer,

they don't seem to hate his ideas

as much as they hate him

and it seems that kind of animus

seems to bind the farthest of the right and the left

and I just want to hear if you have an idea about that.

- Thank you very much and just down here, yep?

- Thank you, I just by the way I want to thank you

for coming to the United States

and for doing this tour of yours

and I've been following Spiked Online for a long time now

and I've been following

especially what you've been through, Bret,

since it broke, the news broke.

One of the things that seems to me that,

well, there are two things

that's not being talked about.

We're talking as if the only fascist threat is on the right

and nobody is really confronting the reality

that I think Brett brought it up

in terms of the authoritarian-libertarian divide,

that on the left we're getting as much

of an authoritarian push

as anything we've ever seen on the right

and the other point which is included here

is that I'm hearing you talk about generalities

regarding free expression. free speech,

but my background,

I happen to be the daughter of Holocaust survivors

and I've made it into my dotage

having to like really be aware

of everything going on around me

and I'll tell you the truth

that I'm much more concerned with the anti-Zionist,

antisemitic activities on the far left

than I am from these,

I got aware of the right since I was old enough

and you know I don't see them as this huge threat

so much as the overreaction and the anger that feeds

into the sort of I guess mainstream America

watching this on the media,

wondering who's off control now,

so I just wanted to bring that one up.

- Thank you very much

We're going to come back to the panel now.

I'm gonna ask to be as brief as I possibly can

'cause I want to try and go out and get a handful more

before we come back,

so Laura, you got anything you want to respond to?

There is a lot there.

Is the left dead?

That was my favorite question from over there, so shoot.

- Well, I'm trying to sort

through all this myself obviously.

I mean, I'm kind of surprised to hear you say,

the last person who spoke

that you're more worried about the left

when I mean, the right and the republican party

as I said has stripped African-Americans of voting rights,

occupy all the state houses,

I mean, taken over the Supreme Court, the White House,

and are executing policy on-

- [Woman] Can I just briefly respond?

- No, actually, just in the spirit

of moving on swiftly, let's.

- There's a reality to these political shifts

that I mean I guess I actually am more worried about

and I'm responding to,

so it doesn't seem to me that

like inviting Richard Spencer to campus,

the conversation we have been having I think divides between

whether the free speech issue is like idea neutral

and we have to support the free speech as a principle

or whether the ideas that are being promoted

have efficacy and matter and affect people's lives,

particularly on campus

because I'm talking about the campus situation

and how what said, I mean, if we allow us white supremacists

on campus to organize on campus,

we are effectively saying it's okay to create

exclusions for other populations

and I think that is opposed to what the mission,

I mean what we're supposed to be about in higher education

and so these things I think are very worrisome.

I mean, I take them seriously at a content level

as opposed to, that was the distinction

I was drawing between the principles,

there are specific things happening

that we have to deal with

as opposed to the principle about it.

- [Tom] Thank you, Laura.

- That's as much as I can come up with right now.

- Definitely and Brendan, your thoughts please.

- Yeah, but what you're describing is licensed speech,

it's not freedom of speech

and I think it's really important that we recognize that.

I think I agree with the speaker

who said that the overreaction to the right

is now more dangerous than the right.

I am opposed to Trump.

I'm against pretty much everything he's done so far

and everything he said,

but Trump derangement syndrome strikes me

as a far greater threat to the idea of democracy,

to the idea of open debate, to the idea of campus debate

than Trump himself is.

I think the reaction is incredibly dangerous

and it's interesting that you mentioned

being the daughter of a Holocaust survivors,

I was at the museum of the history of

the Jews of Poland in Warsaw a few weeks ago

and what was really striking,

what you really got from visiting that museum

is that fascism is censorship

and anti-fascism is freedom of speech

because what it had in that museum

was all these pamphlets and magazines

that people produced in the Warsaw ghetto

for which they could be shot on the spot,

they had hide them, had to print them in bunkers,

had to distribute them in the dead of night

because they were censored by the Nazis

from expressing themselves.

Nazism is censorship, that's what it is.

Anti-fascism is freedom of speech.

If you are attacking freedom of speech,

you are not an anti-fascist,

that is the bottom line of this discussion.

You are far more like the other guys,

you are far more like the guys

who threatened to kill Warsaw ghetto Jews

for publishing pamphlets.

Final point I want to make on the heckling question,

I think the heckling question is very simple.

One of the greatest things ever written

about freedom of speech was written in response

to the heckling question,

it was a plea for free speech by Frederick Douglass,

the great abolitionist who wrote this piece

after a meeting of abolitionists in Boston

was interrupted by racists

and pro-slavery people and shout it down

and he wrote a plea for free speech

which is one of the best and most passionate things

you will ever read in defense of freedom of speech,

so that wasn't a 1st Amendment issue,

The state, Congress, government was not interfering

with his and the other people's rights.

that was a matter of informal censorship enforced by a mob

or as we would now call them a protest of SJWs,

so this question of informal censorship

has been around for a long time

and if you want to know when heckling becomes a problem

ie when someone is prevented from speaking,

read Frederick Douglass,

read the minority groups who struggled

for freedom of speech for decades,

who you now demean through saying,

"Oh, free speech doesn't matter,"

that's the shocking thing,

heroes of mine had their ears cut off,

their tongues pulled out, they were tied to the stocks,

they were pelted with eggs, they were jailed for years

for expressing their freedom of speech.

The idea that you would now turn against

the idea of freedom of speech is a grave insult to history

and to the people who made our lives

as nice as they currently are.

(audience applauding)

- Can I just say one thing?

- Quickly if you would.

- All speech on campus is licensed speech,

only certain people get to speak,

only certain students get in on the basis of their ideas,

certain people are allowed to teach

on the basis of being judged adequate to speak.

We don't let people like in class

say fuck you to their professor,

it is already there.

There are speech codes and civility codes in place,

so it is licensed speech, that is the bottom line.

- No, but the problem is if groups of students

want to invite someone

because they're interested in his ideas

and they want to hear from him

and there is a rule or a policy code

or another group of students who prevent them from doing so,

that's where it explicitly becomes

a freedom of speech question.

People are being prevented from engaging in discussion

with someone they find interesting.

- I think I'm gonna leave it and move on to Angus,

so anything in response to what you've heard from--

- Well, yeah.

I think that one of the things

that I very much agree with that you just said

is that the core of free speech rights,

if there is a disruption in that way

is of the students who invited the speaker

because they are the people

who have standing to make the invitation

and they are the ones who are most being interfered with

and I think that we really do need to pay

a lot more attention to the free speech rights

and the freedom of expression rights

of students on the campuses,

I think about the Irvine 11 a few years ago

where students who were essentially heckling

the Israeli ambassador were arrested

and charged with crimes for engaging in protest speech

and thinking about the fact that at UC Berkeley

at around the same time,

dozens and dozens of students who were peacefully protesting

inside an administration building

were woken from their sleep and arrested

and then taken all the way two counties away,

so that it would take the entire day to process them,

so that they without actually charging them with a crime,

they could be taken out of action

and not able to join the protest

that was scheduled to happen on campus the next day.

I'm talking about all the students

who have been beaten by campus cops,

the vast majority of them leftists

in the last few years

and I think that the silence

of most civil libertarians on all of those issues

has really been profound

and if we are concerned

that today's generation of student activists

do not see free speech as a central right,

I would say one of the questions that we need to look at

is when have we shown them as civil libertarians

that the right of free speech is one that extends to them

and extends to them even when they're being a bit rowdy

and that we are going to stand up and defend them.

If all they see is our standing up for Nazis,

they're not going to believe that free speech

is a real living thing in this country today.

- Thank you, Angus.

Hold up and Bret.

- So, I wanna pick up this question

about the state of the left at the moment

which I find fascinating in the following sense,

most popular politician in the country today

by far is Bernie Sanders,

that is an amazing statement of fact.

It is a heck of a time for the left to be attacking itself

in the way that it is doing it.

Finally, people are actually listening

to a person with integrity

who really is on the left,

who has important things to say,

why is the left so dysfunctional

and I would submit that there are

a couple of things in play here.

One of them is that we have a fundamental defect

in our political apparatus

and that is a positive feedback

where if you generate wealth,

it doesn't matter how you've generated it,

it buys you political power

and if you have political power,

you can restructure the system,

so you generate more wealth,

that positive feedback system is effectively evolutionary

and it has resulted in the capture of the entire apparatus

by people who don't agree on much

except that they do not want change

built around redistribution.

So we have and I don't want to call it a conspiracy

because it doesn't even have to be conscious,

what we have is the evolution of something

that effectively forbids redistribution

and what that means is that the left

has been out of power for a very long time

and having been out of power for so long,

it has lost touch with what it is supposed to be doing,

what it is supposed to be advocating,

how it is supposed to collaborate, all of those things,

so one thing that we have to recognize

is that we're effectively,

I mean, how many times as things fell apart

at Evergreen did it strike me

that this is a little more than a temper tantrum,

this is a temper tantrum that is wielding real power

and that's a frightening thing,

so in order to fix this discussion,

I would suggest that the left needs to

A, recognize that it needs to regenerate the tools

of how to wield power properly and effectively.

It has to think carefully and consciously

about that question

and it should probably think about revising

what it is interested in redistributing

and the reason for that is if we have a discussion

about redistributing wealth,

we immediately lose everybody on the libertarian right,

they are not interested in having that discussion.

On the other hand, if you have a discussion

about redistributing opportunity,

so that it is equally distributed across society,

the libertarian right is suddenly listening

because a truly ideological libertarian will agree

that the system functions better

when everybody has opportunity to access the market,

to innovate and to provide superior ideas

that can then catch on.

So, if we want unity that actually

allows the wielding of power,

we should rethink what it is that we are advocating.

- Thank you, Bret.

We've got about five minutes left

and nowhere near enough time,

but I'm gonna try and take as many of you as possible

before we bring it back to the panel,

so there's a lady at the back there

who's had her hand up for a little while

and then we'll also take this gentleman down here for now,

so brief if you will, so we can--

- Very brief.

Brendan mentioned generational differences

and Laura was talking about

what would be the appropriate role for professors

in trying to balance students' reaction

to their personal experiences

versus what they learn academically

and Bret was talking about bad actors

and having seen some of his videos,

I know some of those were not just students,

they were amongst the establishment

in the administration and the faculty,

so if you could speak a little bit about

what the grown-ups in the room are doing

or should be doing that would be helpful.

- Thank you very much and gentleman here

and then there's a guy who's really going for it

at the back there, give him the mic,

and then you first.

- This questions for Bret.

I was wondering if there were any evolutionary

or biochemical explanations

for all the hard-line rigidity rigidness

that we're seeing with sort of these political outlets

that have become more extreme and fanatic.

- Thank you, any hands over here while we're here,

yeah, gentlemen just about there,

so you first and then we'll go there.

- I was going to ask a question

about how can we raise awareness

to the issues we will be talking about tonight.

However, there are some apologists in the room I can tell,

Laura specifically.

As an evil white man, how are you going to--

- [Laura] I'm used to not being liked, it's okay.

- How are you gonna talk me down

from the tower of telling you

that progressivism is a failed ideology.

You have this system called the progressive stack

in which there are oppressed and there are not oppressed

and just this week we had this sign of being plastered

around campuses across the country saying,

"It's okay to be white,"

and that was considered racist,

so I would like to tell you or ask you,

how do you think progressivism is not a failed ideology?

- Okay, quickly, so take this gentleman

and I'm gonna come some of ya

'cause I've been ignoring you

and then we'll come back.

- [Man] Which one?

I thought we already have one.

- Oh, come down the front here

because we got a clutch of people I've been ignoring

because they were at my line of sight,

so I'm gonna take these three here,

but you've got to be really, really quick

and then we're gonna come back.

- Hi, thank you, so one thing I heard from Brendan strongly

and to a lesser extent from Bret was that you believe

that there is a coherent organized movement out there

of people who have values and priorities

antithetical to your own

and the prescription for that

is to fight them and not ally with them.

What I heard, certainly what I believed I heard

from Laura and Angus,

is there a group of people out there

who share your values and priorities,

but our misguided and mis-educated

which is a very different thing

and I was wondering if you could comment on that.

- Thank you very much and then just you two in the row there

and then we'll have to come back I'm afraid.

- This is for Laura and Bret.

I was student government president

at a small college called Middlebury,

I don't know if you guys have heard of it,

during a complicated time

and I was sort of a young person

trying to think about these issues.

It was very challenging to find room for nuance

and negative capability

that phrase really struck me when you described it

and Bret, you mentioned social penalty,

and I'm wondering how our young people

supposed to work through these very complicated issues

while facing the potential for social penalty.

- [Tom] Thank you and yeah?

- On campus, has the educated

and conscientious conservative become an inconvenient truth?

I'm referring here to the glaring lack

of viewpoint diversity at leading universities

and I'm speaking as someone

who has literally been called a fascist

for seeing I believe in objective standards in art.

- Thank you very much

Thank you for your questions.

Sorry, I didn't get everyone in, but time is short,

so panel, can ask you to take about a minute or so,

so you can even respond to anything you've heard

or completely ignore them

and just give us your final thought,

so let's go the opposite direction now.

So, Bret, do you want to go first?

- Sure, so I was struck by the question

of what are the adults in the room saying

and I would say, I don't like hearing myself say this,

but increasingly I think most rooms

don't have any adults in them

and that's part of the problem

and that sounds tongue-in-cheek I'm sure,

but really what I mean is that

the developmental process that results in

truly adult levels of nuance,

those processes are broken,

and this is going to make them worse,

if we make universities into places

that are antagonistic to inquiry,

then either inquiry is going to move somewhere else

and it's going to have to build the university system anew

or we're in serious trouble as a civilization

because that nuance is simply necessary to navigating.

- [Tom] Thank you, Bret.


- I'd like to respond to what you said

about this sort of are some folks misguided.

I think there is stuff that some people need to learn

and I think I think there is more room for,

there is more room for compromise,

there's more room for finding community

with folks at various different places on the left

than a lot of the people in this room see.

I've spoken to a lot of these folks one-on-one

and there is a lot more common ground

than is often visible in the media.

The other thing that I would say is

particularly in terms of campus activists,

we're not supposed to like what they're doing,

that's that's kind of the whole thing,

that they're supposed to be pushing boundaries,

they're supposed to be going farther.

One of the reasons why I am way more scared of the right

than I am of the left is that Donald Trump is president

and the folks who are causing the most trouble on campus

have very, very little power.

Now, you may think they have more power than they should,

but we are in a position

where the amount of power that is wielded by the people

that I don't like on the left

is way, way less than the amount that is wielded

by the people that I don't like on the right

and I really do believe that there is an immense possibility

for real communication and coming together

particularly when you're talking to people

one-on-one or in small groups

and I would encourage everybody in this room

to seek out those opportunities

because that's where the real change happens, I think.

- Thank you, Angus, and Laura, your final thoughts, please.

- One of the ways that I got into trouble on my own campus

was by trying to complicate issues

that people didn't want to see as complicated

and trying to interject nuance into some of the discussions,

this was around sexual politics and rape culture

and that sort of thing,

and I became the subject of a lot of opprobrium

and Title IX complaints,

so I feel a little bit like I'm,

as I tried to be funny to the guy who was accusing me

of something or another from the back of the room,

yeah, I'm used to being in a roomful of people

who don't like me

because I guess I'm finding myself dissatisfied

with taking the easy position

and I've used the word principle to you,

I mean, I would love to take the absolutist position

because then I get the applause

and people would say yeah, yeah and it sounds good

and it's comforting to able to draw these hard lines

about complicated issues,

but it started to seem inadequate to me

and that's what I actually am,

trying to sort my way through that the responses

that I felt easily into didn't seem adequate

to the current political situation

and to my own experiences as a teacher on campus

and seeing students having to confront these sort of issues

like white supremacist coming to campus

and that sort of thing,

so it's lived experience

and I'm claiming experience

as some special privileged position,

but I'm saying it has to factor into the kind of analysis

that we make about the present moment

- [Tom] Thank you, Laura.

And Brendan.

- Yeah, I would just say in response to that