- 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.
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?
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?
- [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.
- 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.
- 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,
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.
- Yeah, I would just say in response to that