What To Do About Extremist Speech by 60 Guilders
The question of what to do about extremist speech—or speech deemed extremist, which are two rather different things—is one that frequently bedevils people. The basic responses are threefold: Refute, suppress, or ignore. Each has its merits in certain situations—yes, even suppression, although its value is limited to dealing with speech that actively incites people to criminality.
This is relevant due to one of the interesting consequences of the recent election, which is the local furor surrounding a speech by Richard Spencer at Texas A&M University.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the fever swamps of the Internet, Richard Spencer—well, the polite way to say it is that he makes a certain expatriate’s views on racial issues look like those of our esteemed hostess. No, seriously. If you don’t believe me, try and make it through the first paragraph of this article.
Anyway, a white nationalist alumnus decided to rent a space at the university—as anyone can do, since it is a public facility, paid for by American and Texan tax dollars—and invite this charming fellow to speak. Naturally, when the announcement was made, a firestorm of protest went up from many quarters, and provided some truly excellent examples of how, and how not, to handle dealing with the expression of protected, if odious, speech on public property.
The illiberal left, of course, demanded that Spencer be either explicitly shut down for expressing hate speech or that Texas A&M find some way to use its regulatory power to gig him for violating some obscure clause in the contract signed by the person who made the reservation, lest they somehow be seen as giving approval to the event. The university, thankfully, pointed out that as a public entity it could not do this, despite finding Spencer to be a reprehensible jerk.
Others, less illiberal, decided to protest the event, and the university jumped on board this train rather quickly, by setting up a counter-event in the football stadium, Kyle Field, to display that the persons presently at Texas A&M stand united against Spencer. Personally, this seems like making a mountain out of a molehill, as it gives the man far more attention than he deserves—his particular brand of racialist ideology has relatively few adherents in the United States, and, if responded to correctly, should gain few more. However, the overall reasoning is laudable, if misguided—this guy’s trying to divide us, let’s show him that we believe that being part of Texas A&M is more important to us than being part of a racial group. (I will note that this is a case of the university reacting to an ideology deemed extreme more than to an actual extreme ideology. There was nowhere near this level of protest when Gloria Steinem, supporter of abortion rights extraordinaire, was invited to speak at an academic conference last year. That is, however, another story.)
Student groups, meanwhile, planned a protest as near to the venue as they could get. Again, see above for the logic—he wants to divide us, let us unite. This was a good thing. A troubling sign, however, was the constant emphasis on the fact that they opposed his rhetoric rather than his ideas. While they probably meant that they opposed both his words and the ideas behind them, the fact is that bad ideas deserve to be opposed no matter how smooth the words are that advocate for them. Failure to recognize this leads to actions of an imprudent and self-destructive nature. However, they at least tried to stay relatively sane.
Unfortunately, as is guaranteed in any sort of public response to an event, someone responded in a way that was utterly counterproductive. This person was a sociology professor, whose biography describes her as a “sociologist, critical race theorist, and lawyer” who “engages the provocative intersections of race and the law.” As could be expected from this self-description, she decided to set up an event called “Challenging the Right to be Racist on Campus: White Institutional Space, the First Amendment, and Thoughts on Racial Equity” which will supposedly discuss the burning question of “the connection between racist expression on college campuses and institutional white supremacy” and whether “free speech [is] equally accessible to everyone or…only free and protected when it reinforces whiteness?”
The answer to this latter question, by the way, is that the former proposition is true and the latter is purely the product of grievancemongers’ fevered imaginations, but the problems with this talk go much deeper than that. Indeed, the main problem isn’t even the fact that the title of the event heavily implies that she wants speech to be suppressed that she doesn’t like. (And at the point where that isn’t the main problem, you’ve got a problem.)
The problem with this event is that it furthers the goals of the person the event is supposedly designed to counter. Spencer is, at his core, a collectivist—and, like all collectivists, seeks to put individuals into neat little boxes based on some clear identifying trait. What Moore, to be charitable, does not understand is that she is doing the exact same thing by singling out “whiteness” (whatever that means) as some kind of crucial trait that determines how people react to what someone else says. Now, arguably Moore is applying the principles of racial collectivism somewhat differently than Spencer is, but when you tell people their race matters, if they start to believe you it’s much easier for men like Spencer to get their hooks into them than if they believed otherwise.
Chief Justice John Roberts said it best in Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District No. 1—“ The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” It would be a wonderful thing if the people who said they were against racial discrimination would actually check to be sure that their actions would bring about that outcome—instead of furthering the racial divide.
The likelihood of this happening, given how they’ve behaved towards people actually trying to make a world where race doesn’t matter, isn’t high.
Addendum: Nothing of any significance happened during the event, and, as could have been anticipated, protestors outnumbered supporters by dozens to one, at the very least—which sort of turned the whole thing into even more of a virtue-signaling rather than productive event than it was from the get-go. Unfortunately, in yet another moment of counterproductive foolishness, there were several Soviet flags flown by various students, who demonstrated both their historical ignorance and their receptivity to collectivism as long as it mouths the right slogans. Furthermore, in making this a national news story, activists and the MSM gave Spencer more publicity than he could ever hope to buy. How to handle the resurgence of collectivist thought, racial and otherwise, in the United States is an extremely important question. Unfortunately, this incident mostly serves to illustrate how not to handle the problem.