If there’s anything about Leftists’ rhetorical tactics that constitutes a generic foundation for their campaign, it would be their elevation of what they prefer over any conception of rights or law. (Yes, they do use the word rights quite a lot in referring to the things they demand, but not according to any meaning you or I would recognize.) Now and then they wave it in our faces, as in this case:
Students at the prestigious University of Chicago say that free speech should not apply equally to everyone. The students objected to the school’s Institute of Politics’ invitation to former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. They claim that allowing him to speak “normalizes bigotry” and provides a platform for fascism....
The coalition of students from U of C Resists, Graduate Students United, Students Working Against Prisons, and UChicago Socialists claim that the school’s “commitment to free expression” doesn’t require the institution to host him due to his alleged ties to white supremacists and similarly alleged calls to violence against minority groups and refugees....
In addition to the letter, the student coalition set up a “Bigotry is not Normal” event to protest Lewandowski, in which over a hundred students claimed to have participated on Wednesday. Students set up protest fliers with statements like “This is not dialogue it’s a war.” [sic]
Charming, eh? Of course, were these snotnoses ever to find themselves in the middle of a real war, complete with bombs, artillery, and high-velocity lead, they’d discover how dramatically it contrasts with the safe, placid environment of an American university. Yes, even a university in Chicago.
But let’s get back to today’s main point. Clearly, the Leftist groups cited in that article don’t hold that freedom of expression is a right. Their position is identical to that of the late Marxist theorist Herbert Marcuse:
The whole post-fascist period is one of clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. Different opinions and 'philosophies' can no longer compete peacefully for adherence and persuasion on rational grounds: the 'marketplace of ideas' is organized and delimited by those who determine the national and the individual interest. In this society, for which the ideologists have proclaimed the 'end of ideology', the false consciousness has become the general consciousness--from the government down to its last objects.
“This is not a dialogue it’s a war” is merely a compact, rationale-free reformulation of Marcuse’s statement above. War, of course, is the customary refuge of those who seek to abolish individuals’ rights. It certainly constitutes an “emergency situation,” especially if the survival of the nation can plausibly be said to be at stake. It’s been used to justify the seizure of powers to which previous, peacetime governments didn’t dare to aspire...and which subsequent governments, whether in war or in peace, treated as theirs by bequest.
Yet at the heart of the Marcusian thesis lies nothing more than a preference: the preference that one’s political opponents should be prevented from expressing their views. This cannot be justified on any grounds:
It is not a permission.
It’s a principle of justice.
Louis Thiers, himself an opponent of the concept of rights as Americans understand them, put it nicely:
Either rights exist, or they do not exist. If they exist, they involve absolute consequences...Furthermore, if a right exists, it exists at every moment. It is absolute today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in summer as in winter, not when it pleases you to declare it in force.
Therefore, if there is a right to express oneself, even the lowest and foulest of human creatures possesses it. More to the point, not even an “emergency situation” can abrogate it. But that cross-cuts the Left’s preferences...and to the Left, its preferences are all that really matter.
Ultimately, the Sturm und Drang polluting our contemporary political discourse is about power. Many others have said that. I’ve said it often enough myself. All the same, it’s important enough to keep it in mind that it bears repeating. But it’s not about which of two forces shall possess a certain sheaf of powers; it’s about one side’s lust for absolute and unbounded power over all persons and things, and the other’s desire to be free.
Americans were once noteworthy for their relative lack of interest in politics. That was a long time ago: before the Progressives of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries got their cart in gear. Back then, Americans could afford to take little or no interest in politics, because political power was a sharply restricted thing.
A man can afford to take no notice of that which takes no notice of him. When that condition changes – when the instruments of power start to reach into ever more of life, society, and enterprise – he must change his ways as well. As the political penetration of his affairs advances, so also must he become more aware of it, more involved in it, and better defended against its depredations.
If the Left, which has proclaimed that “The personal is political,” has decided upon war, then all methods shall be deemed licit and only the ultimate outcome shall matter. The politicization of the nation is complete. No one can remain apolitical. No subject is inherently outside the zone of conflict...and no one can assume that others will respect his right of free expression. This tirade of a few days back ceases to be merely a cri de coeur and becomes a tactical doctrine.
And we don’t have to like it.