When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principlesFrank Herbert, Children of Dune
Last Tuesday I arrived at an inflection point in my view about the prospects of a negotiated solution to our national divisions. It was one of those shocking moments that slashes through the haze and brings startling clarity.
Law professor Ilya Shapiro was invited to speak at the U.C. Hastings Law School. The event had to be cancelled because every time Shapiro attempted to speak, fascist students banged the table and shouted him down. After enduring these Brownshirt tactics for an hour with no help from the university, Shapiro gave up and left. The fascists won. Read further here.
UC Hastings Dean Morris Ratner was present and did not lift a finger to stop the fascists. More shocking still – and this is the moment that brought clarity – UC Hastings Professor Rory Little actually encouraged the fascists. He is reported to have banged the table as they shouted and was caught on video saying, “I’m all for the protest here.” When a student asked him to repeat that, he doubled down and said, “I’m all for it.”
I went to law school in the 1980s. In those days the progressive rot was advancing, but it had not advanced to the point where progressives could risk letting their “liberal” cover slip and expose their true totalitarian colors. Those days are over. Progressives like Professor Little appear to believe they no longer need to pretend to be liberal, that encouraging fascist tactics is perfectly OK so long as the right people are being silenced.
It is now clear to me that we have come to the second clause of Herbert’s prophesy. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are among the most cherished freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of liberal democracies. But at this point in their long march though our institutions, progressives see no need for upholding the pretense of respecting either. Two years ago progressives shut down the churches. Everyone seemed to understand at first, but when they opened up casinos while continuing to shutter churches, people began to wonder what was going on. That case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Justice Roberts agreed with the other progressives that it was perfectly legal to shutter Calvary Chapel while letting Caeser’s Palace operate. Now we have Brownshirts shutting down pure speech while being cheered by a state-paid law professor. Your tax dollars at work.
How did we get here? Critical theory is the central animating principle of progressivism, and critical theory boils down to one fundamental insight: There is no such thing as right or wrong, and in a universe where transcendent moral principles do not exist, there is only power and those who wield it and those who submit to it. Critical theory is applied Nietzschean philosophy. And since Nietzsche took as the starting point of his philosophy the assumption that God is dead, critical theory is also applied metaphysical materialism.
A materialist does not believe that freedom of speech is an abstract good (i.e., good in all circumstances no matter who benefits). Following Nietzsche “beyond good and evil,” progressives assign new meaning to old terms. Something is “good” when it is useful for advancing the interests of progressives. Something is “evil” when it tends to thwart their goals. It follows that progressives can be champions of freedom of speech one day and engage in Brownshirt tactics the next. The thugs at UC Hastings see no contradiction between supporting freedom of speech for critical race theorists and shouting down a conservative speaker. Both are “good,” in the Nietzschean sense of that word, because both advance the interests of progressives.
Which brings us back to the inflection point in my view about the prospects of a negotiated solution to our national divisions that I mentioned at the beginning. Progressives have come to the place where they acknowledge no abstract check on their power. Indeed, the Brownshirts who ran roughshod over Ilya Shapiro’s freedom of speech doubtless believe they did God’s work and are probably still basking in the warm glow of their limitless self-regard and perceived virtue. We are not writing on a blank slate. We know from recent experience that for fascists like the UC Hastings students, it is a very short trip from stamping out people’s right to speak to stamping out people’s right to life.
Professor Little taught his students that might makes right, that if they can silence their opponent then by all means do so. Shouting an opponent down is one way to silence him. Putting him in a camp or killing him are other, more effective, methods. This episode reminds me of Whittaker Chamber’s review of one of Ayn Rand’s books. He wrote that from almost any page of the book “a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber — go!’” I perceive a similar undercurrent in the shouts of the students. And here is the rub. Those students and their fellows who are being taught these lessons by Little and others like him (who overwhelmingly dominate the heights of our universities) will be running the government in a few years.
As I said, my views have changed. I used to think we had a chance to resolve our differences without violence. Now, I am all but certain that sooner or later (and probably sooner), the progressives are going to begin visiting violence on those of us who resist, who, for example, refuse to affirm that a man can become a woman. And we need to get ready for that.