There’s always a temptation to get out in front of an angry mob, and these days it is especially alluring, but the problem is that you inevitably wind up with an angry mob at your back. Angry mobs are notoriously fickle, as many on the a left have lately learned.
Consider the the case of Kristian Williams, a writer who until recently enjoyed an impeccable reputation as a brave voice in the academic wilderness for opposing rape and other forms of violence against women. We’re not sure how this entails any bravery, as the pro-rape and pro-violence-against-women lobbies do not seem to wield any formidable power in academia or any other corner of modern society, but it was nonetheless considered quite heroic by the sorts of people who take an ostentatious pride in their opposition to rape and other forms of violence against women. Williams was bold enough to write in an essay last year that there is an unfortunate tendency among the anti-rape and anti-violence-against-women preeners to insist that “the survivor, and the survivor alone, has the right to make demands, while the rest of us are duty-bound to enact sanctions without question. One obvious implication is that all allegations are treated as fact.” We read this to mean that the American criminal justice system should should allow a presumption of innocence, and that even a male should not be deprived of his life, liberty, or property without proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which does not seem to us a unreasonable position, but in this day and age a leftist must muster some genuine bravery to make such a claim. Williams recently found himself shouted down at a “Law and Disorder” symposium at Portland State University by some of that Oregon city’s famously strident hipsters.
A widely-circulated video of the fiasco is somewhat comical, as the fashionably disheveled activists with their obligatory up-turned chins chant that “We will not be silenced in the face of your violence” as a response to Williams’ entirely non-violent writings on behalf of a long-standing and quite sensible legal principle that guards against state-sanctioned violence, and Williams’ perplexed expression is by far the best part. He’s clearly threatened by the angry protestors, and understandably so given the unsettlingly contorted faces he confronts, but it’s a “Law and Disorder” symposium devoted to decrying law enforcement so he can’t call the cops to restore order. The cops eventually do arrive, although it’s unclear from the subsequent press releases who dropped the proverbial dime, but the forces of progress and liberalism do seem to have succeeded in keeping Williams from stating his heretical opinions.
A similar sort of censorship by mob has prevented a conspicuous number of graduating classes from hearing the heretical opinions of notable speakers who had been slated for commencement address. Most of the speakers were arguably from the right, and included such estimable figures as former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but some from the left were ousted because they weren’t quite from far enough to the left. Robert J. Birgeneau was a chancellor of the University of California-Berkely, which ordinarily would be sufficient far-left credentials to ensure entry to anywhere in Academia, but he was prevented from speaking to the graduating class of Haverford College. Despite his otherwise meticulous adherence to the prevailing proprieties of liberalism he had called the cops to evict some squatting Occupy Wall Street protestors from campus facilities a few years earlier, and that was enough to render him unfit to still-innocent minds of the school’s graduates. There’s no comic video to record the moment, but we can imagine the look on his face when he found himself cast into the same purgatory of persona non gratis as Condoleeza Rice.
The well-paid folks at America’s universities are quick to defend academic freedom whenever taxpayers or students’ parents wonder why they’re paying to have their children indoctrinated in the latest liberal fads, but Princeton’s Professor Robert P. George is the latest to discover that freedom extends only so far to the right. George is a longtime advocate of same-sex marriage and pretty much the rest of the homosexual community’s demands, but he’s lately been barraged by criticism for his suggestion that other people might have a right to disagree with him. With everyone from Internet engineers to chicken sandwich peddlers to Home and Garden Television reality show stars under attack from the forces of tolerance, he should have seen it coming.
Despite our begrudging admiration for the actual bravery it took Williams, Birgineau, and George to utter their mild heresies, we can’t shake a nagging suspicions that they’d previously cheered on the similar angry mobs that seek to silence dissent from the right. Aside from the stigma that a still-dominant mass media can impose on a society that isn’t paying much attention, the Internal Revenue Service has bee deployed to harass Tea Party groups and the Department of Justice has declared troublesome investigative reporting a a criminal conspiracy and contributors to the wrong causes have wound up being investigated by any number of regulatory agencies, all of which have been excused by the censorious mobs on the left. For now they’re confident that they’re leading the mob, and until the mob turns fickle they’ll probably enjoy the parade.
Those very rich folks with the fashionable complaints about income inequality should keep this in mind, and remember the headless fate of Robespierre during the Reign of Terror that so many leftists want to revive, but the hard-right folks wanting to purse the conservative ranks of the near-right should also pay heed. We’re all heretics on something or another, and should agree that the banishment of heretics from the public square is a bad idea.
— Bud Norman