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  • Writer's pictureVladimir Chlouba

The Illiberal Seed of Campus Radicalism

The summer season gives an opportunity to reflect on the recent wave of student activism that swept through college campuses most notably in the United States and Great Britain, partially because we can now do so from a certain intellectual distance, and partially because we are only weeks away from the day when student activists return to campuses to continue where they left off. As the title of this essay suggests, I will be critical of student activism. However, I wish to make it clear from the outset that it is not my goal to nostalgically ramble about good old times when students focused on their studies rather than on protesting, nor do I wish to make campuses “great again.” I am fully aware that college campuses are a mirror of society and its many problems. It is encouraging to see that there are so many young people whose hearts are filled with love and passion that make them endure considerable discomfort for what they believe is right. I have no doubt that no positive change has ever taken place without the sort of determination that today’s campus activists display. But quite naturally, passion is not only a driver of change; it can also become an obstacle to critical reflection. It is the same belief in an ideal’s worth that makes its actualization possible as that which makes the continuous scrutiny of the same ideal difficult. I believe it is this very phenomenon that has led to a truly perverse idea which is nowadays, consciously or unconsciously, accepted by many fighters for “social justice” as well as ever wider portions of the academia – i. e. that equality requires unequal distribution of free speech rights. This destructive idea is clearly articulated by Angus Johnston in an article that was published in December 2015 by the Rolling Stone: “I am saying that a “free speech” argument that ignores power – an argument that says “let the best debater win” without acknowledging that being the best debater is not, for students, a path to victory – is not an argument that any student activist will, or should, find convincing.”[1] I believe that this argument and the remarkable confusion of thought it evidences is fundamental to understanding not only the current wave of student activism but also a whole body of thought on some of the most pressing challenges of our time. It contains the idea that present wrongs are justified as long as they correct past injustices, that we are allowed to suspend some of the most basic values that were not long ago considered fundamental, as long as the ends justify the means. This relativism, coupled with the irrationalism of safe spaces, confuses democratic values and the most basic respect for truth with latent totalitarianism and outright mysticism. I shall call it the illiberal seed of campus radicalism.

I begin my essay by a brief overview of some of the demands concerning free speech made by campus protesters in the United States and Great Britain. I will demonstrate that the perplexing idea that equality requires unequal distribution of free speech rights is not new. It was pioneered and carefully treated by Herbert Marcuse, an able Marxist philosopher who formulated it in the 1960s. I will quote Mr. Marcuse as best and honestly as I can to show that his ideas are nothing less than a clearly formulated position that many of today’s campus activists have through their demands subscribed to. Subsequently, I will critique Mr. Marcuse’s (and student activists’) arguments by showing that suspending free speech will not level the playing field but rather, it will introduce a destructive spiral in which all speech could soon perish. I shall conclude by offering a better way of engaging some of the most pressing issues of our times, arguably one characterized by bolstering, not undermining, the values of free speech and democratic discourse.

In February 2013, professor Thomas Scotto of Essex University organized an event at which Israel’s deputy ambassador was to give a talk to Mr. Scotto’s students. Unfortunately, the event did not go as planned. The Guardian reported that “a noisy protest outside the venue ramped up into an attempt to storm the building, students in the lecture theatre heckled the Israeli diplomat, and it became impossible for him to begin. With feelings running high, university security said they could no longer guarantee the speaker’s safety. The event had to be abandoned.”[2]

We do not need to rely on anecdotal evidence to illustrate our point. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), whose mission is to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities,”[3] including free speech, rates universities across the United States based on the extent to which free speech on campus is threatened. Dozens of higher education institutions, including some of the nation’s most renowned, earn red speech code rating, indicating that the universities have “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”[4] One needs not turn to institutions of the likes of FIRE to get a sense of the dense atmosphere that has befallen many college campuses. Throughout 2015, student activists across America, fueled by genuine and real concerns, issued their demands that were unfortunately all too often characterized by their illiberal nature. Consider the sentence that appears at the very beginning of a manifesto issued by student activists at Hamilton College: “We, the Students of Hamilton College, demand that all student activism receives acknowledgement when it advances institutional change” (emphasis added).[5] It is apparently the students of Hamilton who decides when a movement advances institutional change and when it is a mere diversion that is to be suppressed, for they subsequently demand that “the Office of the President releases an official statement without clause acknowledging that Black Lives Matter.”[6] That there will be little debate allowed about these demands becomes clear soon enough: “We also demand a statement professing the validity of these demands.”[7]

No more ink needs to be spilled to evidence that these demands preclude discussion a priori. We may however connect the dots to see that the exclusion of particular views and opinions quite directly leads to suppression of free speech (speech is merely an opinion uttered). Here, too, the student activists make it unnecessary for us to guess, for they clearly demand that “Yik Yak, an anonymous social media application, be banned from the Clinton area, as it provides a platform for hate speech infected with racism, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia, amongst several other bigotries.”[8] Students at Hamilton College are perhaps more outspoken in their illiberal demands but otherwise, their plea is remarkably similar to that of other student activists. Protesters at Amherst College asked the college’s president to issue a statement indicating that “we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the ‘All Lives Matter’ posters, and the ‘Free Speech’ posters that stated that ‘in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.”[9]

These demands are far reaching and I believe that at least at times, the activists sense some of the problems inherent in their demands. For instance, the Hamilton group further demands “a firm stance against hate speech and how it distinguishes itself from free speech.”[10] But even this suggestion that the students themselves may not at the time of writing know where exactly the fine line between free speech and hate speech lies does not stop them from subsequently demanding “the permanent ban of all hate groups from campus.”[11] Providing a specific list of these hateful organizations would do little to reduce the totalitarian nature of this demand but it would at least clearly demonstrate that no finite list can ever exist.

The reader has by now been provided with copious evidence of the illiberal nature of many of the student activists’ demands. Brief research conducted with the help of organizations such as FIRE will demonstrate that the instances quoted here are by no means the result of “cherry-picking.” But let us refocus our attention on the idea which is at the center of this essay, i. e. the notion that equality requires unequal distribution of free speech rights. This notion is more than dimly present in the tone of the demands that were carefully reproduced above. But we need not rely on subtle pronouncements when many student activist writers volunteer to clearly state the principle whose destructive potential they either do not understand or fatefully underestimate. Consider a statement made by a student activist in her newspaper article at my own alma mater, Connecticut College, when discussing the alleged vagueness of the College’s mission statement: “it might be worthwhile if we define justice and understand that justice might lead to particular kinds or partialities in the service of equity.”[12] The writer’s eloquence gives a better sound to what is otherwise the aforementioned seed of student radicalism – the notion that to build a society of equal rights, we in fact need to employ partiality. To be sure, this idea is not confined to student activists themselves, nor is it restricted to campus publications. It is found in some of the most respected magazines and newspapers. Angus Johston’s article in the Rolling Stone has already been mentioned at the very beginning of this essay, another variation is presented by Jelani Cobb, an acclaimed author on race, politics, history, and culture in The New Yorker: “The freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered.”[13] Notice that what all the writers quoted above, in many cases probably inadvertently, suggest, is that concepts that were henceforth rightly considered indivisible have now become divisible. In other words, they profess that one may distinguish between free speech rights that will be used (justly) to offend the powerful and free speech rights which will be employed (unjustly) to bully the disempowered. They profess that partialities are in fact necessary to produce their very opposite, i. e. impartiality. Because these apparent contradictions cannot be validated by the critical mind, those who hold them cannot appeal to rational analysis and instead turn to personal feelings and highly individual definitions of what constitutes a safe space and punishable offenses. As matters of personal experience, these irrational[14] phenomena are entirely legitimate. As sources of general policy however, they are remarkably out of place. As striking as some of the views surveyed above are, they are far from novel. In fact, the idea that tolerance can become repressive was clearly articulated by Herbert Marcuse in his 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance. Let us now turn to Mr. Marcuse’s work to illustrate his views and subsequently critique them.

Herbert Marcuse is concerned with what he terms “advanced industrial society,” i.e. one which has become generally affluent, such as the United States or Western Europe of Mr. Marcuse’s time. In such a consumerist society, the ordinary person has lost the ability to distinguish between true needs (shelter, food) and false needs (feelings which require one to continuously increase his consumption beyond satisfaction of true needs), which are really needs created through marketing and other means of social pressure. It is argued that the prevailing way of life in a modern society not only determines our daily work routine, ambitions, and opinions, it also conditions the way we think, what we deem possible and impossible. What we observe in the advanced industrial society is a disingenuous form of social control. This form of control does not necessarily operate through external force and coercion. Rather, by virtue of its own internal logic, the advanced industrial society prevents the emergence of alternatives because men can no longer imagine genuine qualitative change, one which would not take the advanced industrial society as a given. “Under these circumstances,” Herbert Marcuse writes, “whatever improvement may occur ‘in the normal course of events’ and without subversion is likely to be an improvement in the direction determined by the particular interests which control the whole.”[15] In other words, “the discussion repels the contradiction because the antithesis is redefined in terms of the thesis.”[16]

What then, one must ask, can be done in a situation in which the masses are indoctrinated through omnipresent marketing and commercials, in a situation in which the people can no longer distinguish between things they really need and things which they were made to believe they need? Mr. Marcuse’s answer is that the people need to be liberated from the tyranny of consumption for consumption’s sake, so that they are “capable of deliberating and choosing on the basis of knowledge, that they must have access to authentic information, and that, on this basis, their evaluation must be the result of autonomous thought.”[17] Note that the said liberation can only happen under two conditions. The first is that the people have access to genuine facts and the second is that people are capable of autonomous thought. Therefore, the mere presence of genuine facts does not suffice because their relevance is clouded by flawed facts, stupid opinions, and commercials. It is this murmur that indoctrinates and prevents the emergence of autonomous thought. Only when the murmur of the advanced industrial society is muted can autonomous thought develop. It will not develop in a society where, as Mr. Marcuse notes, “the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed.”[18] Such repressive tolerance, which prevails in the advanced industrial society and which allows for confusion between the stupid and the intelligent opinion, a tolerance which is blind with respect to the progress of the entire society and which preempts to possibility of genuine qualitative change, must be abandoned. The author concludes that “the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.”[19] In other words, “this deceptive impartiality would have to be abandoned.”[20] This is where, through the belief that in order to achieve true equality, progress and impartiality, one has to be partial, today’s radical activists meet Herbert Marcuse.

Although Mr. Marcuse was mainly concerned with a society that practices social control via perpetuation of false needs, his definition of an oppressive society is not one many of today’s campus activists would disagree with. They, too, believe that our society is inherently oppressive, whether we are prepared to acknowledge it or not. They, too, believe that our society cannot be changed unless we recognize systemic oppression as a fact. This fact is not to be discussed and those who are unwilling to accept it are standing in the way of positive change. As Michael Laxer puts it, “no one, understandably, wants to think or to acknowledge that they, personally, may be part of the problem. And that is part of the problem” (emphasis original).[21] The Hamilton demands clearly illustrate what must be done, so that, in Herbert Marcuse’s terminology, we can once again think autonomously, free of systemic oppression: we must unequivocally accept “the validity of these demands.” We must agree that “all student activism receives acknowledgement when it advances institutional change.” Those of us who stubbornly wish to discuss everything and anything, including the validity of the said demands, are part of the problem.

The looming question arises: how are we to decide which utterances and opinions are “serving the cause of oppression”[22] and are “radically evil”[23] and which are progressive and liberating (a question the Hamilton students want clearly resolved)? Mr. Marcuse makes it clear that “this distinction is not a matter of value-preference but of rational criteria.”[24] This process is described in a rather verbose passage: “I suggested that the distinction between true and false tolerance, between progress and regression can be made rationally on empirical grounds. The real possibilities of human freedom are relative to the attained stage of civilization. They depend on the material and intellectual resources available at the respective stage, and they are quantifiable and calculable to a high degree. So are, at the stage of advanced industrial society, the most rational ways of using these resources and distributing the social product with priority on the satisfaction of vital needs and with a minimum of toil and injustice. In other words, it is possible to define the direction in which prevailing institutions, policies, opinions would have to be changed in order to improve the chance of a peace which is not identical with cold war and a little hot war, and a satisfaction of needs which does not feed on poverty, oppression, and exploitation. Consequently, it is also possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those which would do the opposite. Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones.”[25] One needs not guess further to learn which are the progressive and which the regressive movements about which Mr. Marcuse writes: “Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”[26]

Although today’s student activists follow Herbert Marcuse’s playbook virtually word for word, they tend to differ when it comes to the criteria which are to be used to determine which speech is admissible and which utterances are a mere diversion in the service of oppression. Mr. Marcuse, a seasoned philosopher, understood that he had to offer some objective criteria that enable one to distinguish between progressive and regressive movements. Although the verbosity with which he delineates these criteria suggests that he understood the impossibility of the task he set for himself, he attempted to make use of logic and examination of actual facts which enable us to clearly distinguish between good and bad social change. Whether or not he succeeded will become apparent in the next few paragraphs but it is important to note at this juncture that today’s campus activists have in fact thought it unnecessary to search for rational criteria, for they are satisfied with the sort of value-preference that even Herbert Marcuse knew could not be seriously invoked. Today’s campus activists, using the notion of a safe space, have made the argument that it is one’s feelings that decides whether or not certain speech is hurtful, permissible, or serving the cause of oppression. This view professes that speech is hurtful not because we can agree (however difficult this may be) on some objective criteria of hurtfulness but simply because it hurts. This is where the illiberal seed of campus radicalism reveals its preference for irrationalism. It employs an argument which cannot be rationally discussed, for anyone can at any time claim that he or she is hurt. But as genuine as this feeling of hurt may be, it will forever remain a private phenomenon and that is why it should never become a guiding principle of a general policy.

The views reached in Repressive Tolerance rest on several premises, three of which I deem most important. They are also the premises of all those who believe that the right of free speech is divisible. These are a) the notion that qualitative change is not possible in contemporary society (called ‘advanced industrial society’ by Mr. Marcuse) other than through the means of tolerating supposedly progressive movements and suppressing regressive ones, b) the premise that the power to suppress certain voices will be used squarely to silence the ones who are regressive and that this power, accordingly, will not be used once there are no regressive voices left, and c) that it is possible to clearly distinguish between repressive and progressive movements and the social, economic, political, and historical forces they represent. Notice that these premises describe equally well many of today’s campus activists. They too, demand that we accept that the current system is oppressive and that this fact, as well as our own complicity, needs to be acknowledged, so that we can move beyond oppression. As long we reject to do this a priori, as long as we remain part of the problem, we are maintaining the old system which precludes autonomous though and which makes progress impossible (premise a). When calling for “the permanent ban of all hate groups from campus,” the Hamilton protestors assume that premise b, too, will hold, i. e. that the power to ban certain groups will not be misused to ban other groups, such as their own. And finally, anyone and everyone who believes, together with Jelani Cobb, that “the freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered,” must also assume that this distinction can reasonably be made (premise c).

I will now proceed to critique each of these premises one by one. I deem it important to state at the outset that I will not contest Mr. Marcuse’s own terms and will simply aim at showing that the conclusions he forwards do not necessarily follow from the above mentioned premises. The careful reader will note that the premises are mutually reinforcing, i. e. that once premise b falls, premise c no longer matters, etc. For instance, if we are unable to reasonably ensure or even expect that the power to suppress certain movements will only be used against the repressive ones, than it no longer matters whether or not we are able to clearly identify which movement is progressive and which repressive. Yet after proving that the initial premise does not hold water, I will still proceed to the subsequent one to demonstrate that even if the initial assumption did hold, Mr. Marcuse’s conclusions would still not follow.

Let us begin with assumption a, i. e. the notion that qualitative change cannot be achieved in the advanced industrial society through other means than silencing regressive movements and promoting progressive ones. Herbert Marcuse writes that if autonomous thought is “blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their [its] reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.”[27] Let us first remark that if Mr. Marcuse truly believed this, there would be little use in writing his treatise. If the society in which he lived was indeed so indoctrinated in materialism and consumption that it was impossible for genuine alternatives to emerge within the system, then there would be no need for Mr. Marcuse to try to awaken the masses or even members of the intelligentsia. If the system of which he writes was so inescapably repressive, then perhaps Mr. Marcuse himself could not evade it, describe it so artfully and suggest alternatives that could lead to qualitative change. By writing Repressive Tolerance, the author makes it clear that radically novel ideas can originate within the system he inhabits and by stating his arguments so passionately, he reveals his own belief that others can be persuaded. And if this is so, than all that Mr. Marcuse and his colleagues need to do is to persuade a group vocal enough to effect the changes they envision. Choosing to silence certain movements may be the easier, although morally despicable, way but it is by no means the only way as premise a suggests.

Furthermore, the history of humankind since the moment Repressive Tolerance was first published testifies to the extent to which qualitative change is possible within what Mr. Marcuse termed the advanced industrial society. Whether we point to the civil rights movement, movements arguing for environmental protection or LGBTQ rights, we have seen that once organized, groups can effect qualitative social change beyond any scope likely imagined by Herbert Marcuse himself. Today’s campus activists, too, can use their powers of persuasion effectively instead of trying to ban those who do not share their views.

But let us grant that temporary suppression of tolerance is necessary in order to bring about genuine qualitative change and that premise a holds. Assumption b, that the power to suppress certain movements would only be used to suppress the regressive ones and that it would not be misused for other purposes, presents ever greater challenges. This brings us back to the question central question: who decides? Mr. Marcuse argues that “the question, who is qualified to make all these distinctions, definitions, identifications for the society as a whole, has now one logical answer, namely, everyone ‘in the maturity of his faculties’ as a human being, everyone who has learned to think rationally and autonomously”[28] (or everyone who has acknowledged that he is part of the problem). Now the logic of Mr. Marcuse’s argument presumes that different people obtain “the maturity of their faculties” at a different stage, for only then can those who have already obtained it seek to make such changes, so that the rest can obtain it, too. If on the other hand, certain people did not obtain this maturity earlier than others, than there would not be anyone to start the process of liberation. What this means is that different people and groups of people will have at their disposal different power, for the power to liberate (read to suppress regressive movements) must rest with the liberators, not the ones who are yet to be liberated. Similarly, those who have already grasped the nature of oppression have to teach their views to those who have not yet understood.

History teaches us, in Lord Acton’s words, that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There is at least a reason to doubt whether the liberators would be willing to relinquish their almost absolute power to decide who is on the side of progress and who on the side of the old society once everyone reached “the maturity of their faculties.” It is much more likely that unity among the liberators would not be preserved, power would not be relinquished and personal ambitions would not be sacrificed. It is much more likely that once the Pandora’s box of suppression or even political violence were opened, it would never be closed.

That this possibility is much more real than may at first seem is evidenced by a number of recent cases where the activists’ own tools were turned against them. A petition was recently circulated and signed at UC Davis, urging student activists who were occupying a room in one of the administrative buildings (the protesters demanded the school’s chancellor’s resignation) to end their protest. Importantly, the petition claimed that the protest made students and staff members who regularly use the building feel unsafe.[29] On another occasion, student protesters at my very own Ohio State University were evicted because the school’s administration reached the consensus that Ohio State’s workers have a right to a safe environment.[30]

But even if the liberators were so disciplined that they would not misuse their incredible powers for personal benefit and even if the unthinkable unity among those who have reached “the maturity of their faculties” could be maintained (in other words, if premise b held), it is unlikely that the distinction between progressive movements, which must be listened to, and regressive ones, which must be silenced, could objectively be made. Mr. Marcuse believes that it is possible to find “the most rational ways of using these resources and distributing the social product with priority on the satisfaction of vital needs and with a minimum of toil and injustice.”[31] As a general statement, this remark is certainly agreeable to most if not all. As a guiding principle of policy however, it is exceedingly inadequate. Let me illustrate this point with the following example. The world’s governments spend a certain amount of money (it is unimportant for the sake of this example to ascertain the exact amount) on cancer research. It is also likely that if this amount of resources were doubled or tripled, the chance that an effective cure of cancer would be found would likewise significantly increase. From a rational point of view, then, there is little reason not to increase spending on cancer research. This would mean however, and here comes the apparent trade-off, that there would be fewer resources left, for instance, to build a new school. Now, the social justice proponent of Mr. Marcuse’s ilk would then have to decide whether a new school is more important than cancer research, a judgment which cannot possibly rest on rational arguments alone. It is a value judgment that may take into account the available resources but these resources alone can never decide for us the order of our priorities.

Herbert Marcuse is wrong when he writes that “there is an objective truth which can be discovered, ascertained only in learning and comprehending that which is and that which can be and ought to be done for the sake of improving the lot of mankind.”[32] He is wrong when he assumes that one can always a priori distinguish between the “right and wrong, good and bad, correct and incorrect.”[33] Lastly, he is not properly exhausting the complexity of the question when he says that “the telos of tolerance is truth.”[34] The correct statement that there is a difference between facts and falsity should not be assumed to mean that complicated organisms such as societies and the dynamics that shape them can be figured out in advance. The necessity of tolerance springs from the correct assumption that we do not really know where truth will be discovered. We do not know which scientific or social or even political theory will prove right and which wrong and by allowing them to compete against each other, we wait to see which will emerge correct. The secret behind human progress is not the act of directing of our intellectual abilities towards a single goal. Rather, this secret is our willingness to let our intellect wander into previously unknown places to discover things which henceforth seemed impossible or even utterly useless. What we can do is to look back and reflect upon our experience. We can judge whether this or that step we took, this or that policy we implemented yielded the desirable result. Based on this evaluation, we alter our behavior to steer the wheel of history in a more desirable direction. There is no single or correct course of history that Mr. Marcuse seems to have identified for the rest of humankind.

As has been previously shown, the notion of a safe space or a “welcoming environment” is even worse of a guideline than Mr. Marcuse’s appeal to rationality. By appealing to squarely personal criteria which cannot be objectively established, it opens doors to irrationalism and mysticism. I have already said that as genuine as someone’s feeling of hurt may be, it will forever remain a private phenomenon and that is why it should never become the guiding principle of a general policy. Yet that is exactly what has been happening across our society. So-called microaggressions (an example is the sentence America is the land of opportunity) and attempts to enforce speech codes which seek to eliminate them illustrate the degree to which feelings have become a source of general policies. Make no mistake, the sentence America is the land of opportunity may not be objectively correct (although I would argue that it is more of a vague value-statement rather than a statement of facts that can be verified or falsified) but that or the fact that it may be perceived as unwelcome by some cannot be the reason why this sentence should be banned.

What can, then, be a guiding principle for establishing the limits of free speech? First, I think that there are, indeed, very few instances in which speech should be limited. Second, I believe that these limits (which can never be defined with unfailing exactness) have been approximated by current US legislation and the Supreme Court’s precedents. I believe that the “clear and present danger,” “imminent lawless action,” and “shouting fire in a crowded theater” principles still apply. Namely, free speech should be limited when an individual’s bodily (in certain cases also mental) health is at stake. Credible calls for genocide and threats of physical harm are to be stopped. But they are to be stopped because we, or at least those of us willing to use rational arguments, can agree that these threats are indeed credible and that the impending harm is considerable.

The strategy that student activists would best be advised to pursue is not to limit anybody’s speech but to believe in their own power of persuasive argument. One reason is this: after removing the institutional barriers of oppression (Jim Crow, unequal pay for equal work, unequal access to quality education), there will still remain the need to change the minds and hearts of those who did not historically suffer from inequality. To ensure that all feel welcome on our campuses, it will be necessary for us to listen to one another, so that we can share and understand our experiences, empathize and see where we are coming from. Only that way will it be possible to change minds and hearts. Protests and demands are necessary for removing the institutional barriers of oppression and they may even be useful to simply make the point that we need to talk and listen. But plenty of talking and plenty of listening are ultimately the only things that can make racial and other division a thing of the past. Extensive limits of free speech cannot.

I am fully aware that the democratic society in which we live does not allow all to speak with the same volume and that often, those who have less to say sound much louder than those who are worth listening to. But the problem of treating inequality with inequality is that it breeds more inequality. A society guaranteeing free speech can never guarantee that the intelligent opinion will sound as loud as the stupid one. But it can guarantee that the intelligent opinion will sound nevertheless. And if its proponents are persistent and persuasive enough, then the intelligent opinion will continue to have a reasonable chance that it will be heard and that it will, ultimately, lead to the progressive change that its proponents desire. A society which opts to authoritatively choose between right and wrong opinions, between inherently progressive and inherently regressive movements, will instead open the Pandora’s box of unequal treatment which can all too easily lead to political violence and a world in which might is right.


[1] JOHNSTON, Angus. There's No College P.C. Crisis: In Defense of Student Protesters. Rolling Stone[online]. 2015 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[2] TICKLE, Louise. Free speech? Not at four in five UK universities. The Guardian [online]. 2015 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[3] Mission. FIRE: Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [online]. [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[4] FIRE’s Speech Code Ratings. FIRE: Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [online]. [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[5] Demands by Hamilton College [online]. [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] Amhert Uprising - What We Stand For. Amherst Soul [online]. [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[10] Demands by Hamilton College [online]. [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[11] ibid.

[12] GOPALAN, Aparna. Missing a Mission Statement. The College Voice [online]. 2016 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[13] COBB, Jelani. Race and the Free-Speech Diversion. The New Yorker [online]. 2015 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[14] They cannot be validated by rational analysis relying on arguments and logic.

[15] MARCUSE, Herbert. Repressive Tolerance. [online]. 1965 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[16] ibid.

[17] ibid.

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] ibid.

[21] LAXER, Michael. Part of the problem: Talking about systemic oppression. Feminist Current [online]. 2014 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[22] MARCUSE, Herbert. Repressive Tolerance. [online]. 1965 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[23] ibid.

[24] ibid.

[25] ibid.

[26] ibid.

[27] ibid.

[28] ibid.

[29] FRIEDERSDORF, Conor. The Tools of Campus Activists Are Being Turned Against Them. The Atlantic[online]. 2016 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[30] FRIEDERSDORF, Conor. Ohio State Turns the Concept of 'Safe Space' Against Student Protesters. The Atlantic [online]. 2016 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[31] MARCUSE, Herbert. Repressive Tolerance. [online]. 1965 [cit. 2016-08-04]. Available at:

[32] ibid.

[33] ibid.

[34] ibid.

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