It’s probably not the worst thing in the world that the public thinks of “the First Amendment” as a broad, society-wide protection of the speech of jerks and assholes, even though strictly speaking it is no such thing. But we need to remember this sometimes. There’s no clause of the actual First Amendment giving people the right to say crazy shit with no consequences, and there’s no clause entitling those people to a television program or radio show or speaking venue, and to actually put it that way lays bare just how ridiculous this line of argument is. But it seems like you can’t throw a rock on the internet now without running into a piece by a liberally-inclined person defending Milo Yiannopoulis’s right to give a speech on the UC Berkeley campus, and I think a point needs to be made here. Or two. First off, it’s both wrong and politically stupid for protesters to halt the speech by force. It plays into what low-rent pukes like this guy want: high-profile conflict and the frisson of danger. Be smart, people.

Second, far more stupid than that was for Berkeley staff to okay the event in the first place. Of course, universities should be presenting different points of view in bringing in speakers. On a philosophical level, I don’t really mind if schools allow conservative hacks like Jonah Goldberg to give a speech that nobody will remember in five hours. (I do mind on other levels beside the philosophical, but let’s table that.) Yiannopoulis, though, isn’t Jonah Goldberg, he’s someone who has fanned the flames of online bigotry, particularly against Jews and women, and has sent online mobs to harass people for having the temerity to think and write online. This isn’t furthering the liberal tradition via inclusivity of diverse viewpoints: it’s carrying it out on a stretcher, and it’s particularly problematic that one of our premier universities is doing it. Hell, I don’t think very many people were hurt by the laughable history of Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, probably more people laughed at it or shrugged it off. But someone who uses harassment and intimidation as a tactic in public discourse is not someone who should be invited to speak at any institution that actually holds liberal values (though Berkeley pays John Yoo, so imagining it as run by hippies is not a safe presumption). Inviting a speaker, of course, doesn’t imply an endorsement of their politics, but it does imply that they make a contribution to the discourse that is worth being heard. By implication, this means that Berkeley believes that anti-Semitism, misogyny, and authoritarianism are simply other viewpoints among many that need to be heard, a naive and offensive view that renders invisible the real people who have been intimidated and hurt by this man. This is liberalism at its suicidal worst: obsessed with being seen as honest brokers, fixated on big abstractions rather than the human scale, and reluctant to offer any sort of judgment, moral or otherwise. It’s what wrecked the mainstream media, it’s a major part of the cultural rot within the Democratic Party and IMO it’s a major part of the reason why liberalism is often viewed with mistrust. If liberal institutions are seriously this incapable of exercising basic moral judgments, then liberalism is bound to fail.

Needless to say, the Berkeley brass should have forced Yiannopoulis to rent out a Ramada Inn ballroom. Ultimately, I bet the reason they didn’t was because they wanted to seem reasonable and unbiased. God, these people. If liberals to an individual just gave up on trying to get conservatives to respect them, imagine what we could do.

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