Thursday, May 14, 2020

May 14, 2020

MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey

The End of Free Speech?  That’s the New Agenda


I pass on to you today a new article that I have had published in Chronicles (on the magazine’s Web site). Since the Framing of the American Constitution there has been a debate over the nature and meaning of the First Amendment. Generally, citizens have enjoyed the right to speak their minds (or write) what they believed, as long as those expressions did not violate defined community standards of decency or morality, urge active participation in the overthrow of the government, or defame publicly (and falsely) another citizen so as to damage or destroy his reputation or good character.

These precisions are far more detailed and complex in law and jurisprudence, but this overall summary, as codified by 2oo years of practice and judicial polity has been something of a constitutional bedrock for Americans. We know that if we publish an article or make a speech critiquing a certain viewpoint or criticizing the person who publicly espouses that viewpoint, that we may do so if we do so properly.

Thus, I may blast away at political candidate X who advocates universal healthcare for all, I may suggest that he is ignorant, a crazy socialist, a senile politician who should stay at home. I may even question whether in the distant past he would have assaulted in one way or another young least ask the question. I may do all this, but I cannot assert without any hint of proof that he is a rapist or abuser, which charges, not based on evidence, would damage or destroy his reputation.

Admittedly, such accusations and any resultant court proceedings tend to be difficult things; slander and defamation of character are extremely hard to prove, and usually require proof that the person engaged in defamation acted willfully, with the intent to do real harm and severe damage to his target.

That may be the reason such proceedings are rare, especially these days when it seems that the American nation is full of millions of Twitter users who take to the Internet to savage not just the ideas of opponents, but their character and reputations. The standards of defamation or slander have, it seems, broadened in our day.

But, nevertheless, the essential right of citizens to express differing views on a wide variety of topics has been considered sacrosanct, at least until recently.

And that brings me to the growing current on college campuses and stated with increasing frequency in Mainstream Media: certain people because of who they are, because they are white or male or Southern or conservative, don’t enjoy or at least should not have the rights of free speech, that they should be banned from speaking on university campuses, forbidden from taking to Twitter or Facebook—because others, those “woke” social justice warriors find what they say or simply who they are to be offensive. Indeed, this new template boldly asserts that speech which opposes the advances and propositions of progressivists is, ipso facto, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, or homophobic, and thus by definition, must be proscribed and banned.

With growing respectability this narrative of curtailing views considered en dehors de tout debat—outside of all debate—has emerged with force in recent years.

But then, under this new template who then decides, who determines which views are now acceptable and which persons will have the right to express such views? College administrators? The supposedly aggrieved students on campus, themselves? In far too many cases, it has been the highly-organized social justice warriors on campus (and their friends off campus) who have taken matters into their own hands. Opposition in any form to the progressivist agenda is shouted down, that is, when a cowardly administrator does not forbid it because of fear of a campus riot (or that it might somehow infringe upon a minority “safe space” or cause mental “hurt” and “pain” to students who realize that someone might be on the same campus as they and with differing views!).

Our state governments, boards of trustees and governors for our colleges and universities, and most directly, college administrators are all guilty in abetting this—the rise of a kind of rigid and brutal totalitarianism, right in our midst, that in fact destroys the genuine educational experience and the essential liberty that must exist not only on university campuses, but in society at large, if this nation survive.

Already we have seen what failure has produced. More of this will surely be fatal to the country.


Here is my Chronicles essay:

CHRONICLES  May 13, 2020

Free Speech and the End of the Old Rules

Free speech, open inquiry, and serious academic discussion are now being construed as the fruits of racism, white supremacy, sexism, or homophobia in my state of North Carolina. Differing points of view, once the hallmark of our college education system, are now routinely suppressed, and increasingly by professors and pusillanimous administrators at our universities.
A case in point in my neck of the woods is the message conveyed by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s officially sponsored conference, “Finding Expression in Contested Public Spaces.”  This gathering was held on Oct. 24 and 25, 2019 for the benefit of students and the public alike. The two-day program opened with keynote remarks by Dr. Eric King Watts, associate professor at UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, whose presentation was titled “Tribalism, Voicelessness, and the Problem of Free Speech.”
Setting the tenor for the conference, Professor Watts attempted to “contextualize” the concept of free speech historically and in terms of its effect on race and gender:
“In particular, freedom of speech is conceptualized and found in documents as a universal human capacity and right requiring legislative and judicial protections, but this late-18th-century idealism obscures the manner in which freedom of speech is always already implicated in racism,” Watts said. He identified the idea of race as a biotrope (a living, constantly developing piece of language that’s represented by different words), and free speech as instrumental in the social construction of race.
“The very idea of freedom, postulated in universalist terms in the 19th century, and serving as the ontological structure for the First Amendment, doesn’t allow the black,” Watts said. “This exclusion is not legal, nor paralegal; it is brokered by the psychic structure and pseudoscience responding to the biopower imperatives of racism.”
It seems the very concept and reality of free speech is corrupted irretrievably by racism. Free speech supposedly both serves and furthers a racist agenda.
Watts, who may have rightly assumed that most of his audience agreed, concluded:
“Put bluntly, the left is not really intolerant of conservative values. Indeed, many of us here probably wish for the good old days when we just had to deal with the neocons,” Watts added. “Rather, the left is intolerant of racism, homophobism, xenophobism, and misogyny.”
Branson Inscore of the John William Pope Foundation reported that “most speakers at the free speech conference promoted the idea of restricting free speech to ensure space for ‘marginalized’ or ‘oppressed’ voices.” 
What we are witnessing on college campuses makes absolute sense, given its own twisted logic. Although the left’s template posits equality as a goal, the implementation of its vision requires the throttling of dissent and the end of free speech as we have known it.
The evidence comes from the multiple attempts to stifle opposing viewpoints on campuses and increasingly in the public square. Non-“woke” personalities—cabinet secretaries, writers, and others—have been singled out and harassed in restaurants, in their places of employment, or at home—as happened to Fox News host Tucker Carlson in November. Literally hundreds of Trump supporters and conservatives have been assaulted by leftist mobs. Between March 1, 2016 and July 5, 2018, counted 70 acts of violence and harassment against non-woke dissenters. The conference at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro showed to what extent the Left, particularly its academic representatives, equate the expansion of equality with the suppression of unwanted views.
A few years ago—in the heat of the 2016 presidential race—I met the daughter of longtime friends. She was a college sophomore at a nearby university. Her parents had forewarned her that I was voting for Trump and that I wrote essays that suggested as much.  After some few pleasantries, she lit into me, and what followed was the acidic exchange:
The Student: “Mom tells me you support Trump? Is that right?”
Me: “Yes, I do, and I have written about him and the election.”
The Student: “How can you possibly support, much less vote for that racist white supremacist?”
Me: “I don’t believe he is what you call him—his program is to tear off the mask of the managerial administrative state. That needs to be done; we are losing our liberties.”
The Student: “Trump is a fascist, and needs to be stopped. Men like him have no place running for office. What they say and preach must be stopped. They should be prohibited from running. They don’t have a right to say those things because it’s racist and sexist.”
And finally, as the conversation was getting beyond the bounds of good manners, my interrogator concluded: “Well, at least you’re old and people like you—old white males—will die off soon and be replaced by my generation and lots of people of color, brown and black people.”
At that point, the conversation ended abruptly. But the message was clear: people like me had no right to “free speech.”

And now, reflecting on that exchange—which in a few phrases typifies the thinking of millions of regular people and not just students—the meaning of Professor Watts’ words becomes obvious: deviations from the new template will not be tolerated. Those of us who object will be labeled racists, homophobes, xenophobes and misogynists, and our speech restricted and banned. Old methods of playing by the rules of civil discourse no longer apply. “Woke” social justice warriors, their professors, much of Hollywood and the media, have declared war on us.


  1. This article is a good analysis of the problem we are facing. I am afraid the media and progressives will continue in this direction until there will be violence. The alternative is a peaceful surrender of all we hold dear.

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                                                  May 8, 2021     MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey Aggressive Abroad and Despotic at Home:  ...