The news reporting, along with public debate, on free speech has been typical. It’s not just dissatisfying but frustrating. It pushes a narrative that infects many a mind, including more than a few outside of the ‘mainstream’.
I found an example of this, although I’m not in the mood to directly link to the piece. On the individual’s About page, he obviously prides himself on being an independent thinker who looks down upon ‘Puny mortals’ who “come by their worldviews by accepting in good faith what they have been told by people they perceive to be smarter or better informed than they.” He is so anarchist that he doesn’t think other anarchists are anarchist enough. Yet he is basing his own view on controlled rhetoric designed to manipulate public perception and opinion.
I guess he is so anarchist that he has looped back around to the other side of the spectrum, maybe with his anti-intellectualism trumping his anti-authoritarianism. After all, he describes himself as a white working class anarchist, which apparently means anyone with a college degree is his enemy, including working class traitors who decide to better themselves by seeking higher education. Or maybe he is simply yet another example of an ideologically confused American.
In the piece he wrote, he goes off on some weird sociopolitical rant. It has little connection to the larger world outside of an internet echo chamber. He is shadow boxing the phantasmagoric demons lurking inside his skull and apparently finds it to be a gleeful sport where, as he is the referee of this self-inflicted mental pugilism, he always wins. But what interests me is that his demons just so happen to take the shape of the caricatures portrayed in much of corporate media, with a clear right-wing slant of the populist variety. He writes that,
Well, unfortunately, because of recent riots at Berkeley, we can’t really say that anymore. Now, a lot of those involved or allied will say that, because this action was undertaken by a ‘rebel faction’, and not an established power, it’s actually a righteous insurrection, rather than authoritarian oppression. But given the fact that these are the children of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft, many of whom are ‘Trustifarians’, their proletarian cred is highly suspect. If you can afford to live and go to school in that area of the country, you probably do not come from a poor background.
It’s muddled thinking. This misses so much of the reality of the situation.
The protesters are a small group or, to be more accurate, a mix of small groups. Most of them may or may not be students at Berkeley. Many of them probably are locals or outside agitators taking advantage of the situation, an opportunity for two sides to fight and maybe having little to do with the student body itself. There could even be some agent provocateurs among them. There is absolutely no evidence that they represent most people who are either college students or on the political left. I doubt these people represent a ‘rebel faction’ either, whatever that is supposed to mean. For damn sure, I doubt that many of “the children of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft, many of whom are ‘Trustifarians’” are involved in political activism of the direct action variety, the kind that can lead to becoming a target of violent troublemakers or else violent police.
I share the words of this particular anarchist only because it captures the dark fantasy created by corporate media, especially right-wing media, although sadly much of the supposed ‘liberal’ media as well. It’s bizarre. And it is highly infectious.
Even if these protesters were all Berkeley students, one should note that a fair number of middle class and even working class people get into college. The majority of Berkeley students aren’t the inbred spawn of the plutocratic elite.
According to recent data: 99% of Berkeley students come from the bottom 99.9% in terms of family income, 96.2% from the bottom 99%, 77% from the bottom 97%, 62% from the bottom 90%, 46% from the bottom 80%, and 7.3% from the bottom 20%. Considering that Berkeley has about 40,000 enrolled, those poorest of Berkeley students number several thousand and there are 4.9% that “came from a poor family but became a rich adult.” Other data shows that, depending on class year and such, 21-32% of students have parents with income below $40,000, which would be around 8-12 thousand students. About a quarter of freshman and about half of transfers are the first generation in their families to attend college. I might add that the vast majority of Berkeley students are minorities, with less than a third of freshmen being caucasian.
It’s possible that the protest disproportionately attracted students from the lower classes and from among minority groups who have had a lifetime of dealing with prejudice, the kind of people more likely to be offended by rich white assholes like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. From the same piece I initially quoted, the self-styled anarchist stated that, “You’re wrong about the working class, I hope they kick your Berkeley ass.” It’s not so clear to me who will be kicking whose ass, considering the demographics of Berkeley students and considering the real conflicts in our society. It is ludicrous to think it is the privileged rich white students who are protesting against these privilege rich white supremacists. As Alex Schmaus explains about an earlier protest, targeted minorities were fighting back against attempted oppression (The far right goes on a rampage in Berkeley):
It was rumored that Yiannopoulos would be launching a campaign to target undocumented students and their supporters on sanctuary campuses like Berkeley. But he and the College Republicans were unable to carry out this plan after they were confronted by some 2,000 or more students and community members chanting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”
The February 1 protest was inaccurately portrayed in the media as violent because a contingent of 100 or so masked Black Bloc activists carried out their own unannounced action–starting more than an hour after the much larger picket had begun–setting off fireworks and smoke bombs, pulling down police barricades, breaking windows and starting fires.
Reports of small numbers of far-right Yiannopoulos supporters trying attempting to intimidate protesters were ignored in almost every mainstream media account. Eventually, university administrators canceled the event, citing safety concerns.
I have no idea who are all of the groups of people at the various protests. I’m sure they represent a diversity of people on all sides with various ideologies and agendas, along with many innocent bystanders who simply got caught up in altercations that escalated quickly. My point is that most people with opinions about such issues are speaking from ignorance and that includes most corporate media reporters. No one seems to bother to find out. That said, I bet the FBI knows the exact identity and maybe even ideology of nearly every person that showed up, not that the FBI is going to share that info with the rest of us.
Here is what bothers me most of all. The political right is so much more effective in silencing opposition and frustrating free speech. But they do so in a highly controlled and devious way. A conservative college would stifle the free speech of both speakers and protesters. So, there would be no protest because there would be no opportunity. Free speech would be snuffed out in the crib. There would be nothing to report because nothing would happen. The corporate media tends to ignore what doesn’t happen (i.e., the muzzled dog that doesn’t bark) and why it doesn’t happen. The lack of free speech on conservative campuses is accepted as normal, not worthy of investigating or reporting.
Why doesn’t anyone complain that conservative Christian colleges don’t regularly have as guest speakers such people as anti-authoritarian pacifists, welfare statists, proud communists, radical anarchists, secular atheists, intersectional feminists, LGBT activists, moral relativists, sexual libertines, Pagan practitioners, Islamic fundamentalists, and Palestinian freedom fighters? These colleges also receive government funding but, unlike the larger universities, simply ensure nothing that isn’t conservative ever makes it within their walls. There are few non-conservatives and non-Christians in a conservative Christian college, along with few such people ever invited to speak. As such, there is rarely anyone to protest or any event to be canceled. An event that is never allowed to be planned can’t be cancelled, much less protested. It’s exclusion by design and we the taxpayers fund it, as Katha Pollitt put it (The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die):
If students are being denied a broad, mind-stretching education at universities often considered among the best in the world, what about the biased, blinkered, partial education that students are receiving at religious colleges? What about the assumption that no changing of the mind shall be permitted? Isn’t education supposed to challenge one’s settled beliefs?
And with Title IX exemptions in hand, colleges are free to ban and expel LGBT students, discriminate against women, use the Bible as a science text, and fire professors who disagree—without putting their federal funding at risk. The truth-in-advertising principle may protect the right of private colleges to do this. But the last time I looked, separation of church and state was still in the Bill of Rights.
Conservatives create an entire echo chamber of institutions and media. They shut out all alternative voices. There isn’t allowed any perception of other views. Their idea of free speech is to allow everyone they agree with to speak freely. Then they complain that conservatives aren’t allowed to dominate all forums and platforms of speech throughout the rest of society.
Yet, conveniently, conservatives don’t seem bothered when leftists are oppressed by suppression of free speech, such as those fighting Zionist apartheid. Howard Schwartz, as one random example among many, lost his position at a university for his lack of groupthink support for Israeli apartheid. Also, consider all of the careers and lives destroyed during the Cold War because of accusations of communism or communist sympathy. If conservatives had the opportunity, most of them would enthusiastically have a new era of McCarthyism.
It’s understandable that conservatives deceptively push the narrative that more than a tiny percentage of people on the political left care about shutting down free speech. The fact of the matter is there are far more people on the right who fear free speech. But we’ve grown so cynical about right-wingers that we assume they always have bad intentions toward a functioning democracy and, as such, we’ve stopped holding them accountable. Instead, even the supposed ‘liberal’ media seeks to silence protesters by promoting this conservative narrative, without much concern about petty factual details.
Why doesn’t the ‘liberal’ corporate media regularly do some genuine investigative reporting? They could research the larger context of what is going on. They could interview people to find out who are those involved and not involved. They could look at all sides such as seeing the role of right-wing instigators and outside agitators in fomenting conflict and violence. They could do surveys to find out what are the actual views and values of various groups, instead of making false accusations and unsubstantiated generalizations.
But if the corporate media allowed that kind of journalism to become the norm, they would no longer be serving corporate interests in a corporatist system that pushes rhetoric to further divide the public, ensuring that actual democracy remains hobbled. And you can see how highly effective is this tactic. Consider again the example of the avowed anarchist who has been pulled into this divisive narrative framing, without even the slightest clue that he is being manipulated. As I often repeat, never doubt the power of propaganda, especially not in the US where the propaganda model of media is more pervasive and subtle than maybe any ever devised in all of world history.
This is similar to how the corporatist Democrats used their narratives of identity politics. Sanders’ supporters were called Bernie Bros, as young women were attacked as gender traitors and young minorities were ignored, as both had been won over by Sanders’ genuine progressivism. Similar to how college students are caricatured, Sanders’ supporters were portrayed as violent radicals who are a threat to the supposed moderate and mainstream ‘liberalism’ of the corporatist ruling elite, despite the fact that the majority of Americans agree with Sanders on major issues.
We Americans are so propagandized that most of us can’t see straight. We are drowning in a flood of bullshit. Fortunately, there are a few voices that manage to get heard, even occasionally in the broader public debate. Yet the dominant narratives never change, as they continue to frame nearly all discussion and reporting.
* * * *
Ann Coulter’s Berkeley controversy isn’t really about free speech.
by Juliet Kleber
As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform. Aside from safety concerns, that doesn’t mean trying to cancel her appearance was necessarily the right decision—it very well may be true that students should challenge her views face-to-face—but doing so is still not a violation of her rights.
That cannot be said, however, of the Fordham case. As Singal notes, Fordham is a private university, and as such the question of free speech in this case relates not to the Constitution but the university’s own policies. But unlike Coulter, who has a regular platform on television and in publishing, the students of Fordham are truly limited by what their university will and will not allow as protected speech. Those students have been denied the opportunity to engage in the political action they find meaningful. They have been punished for peacefully protesting that decision. At Berkeley, the College Republicans who invited Ann Coulter to speak presumably retain their official club status and likely their budget.
Berkeley Has NOT Violated Ann Coulter’s Free Speech Rights
by Robert Cohen
It was only after an ugly riot and arson by non-student anarchists on the night of the Yiannopoulos talk (leaving more than $100,000 in property damage on the Berkeley campus) that the chancellor reluctantly canceled the talk in the interests of public safety.
Fearing a recurrence of the Yiannopoulos violence, the Berkeley administration sought to postpone Coulter’s speech, and in the end asked that in the interest of security it be delayed a week. The administration cited threats it had received against Coulter, which is not surprising given that she is an intemperate nativist. Coulter and her College Republican and Young American Foundation sponsors responded with claims that the administration was trying to stifle conservative speech and that it had caved in to Berkeley’s “rabid off-campus mob” in doing so.
There are very few students on the Berkeley campus who see this week’s delay of the Coulter speech on public safety grounds as a free speech violation. That’s why the lawsuit the College Republicans filed this week against the UC administration had no Berkeley student sponsors other than the College Republicans. Think of the contrast with 1964, when there was a genuine free speech violation and a mass free speech movement; it mobilized virtually every Berkeley student group from left to right and even created a new organization of students, the independents, so that those who had been unaffiliated with any political group could be a part of the Free Speech Movement. In 1964 thousands of Berkeley students marched and hundreds engaged in civil disobedience when free speech was genuinely under threat. Not so today.
No, this is not a real free speech movement at Berkeley today, and that is because there has been no free speech violation by the UC administration. What the Coulter affair really amounts to is a “time, place, and manner” quibble.
Who’s behind the free speech crisis on campus?
by Dorian Bon
These rants in the mainstream press botch the facts of the stories they present, smearing thousands of mostly peaceful protesters as violent thugs, while disregarding the sincere debate on the left about how to confront the right on college campuses.
But that’s not even the worst of their mistakes. Their more spectacular failure is in attributing the crisis of free speech in American universities to the behavior of students.
There is, indeed, a crisis of free speech today, one that is steadily eroding the rights of students, faculty and staff in thousands of institutions of higher learning all across the country. But the blame lies with university administrators and bosses, not the student activists they loathe.
On campus after campus, university administrations are systematically rolling back decades of hard-fought gains for free speech, threatening students with suspension and expulsion for speaking out and clamping down on their right to assemble and organize. […]
THESE CHANGES occurred in tandem with a broader transformation of higher education, orchestrated to better serve the interests of business and the U.S. state, while placing the cost of education increasingly on the backs of students and faculty. […]
THE TRANSFORMATION of the university into a neoliberal regime has intensified the crisis of free speech on campus.
Contingent professors are justifiably afraid to express themselves openly with very little job security and power to defend themselves from their employers. Students, saddled with debt, cannot afford to risk discipline or suspension when their hopes of financial security depend on getting their diplomas and finding employment. To top it off, campuses are now dominated by an army of administrators policing student and faculty activity.
Conservatives Have Only Themselves to Blame for Today’s Campus Wars
by Jim Sleeper
This time, it was conservatives assailing colleges as too “liberal”—never mind that many campuses have already been transformed by the very corporate, capitalist incentives and pressures that most conservatives champion, with disturbing consequences that they’re trying to blame on liberal political correctness.
Some censorious “liberals” have indeed only helped to turn undergraduate liberal education into a dance of careerism, power-networking, and self-marketing. Many rail at glass ceilings that must be broken by women and people of color, forgetting that breaking the ceiling doesn’t improve the foundations and walls unless wholly different challenges are posed to the structure itself. Federal bureaucratic overreach has compounded the problem by enabling campus sexual-assault regimens to endanger the due process that is essential to liberalism.
Still, the accommodations of some left-liberals to the increasingly business-oriented and bureaucratic drift of higher education and of civil society are mainly symptoms, not causes, of our civic decay. Now that the Republican presidential campaign has elevated a financer of casinos and a vulgar, predatory self-marketer whom most of the Party denounces, even as its members asphyxiate free speech and open inquiry in Congress, the rest of us—some honorable conservatives included—are wondering just what kinds of “free” and “robust” speech right-wingers are willing to accept and what kinds of “political correctness” they themselves have imposed.
The students whom Deresiewicz called “entitled little shits” and whom conservatives characterize as coddled and frightened don’t exist in a vacuum. They are products of an increasingly frightening, atomizing society that turns college students from co-participants in universities’ historic scientific and social missions into isolated, heavily indebted consumers of career training. This model of education serves the casino-like financing and omnivorous, predatory, intrusive marketing that conservatives themselves have championed, even as it incubates a racially “diverse” global managerial elite that doesn’t consider itself accountable to any democratic polity or moral code. Absent massive public funding like that of the 1950s and ‘60s for higher education as a crucible of citizenship, students must mortgage themselves to future employers by taking courses and programs that private donors and trustees choose to fund.
It makes little sense to preach civic-republican virtues such as the fearless pursuit of truth through reasoned dialogue when conservative trustees and administrators are busy harnessing liberal education only to facilitate market priorities, not interrogate them.
It’s precisely because conservatives consider themselves so decent and principled that they’re in denial about their responsibility for the transformation of elite universities into training centers for wealth-making, power-wielding, and public relations, and that they’re campaigning so energetically to discredit those who want to keep liberal education somewhat independent of both markets and the national-security state.
Hoping for Another Battle, Nativist Trump Supporters and Antigovernment Extremists Again Descend on Berkeley
by Ryan Lenz
As the birthplace of the free speech movement decades ago, the debate surrounding Coulter’s speech put Berkeley in the precarious position of protecting its staff and students while ensuring freedom of speech, especially in a political climate where the possibility of violence between alt-right extremists and antifascist protesters becomes more frequent. Two previous appearances by far-right and conservative speakers have turned violent at Berkeley, including a protest on April 15 that left 11 people injured and six hospitalized. Police arrested 21 people on a variety of charges then.
Lawrence Rosenthal, chair and lead researcher of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, issued a written statement on the day’s events. Rosenthal warned people not to be cowed by the alt-right’s claims of censorship and noted that the university had two concerns to consider in cancelling Coulter’s appearance — the unequivocal support of free speech and security.
“The situation at the University of California does not conform to the claims of suppression of free speech that conservative politicians and commentators have been trying to tie it to. Neither student groups nor the University administration are responsible for the threats of violence that surround Ann Coulter’s proposed appearance on this campus,” Rosenthal wrote.
Rosenthal also criticized Spencer for “exalt[ing] in the violence,” as he did in a YouTube video recounting the event.
“The deepest significance of the ongoing ‘Battles of Berkeley’ is the attempt by the alt-right to move the country toward fascist-anti-fascist violence,” Rosenthal said. “Conservative politicians and commentators wishing to use the Berkeley situation as a cudgel in the name of the free speech run the risk of enabling the dark goals of the alt-right.”
A white supremacist is accused of punching a protester. Classmates say he makes them feel ‘unsafe.’
by Lindsey Bever
In a video posted April 15, Damigo was seen talking about Identity Evropa, which he said is “interested in promoting and preserving European culture and values.”
He said his group was at the protest “because we believe that free speech is a European value and there are many people here who are wishing to use violence to silence other people. And so we feel that’s important to be here today to ensure that people are able to speak without having violence used against them and that they’re able to get their narrative out there and just start a conversation, start a dialogue and let people know that there are certain things they disagree with and some things they do agree with and they’re not going to be intimidated when these people come out here to promote violence.”
That was the same day Damigo was apparently seen in a video punching a female protester in the face and then running into a chaotic crowd.
The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die
Some of the worst offenders against the First Amendment are religious colleges.
by Katha Pollitt
30 thoughts on “Framing Free Speech”
It’s a popular meme that professors are indoctrinating students into being commie leftists.
In reality, professors can barely get us to do the reading, much less indoctrinate us into thinking like them XD
In any case, no one is really getting indoctrinated into being leftists, if only because in my experiences, professors are hardly leftists as a group. Statistically vote Democrat, yes, but since when are democrats left-wing?
Honestly I’ve been way more likely to have a partisan dem “limousince liberal” professor than a leftist one.
A poor uneducated person is more likely to indoctrinate their children toward communism than is a comfortable professor who is doing quite well in the capitalist system. When you look at the hotbeds of communism in the past, they were working class communities such as mining towns and factory towns, the major centers of labor organizing. Economically comfortable people, no matter what claims to ‘liberalism’, don’t tend toward radical politics.
It’s not that professors are drumming Marx and Bakunin into students heads ( and giving them skateboards to sesh the quad instead of learning civics). The most ferocious objections are to the post-modern nihil mongers who’ve been pushing their lukewarm theory on students while steadfastly doing nothing to combat rising tuitions, which they could, often being the administrators as well as faculty. There have been cutting analysis of this trend by academics like Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia. Not standard ones, but I’d rather read one of her books than sit through any humanities course today. If conservatives failed the universities, it was by forgetting the impulse to preserve cultural institutions like universities, and abandoning them to “Richard the Doctor” mentality of corporatism ( only Marm will get that one, probably).
Hello, DanyBreaks. Welcome to my blog.
“The most ferocious objections are to the post-modern nihil mongers who’ve been pushing their lukewarm theory on students while steadfastly doing nothing to combat rising tuitions, which they could, often being the administrators as well as faculty.”
Let me break that down. I couldn’t care less about “post-modern nihil mongers”. Anyway, that isn’t most professors.
That doesn’t describe most professors of business management, engineering, architecture, medicine, physics, computer programming, etc. Even professors of social science, nursing, teaching, etc that tend toward more typical liberalism wouldn’t likely give a fuck about post-modern anything. It’s a narrow group of professors in fields such as philosophy, literature, and art that might fall into this category. I doubt religious studies professors, even the non-believers, would be prone to much of that.
That seems like yet another caricature, to be straight with you. Such professors do exist, but they don’t dominate all of academia. The average college student isn’t likely to run into a whole lot of post-modernism these days, considering some of the most popular majors are along the lines of highly conservative business management.
I’ve never seen survey data of professorial opinion about rising tuitions. I’d suspect that most professors, left and right, are simply focused on their jobs. This is partly because tenure is becoming harder to get and so less common. There are a few more outspoken professors like Corey Robin that would concern themselves about any of this kind of thing, but I just don’t see colleges as major centers of radicalism these days. Fighting for issues of economic justice, in a capitalist society, is very much radical. A professor is just a cog in the machine, as many universities increasingly seek out private funding. To the degree they don’t get that private funding as government funding is slashed, they unsurprisingly turn to raising tuition. That is money that is going to the professor’s paycheck, deincentivizing much protest from inside the beast.
The last part of what you stated right there seems particularly off. From articles I’ve read, the trend is going in the opposite direction. It used to be the norm that professors were the administrators. But at least in major universities, they have moved toward hiring people trained in management. I live in Iowa City where the University of Iowa is located and they recently hired as the new president of the university a businessman, specifically the former IBM senior vice president. Now consider that this is a liberal university in a liberal town, a Clinton stronghold. Universities are big money these days and they are being run like businesses.
I disagree with your premises and so I disagree with your conclusions.
“If conservatives failed the universities, it was by forgetting the impulse to preserve cultural institutions like universities, and abandoning them to “Richard the Doctor” mentality of corporatism”
I don’t know that anyone failed the universities. I put it in a larger perspective. Universities is a model of education that is older than the Enlightenment. There are seven universities in the world that are older than a thousand years, two of which are in the English-speaking world. Here in the US, a surprising number of universities are 2-3 centuries old.
By design, universities are conservative in the sense of a rigid bureaucracy of hierarchical authority, not prone to quickly adapt to change. They tend to be closely associated with the governments of their respective countries, playing a central role within the system. If you are the type of person who wants to seriously challenge the system, you are unlikely to go into academia.
It just so happens in the world right now corporatism dominates. So, that is what universities serve, at least in countries like the US. As long as the money is flowing in and good workers are being produced, the corporatists in power are fine with a few post-modern professors in fields irrelevant to the corporatist system. Whether or not someone took a class taught by a post-modern professor, all that employers care about is that the student got a good grade demonstrating that they will be a good worker who will follow the rules and play the game.
Universities mostly are a way of weeding out the radicals, either frustrating them so much that they drop out or diverting them into meaningless degrees where they won’t do any harm.
Would you consider Tim Pool far right and so on? He covered both protests in Berkeley, and I’d say his conclusions on those events are in extreme disagreement with yours.
As an attempt to unify the fractured chunks of my personality I’ve spewed over various blogs and sites under pseudonyms, I’ll at least use part of my real name. Considering my own ambitions in publishing ( grandiose, pathetic, but I can’t stop) I may as well take that punch (or much worse ) coming to the face and the name I was born with.
I’d hardly call myself conservative in the American sense, and would have voted for Sanders, not for him or his economic programs, but for his V.P, Gabbard. A strong, disciplined leader with a refined moral sense is my criteria for a politician, not sex or party. I suppose those are right wing reasons for voting , which I won’t deny.
How many conservatives who have a developed understanding of their beliefs have you encountered in the last few years? I’ve worked with many, and find them to be more accepting than any urban bohemian or standard working class folks who lean left-liberal. They tend towards leaving alone in the private life, and don’t mind someone’s fantastically damaged personality as long as the work is done to high standards. Unfortunately the conservative movement in USA continually misunderstands it’s origins and principles, perhaps more than it’s enemies. The bright news is it smolders under American hearts, even unlikely ones. There’s a whiff of the frustration of Fisher Ames and a tincture of John Adams in your words at times.
“Would you consider Tim Pool far right and so on? He covered both protests in Berkeley, and I’d say his conclusions on those events are in extreme disagreement with yours.”
I haven’t seen anything significant and compelling that disagrees with what I’ve written here. Maybe you could point to some examples. A main point I was making is no one really knows all of the people involved, why there were there, and where they came from. It’s not as if Tim Pool did a scientific survey of the protesters where he collected data on opinions and demographics.
“How many conservatives who have a developed understanding of their beliefs have you encountered in the last few years?”
Well, I was raised by conservatives. My parents live here in town and I see them on almost a daily basis. I actually don’t have any problem with conservatism, per se. In many ways, I’m more conservative than what goes for conservatism in this country. For example, I consider one of the most conservative of values is the precautionary principle.
Yet too many American conservatives seem radical in this regard, maybe because a lot of them are not actually conservatives. Instead, a significant number of self-identified conservatives are actually classical liberals, libertarians, reactionaries, or authoritarians. These people aren’t much interested in conserving much, such as the ancient traditional Anglo-Saxon rights of the Commons.
“I’ve worked with many, and find them to be more accepting than any urban bohemian or standard working class folks who lean left-liberal. They tend towards leaving alone in the private life, and don’t mind someone’s fantastically damaged personality as long as the work is done to high standards.”
I’ve lived in conservative states when I was younger, specifically South Carolina and North Carolina. For most of my adulthood, I’ve been here in Iowa. This is a liberal city, but it’s surrounded by farmland and rural small towns. I personally know and work with many people who grew up on farms and in factory towns. I’ve been around plenty of conservatives over my lifetime. It’s not as if I’m one of those academics in an ivory tower. I’ve spent my life doing working class jobs, since my first job delivering newspapers in 3rd grade.
My conservative parents are closer to being part of the liberal elite than I am. Unlike my parents, I don’t have a college degree. My perspective is a bit different, as my conservative father was a professor and my conservative mother was a public school teacher. The closest to a commonality I have with them is that they had government jobs and I now have a government job, as a city parking ramp cashier.
In my experience, most people across the political spectrum are not overly ideological on a personal level. I have’t noticed immense differences between the average person on the left and the average person on the right. The ideological activists and loyal partisans are a different sort of person, but they don’t represent the average person on either end of the spectrum. When you look at polling data, the average person is actually quite bit far to the left on many issues. The average American is a working class left-liberal, but you wouldn’t know it because most people rarely talk about their politics. This has led to the problem that the majority of Americans don’t realize they are a majority.
“Unfortunately the conservative movement in USA continually misunderstands it’s origins and principles, perhaps more than it’s enemies. The bright news is it smolders under American hearts, even unlikely ones.”
From years of contemplation and study, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are simply confused. Some of the most conservative-minded people I know identify as ‘liberals’. And some of the least conservative-minded people I know identify as ‘conservatives’.
Personally, I don’t care that much about labels. I’ve spent much of my life thinking of myself as a liberal, although a close friend of mind said he sees me as bit of a conservative. I was raised by conservatives. I learned many of my intellectual habits and abilities from my parents.
It’s funny that, down in right-wing South Carolina, my conservative dad was told by a close friend of his that he seemed like a closet liberal. That is probably because my dad grew up in the rural Midwest, a place of moderation. I’ve known liberals in South Carolina who are more conservative than conservatives I’ve known in Iowa.
“There’s a whiff of the frustration of Fisher Ames and a tincture of John Adams in your words at times.”
I’m not familiar with Fisher Ames. I just looked him up. He was a Federalist. I’m more of a working class Anti-Federalist and radical left-libertarian democrat like Thomas Paine. I’ve long admired Paine because he had a bad attitude and didn’t know how to shut up. John Adams was far too respectable for the likes of me.
I sometimes claim ideological confusion of myself. I am a confused person. And the more I learn the more confused I become. I’ve come to realize most of the ideologies, frames, and rhetoric of our society doesn’t make much sense.
The basic argument I made in this post is that the dominant narrative is simply forced onto the incident. The assumption is that most people involved are Berkeley students and that most of the Berkeley students who did protest are violent, destructive, and against free speech.
In none of the reporting I’ve seen, no one has shared data that indicates any of that is true. It might be true, but I demand that people not pretend to know what they are ignorant of. I see no reason to assume that most of the Trump supporters or most of the Anti-fascists were Berkeley students or even Berkeley residents. Only a few well known protesters/agitators on both sides have received much attention, such as the mentally unstable veteran who punched the girl and he wasn’t a Berkeley student.
The incident seems to have ended up involving two groups that wanted to fight each other. They took over the event and I’m sure the peaceful protesters left the scene. Of those who remained, it’s not clear to me that either side was really there because of free speech. The whole event was co-opted by people on both sides who still wanted to fight over the election of Trump. Plus, the world is plain shitty at the moment and many people are simply in a bad mood. Maybe there are simply too many unemployed and underemployed people who have too much time on their hands.
The main issue is that none of this really has anything to do with free speech. Berkeley was founded as a private college, as private as any Bible college. Like almost any college, it gets some public funding. But that funding is a tiny percentage, as 86% of its funding comes from private sources. Berkeley is private forum on private property. Private organizations are free to allow or not allow anyone to speak. Corporations don’t invite communists to speak to their employers, churches don’t invite atheists to preach the sermon, and of course conservative colleges don’t invite radical left-wingers to talk to students. Why are we expecting Berkeley to be treated differently, holding it to a higher standard?
Besides, the reason Coulter’s speech was delayed because of security issues. It was Coulter who decided against giving a speech later on. She silenced herself, to the degree that she is ever silent. As explained by one of the articles I shared, the university in this incident was acting well within the norms set out by the free speech movement. They wanted to make sure that no person would get hurt or property damaged. Coulter was still free to speak. They just wanted to set a later date when they could guarantee security. It was the responsible thing to do, under those conditions. Unsurprisingly, Coulter was full of shit, along with so many others, in trying to make it into something it wasn’t.
The framing of the entire scenario is bullshit. And that bothers me.
Here is a problem I have. There are no greater masters of political correctness than the political right. They are as much for free speech as a cow is for reduced methane emissions.
Too many on the political right are a bunch of crybaby snowflakes. Tons of conservative colleges deny free speech to people all the time, but the political left groups and media don’t cause a shit storm every time it happens. If they did cause a shit storm every time it happens, the weather forecast would be 100% chance of shit storm every day of the year.
Also, what bothers me is the utter disconnection from reality. This anarchist guy I quoted, claiming to be ‘centrist’, has no more idea of what is going on in the larger world than a professional politician in DC beltway or a professor in an ivory tower at one of the most elite colleges… or for that matter a pundit in the right-wing media at Fox News, Wall Street Journal, etc.
That anarchist talks about being working class. And he claims to be critical of all sides. But he is as stuck in the propaganda model as everyone else. Whether or not he really is ideologically anarchist, he doesn’t come across as being independent-minded and clear thinking.
His anti-elitism blinds him to reality. It is true that, even today, most Americans lack a college degree. But it also is true that most Americans who have a college degree grew up in the lower classes.
My conservative parents were of a generation that was giving a hand up by affordable college because it was publicly funded to an extreme level. Berkeley is basically a private college now for how little public funding it gets, but earlier last century Berkeley received 70% of its funding from the government. The same was true for conservative universities such as Purdue where my parents attended.
My mom and one of her brothers were of the first generation in her family to go to school. Outside of the Ivy League colleges, most college students aren’t from wealthy families and wealthy communities. It is bizarre to have an anti-elitist attitude toward those struggling to escape the too often dead end of the lower classes, as our economy is not kind to those on the bottom of society.
What it really comes down to is that anarchist is an anti-intellectual. That is a pointless attitude. The failure of our society can’t be put on the back of college students who are trying to improve themselves and hoping to one day get a decent job, especially considering that many of them will simply be saddled with debt and still unable to find work. A large number of college graduates find themselves with working class jobs. It’s not like the average person who attends college is a part of some ruling elite.
I find these false narratives frustrating and tiresome.
Yeah the DNC is really, really messed up.
The Democratic Party made the argument in their defense that they aren’t a democratic organization and shouldn’t be obliged to act democratically in representing their members. It’s nice of them to be that honest, even if it is just a bullshit admission in a court.
That’s important considering that the Clinton faction repeatedly attempted to deny any foul play or bias in favor of Clinton against Sanders.
I just now finished a conversation with my father. We discussed this issue. Of course, he mostly sees conservative media and so his views were or at least his initial response was predictable. But we are usually able to come to a common understanding. And I find it helpful finding a way to communicate.
This is what I came to. It’s not really a left vs right issue. The political right does annoy me because there is a dishonesty and hypocrisy or else a lack of self-awareness and knowledge in their accusations. At the same time, I’m constantly complaining about liberals and Democrats. There is a free speech problem that cuts across standard ideological divides.
Still, that doesn’t quite get at the real issue. Democratic politicians and partisans don’t represent average people who are registered as, lean toward, and/or vote for Democrats. The same goes for Republicans. The same with corporate media, whether they pretend to be liberal or conservative, for in reality they are corporatists that are to the right of most Americans on many economic and policy positions.
The same goes with special interest groups. Many unions, including the one I belong to, are divided. The leadership backed Clinton while the members backed Sanders. And the same is seen with the NRA where the leaders push radical right-wing rhetoric that serves corporate interests while the members, like most other Americans, support stronger regulation and more effective gun control.
The divide here is obviously not ideological. It’s a divide of wealth and power. The leaders of various organizations (public and private, capitalist and not-for-profit) are disconnected from both their members and the general public. Most Americans aren’t divided about much of anything. It’s the ruling elite putting on a spectacle to distract the majority in the hope they’ll never realize they are a majority.
This is part of the propaganda model. The ideological confusion, along with the mix of divisiveness and apathy that follows, is intentionally created.
There are real issues to be discussed, even heatedly debated, about free speech. But the point is no genuine dialogue is possible as long as bullshit narratives and manipulative frames dominate.
Consider Berkeley’s concern about safety and security for all involved is a genuine concern for both left and right. Was their rescheduling at another location fair and optimal? What were the other options that would have led to better results? How do authority figures deal with real risks and dangers? And if the university doesn’t act with caution and anything goes wrong, should the university be held liable?
It’s similar to the police response or rather lack of responsiveness. At the protest, the police largely chose to not to intervene. They allowed the conflict to grow until it burst out into fighting. Even then, the police didn’t immediately respond. The police did the opposite by erring on the side of free speech as a fisticuffs free-for-all. But is that really free speech when all sides are simply given a forum to yell at each other until it turns into violent riot?
Well, all of that could be debated. We could have a serious public discussion about what free speech means and how it could be made possible in a beneficial way. But because of all the bullshit, that debate won’t happen.
Here is a smattering of my writing over the years that offers supporting data and analysis for everything I’ve said here in this post and the comments:
I’ll leave this picture.
This is probably what the working class white population is thinking.
That is what ‘liberalism’ has come to mean in American media and politics. It’s easy to see why many, in reacting to that, embrace right-wing populism.
Not sure if my comment got eaten, but:
It’s a 2 front war:
Apparently the teachers are speaking out too:
I’m sure the rich liberals are sending their kids to private school so they don’t have to deal with this mess of their own making.
It’s as if the plutocrats don’t think we are quite plutocratic enough. Let’s see how far inequality can go before all of society fractures. Won’t that be a fun experiment.
I’d respond in length, but I don’t find that much to disagree with; the free speech issue cuts across all ideologies except for the far fringes, which as you demonstrated, don’t appeal on a ideological level to most Americans. Also , while I can somewhat fake it on the Ligotti board, I’m way too dumb to attempt any answers here. One caveat: would you say that Americans, frustrated from ‘lack of representation” or the ability to make themselves heard, will tack further to populism, of any ideological variety, thus allowing the fringe to move into the center? I saw this with Trump, and now that he’s revealing himself as the typical modern “conservative” , I doubt many who boarded his train will want to return to ideological moderation. That’s a grimly funny picture up there.
The reason I harp on po-mo: I see it as an ambient pollutant infecting the right as much as , maybe more than, their enemies. Hence the re-branding of “Nationalism” from the early modern conception of “National Will” ( and every National Will only exists when it has an opposing Will, an enemy to annihilate ) sweeping all lands, to the fairly drab and buttoned-up notion of maintaining a border and avoiding those foreign entanglements. It’s odd to see so many anti-interventionist circles embracing that term, like they can change its meaning by simple decision. I suppose we’re all brain damaged now.
Ah, you visit Ligotti online. I peruse there on occasion, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented. Crisp once posted one of my more amusing, silly posts there. It was a very short story, although not particularly dark and philosophical, depending on how one looks upon such things.
I doubt you are too dumb. My blog is a place of questioning and curiosity. No answers need to be offered. I am fairly demanding on an intellectual level, maybe because of my parents, but I simply enjoy discussing issues with others.
I do think along the lines of what you suggest. Populism has an attraction that isn’t primarily ideological. The American public right now is so frustrated that they are as likely to vote for either a right-wing populist as a left-wing populist. It’s hardly a new thing, this frustration leading to populism.
A surprisingly large number of US presidents came to power by campaigning on populism, by playing on populist tensions, or by somehow portraying themselves in a populist light: Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, TR, FDR, Nixon, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, etc. It’s become fairly standard for any candidate seeking the presidency this past century. But obviously there are times like this when the populist outrage and rhetoric goes into overdrive.
The ruling elite have, in the past, been quite capable of manipulating the populist mood. But it might be getting out of hand now. Politicians often used fake issues (e.g., culture wars) to drum up support. What is different now is that the issues are all too real.
It’s hard to know what the fringe is these days. Just as hard as to know where is the center. It’s all rather unpredictable. Trump’s supporters could easily shift to the far left in an instant, if the right candidate came along. It really isn’t ideological. The fear, though, is that populism so easily leads to authoritarianism. And even the middle-to-upper classes can be drawn into populism. I like to point out that demagogues often intentionally target their rhetoric to the middle class because it is on the middle class that modern societies pivot.
I don’t disagree with you about postmodernism. It is far from being irrelevant. But I’m not sure exactly what is it’s significance in the world we find ourselves in. I honestly don’t have a clue.
I should preface a long post by saying I’m not surprised that America has Donald Trump as President and Americans follow political factions like Brits trading fists in the streets over their favored sports team back in the day.
When I posted those comments on Berkeley and free speech, I was intoxicated; like many Millennials I was finding it hard to gain my sea legs in this unstable world and was drinking to equalize things. Hence the comment about being dumb.
What I was attempting to get at was the suppression of conservative views that I’ve noticed with increasing frequency over the last decade or so. I was close to adopting a neo-reactionary position in response to actions of the liberal class. I later found that worldview either another form of political nihilism or utopian in the extreme. Now I subsist on a healthy dose of ironic nausea, that I’m forced by politics to admit that the likes of Ben Shapiro have made a good defense of liberty on this issue.
These comments from your original post got me thinking-
“The political right is so much more effective in silencing opposition and frustrating free speech.
A conservative college would stifle the free speech of both speakers and protesters. So, there would be no protest because there would be no opportunity. Free speech would be snuffed out in the crib. There are few non-conservatives and non-Christians in a conservative Christian college, along with few such people ever invited to speak.”
I come from a primarily right wing Christian homeschool background. I’ve been hostile to conservatives for this reason, but I’ve talked to Christians who’ve planned to go to schools like this, and it is indeed a stifling atmosphere for those who aren’t part of the flock. I assume the idea being that it wouldn’t occur to anyone who isn’t a faithful believer ( in their sense ) to set foot on that campus. Yet the most powerfully articulate opponents of the Quiverfull/Homeschool Patriarchy Movement have also come from this background and these schools; it turns out that emphasizing classical debate, some philosophy and rhetoric ( in both the Catholic and Protestant versions of this movement ) results in students more willing to challenge the authoritarian part of that schooling.
Some see this as being a turncoat, I see it as the education having some merit, without justifying the abuses perpetrated in those environments. I responded by shutting out my parents and teachers with extreme culture ( which I don’t regret at all), like the authors I’ve mentioned, and bullshitting online, but I did gain some grounding in a similar education, which is why I’m alarmed at the actions taken against conservatives more broadly in America.
When Bob Jones University refuses to invite sex positive feminists to campus, I don’t see that as suppressing free speech in the way that happens when conservative groups on campus invite speakers, mainly for their own benefit, and those speakers are intimidated into not speaking at all. I don’t mean clownish assholes like Ann Coulter, but incidents like–
One phrase I’ve heard from people in the public sector and media ( which is mostly left to neo-liberal on the West Coast ) is that free speech includes the freedom of protesters to “drown out” the more privileged opposition ( in this case, mostly conservatives). This shows they have reached a level of self-righteousness that makes Cotton Mather look comparatively loose. When a conservative campus group invites a conservative speaker to speak ( while allowing open attendance by anyone ) and that speaker is “drowned out” by activists, I see that as a direct affront on freedom. I agree that sections of the political right in America have much to answer for in that regard, but seeking impotent revenge by “drowning out” your political opponents outside the political domain is dangerously idiotic.
I don’t need to tell you of the causes that lead to the dissolution of any republic ( a political structure that includes the elements of democracy and aristocracy in dialectical alignment, which is the view of America that I share with the intellectual conservatives, without endorsing their overall vision ). Restricting a segment of the population’s ability to exchange ideas ( or worse, targeting people in their places of business for having “wrong views” ) in a bid for temporary political gain is desperately shooting oneself in the foot. People who despise Western countries and their liberties may cheer this, I don’t see any reason to join in.
But this has happened in similar fashion, long before the idea of America. I see things in a cyclical worldview. I don’t believe its all propaganda and bad information that influence people toward self destruction. We are capable of our own stupid demise. I applaud those like yourself who look for a positive future, but I’d rather find beauty in art than hope for good outcomes in politics or the return of truth as the highest standard in the academy.
Hello again. I’ll briefly respond to you at the moment. I’m not entirely sure what my view is on this. My own view is biased from my life experience. I was raised by conservative parents, one a public school teacher and the other a state college professor. They both were educated at a conservative state college. I spent much of my youth going to public schools in the conservative Deep South and went to a conservative state college for a while.
Maybe this is relevant. When discussions like this happen, the focus tends to be on a few elite ivy league colleges along with a few West Coast state colleges. But the fact of the matter is that most college students attend schools that aren’t in either of these categories. I live in a liberal college town. I’ve been here for much of my life, most of it since leaving the Deep South. But the college here is a state college and the state is presently ruled by conservatives, although it is a state that more often votes for Democratic presidential candidates. I’ve honestly never heard of any speaker being shut out and silenced around here. I’ve heard conservatives, including religious conservatives, speak on campus and there was no protest or complaints.
No matter the college, I doubt there is ever a large group that protests much of anything. There are always some people who don’t like something. The question is why does the corporate media like to obsess over small groups that don’t represent the population, whether they are radicals or reactionaries. I see it as part of the script the ruling elite use to rile up and divide the masses.
Also, as some have noted, the administration of these supposedly ‘liberal’ colleges aren’t particularly friendly toward any politics that challenges the status quo. The administration going back to earlier last century have never been friends of free speech, neither toward the left or right. When the administration refuses to let someone speak, it has little to do with what the students want. It’s not as if colleges are run like democracies. Increasingly, they are run like for-profit businesses (the head of this liberal college comes from a business management background, as is the case with many colleges). These days colleges get more of their money from private sources, including corporations, than from public funds. College administrations do what is good for business, which is to say profitable. Ideology is secondary, other than the ideology of capitalist realism.
I find it amusing that you see me as looking for a positive future. I’m a rather depressed person who tends toward pessimism and can be attracted to outright cynicism. But I have admitted on occasion to being a long-term optimist. It’s not really a sense of faith. History simply shows that there are certain long-term trends, whatever they add up to.
I’m not sure I have anything else to add. To state it simply, I don’t see the political left as being all that powerful and influential in the US, not for a long while. If you want to know what a powerful and influential left looks like, study the history of the late 19th to early 20th century. Back then, when people wanted free speech or to deny someone free speech, it sometimes became a literal battle in the streets. The closest we’ve come to that more recently was the 1960s, but the FBI used COINTELPRO to annihilate the political left during that period. The left hasn’t yet recovered, as the political system has continually shifted rightward ever since.
If the political left sounds angry, it is probably because they’ve been silenced and disenfranchised for so long. Looking at public polls, it is clear that the actual silent majority is the political left. And most of those on the political left aren’t college students.
“What I was attempting to get at was the suppression of conservative views that I’ve noticed with increasing frequency over the last decade or so.”
That is all of modern history. Most of American conservatism at present was considered liberal in centuries past. Conservatives, as Corey Robin explains, have never been traditionalists and instead have heavily borrowed from the left right from the beginning. That is simply the nature of conservatism. It is what liberalism once was.
I don’t see conservatism as being suppressed. I see conservatives changing their views. Younger conservatives are much more liberal than older conservatives. The old school conservatism is no longer as popular, even among conservatives. But that same pattern can be found during previous eras. The young Silent Generation was antagonistic toward the KKK whose members tended to be older., which was an expression of the conservatism of the time.
Liberalism and conservatism aren’t consistent ideologies. They’re constantly shifting. So it is equally true that older forms of liberalism tend to be less accepted among present liberals. Our society has become continuously more liberal for centuries and that forces conservatism to follow along, but any given generation doesn’t change much for the change happens across generations.
That said, ideologies like progressivism and corporatism exist at an angle to liberalism and conservatism. In the early 20th century, a lot of progressives were conservatives. Progressivism, like populism, tends to go in cycles and so it doesn’t involve a continuing trend. The US was decreasingly progressive since the New Deal. But we are finally, if slowly, coming back around to a new progressive era.
That relates to why establishment politics has little to do with liberalism or conservatism per se. Hillary Clinton is more conservative in many ways than most Americans — such as about majority support for progressive taxation, leftist healthcare reform, corporate regulation, etc. But she is also a mild progressive, although not as progressive as the conservative Theodore Roosevelt.
As I like to say, it’s complicated.
What you’re talking about is the seeming illiberalism of supposed liberals. I know what you mean, but I see it in a different context. There are a number of aspects. Liberalism, like the rest of society, is constantly shifting left from one generation to the next. So, for older liberals who don’t change their views, they find themselves increasingly conservative compared to the rest of the population and in particular compared to the young. This leads to confusion when those older liberals hold onto the liberal label, even as they no longer represent liberal opinion.
Because of this, many liberals find themselves attracted to conservatism as they get older. It’s not that they’ve necessarily changed, but liberalism and conservatism have changed. This is also how many liberals can become somewhat reactionary in resisting this change. Whether or not Hillary Clinton was once a genuine liberal, at this point she is a reactionary corporatist. Most of her liberalism is now limited to talking points directed at certain demographics to win votes.
This is the problem with the liberal class. It isn’t representative of liberalism overall. And the most liberal people typically don’t identify as liberal at all. Yet the liberal class knows how to use liberal rhetoric, even as their actual liberalism is mostly limited to symbolic politics. College administrators could be considered a part of this liberal class, including those who come from the business world. These college administrators, even when conservative, have learned to use liberal rhetoric, but they are ultimately conservative-minded in defense of the status quo and the establishment. There should be nothing that is surprising about this.
The comfortable classes tend to be more generally liberal in worldview, including wealthier conservatives, although the comfortable classes also tend to be wary about liberalism when its applied to the real world of the lower classes. The liberal class mostly just wants liberalism for its own demographic, just as the corporatist libertarians only want liberty for themselves. From my perspective, this is pseudo-liberalism and pseudo-libertarianism, but in Washington politics and corporate media this gets treated as the real deal. This leaves the majority of actual liberals and actual libertarians out in the cold.
So, I agree that there are people being suppressed. Where I differ is on the nature of this suppression. It isn’t so much right vs left as it is establishment vs everyone else. Just because the corporate media doesn’t like to talk about it, don’t assume that there aren’t plenty of left-wingers being suppressed on campuses. It just doesn’t fit the narrative of the establishment to mention these details. It’s similar to how one hears about media having a leftist bias from within corporate media. This is truly bizarre when you give it more than a half second of thought. If media really had a strong liberal bias, then one wouldn’t hear complaints about it in the media. Yet I’ve heard this talking point all across the corporate media.
This is the pseudo-liberal gatekeepers declaring this far left and no further. And that is how those on the left, from the Sanders campaign to the Green Party, are excluded and silenced. It is one of the many false narratives to distract from real issues while manipulating public perception. It’s part of the propaganda model of media that Chomsky talks about. What exists outside of talking points are hard to get voiced in sound bite media.
Here is a point of confusion. I sometimes use words idiosyncratically. I do so because I’m trying to get at some deeper truth or fuller analysis, often in terms of a larger societal and historical context. My tendency is not to take things as face value or to accept people’s stated claims. As such, I realize I occasionally use liberal differently than what others expect. I am trying to remain true to the essence of liberalism. That is the problem. Most mainstream advocates of ‘liberalism’ aren’t overly concerned about remaining true to the essence of liberalism. For some, it’s just a social identity. And for others, it’s just rhetoric to be used for ulterior motives.
To my mind, we can only know what an ideology is by knowing what has shaped it. The modern West and the global order it has enforced has been the product of a post-Enlightenment liberal age. Liberalism is so hard to define for the very reason it is against which all else is defined in our society. Even conservatism, I’d argue, is just a variation of liberalism because conservatism could only come into existence after liberalism replaced traditionalism (i.e., the feudal ancien regime). There is nothing traditional about, for example, the classical liberalism of capitalism. This is why so many liberals in the establishment and in the comfortable classes can have strong tendencies of conservative-mindedness. This is a corollary to why so many wealthy conservatives are socially liberal. further related is how the reactionary mind, although finding its most blatantly extreme form on the political right, ends up infecting the entire political spectrum. I’d say that the reactionary mind, more than conservatism itself, is the flipside of liberalism. That would help explain the illiberalism behind so much supposedly liberal politics. But an antidote to liberalism, if one wanted look for one, can’t be found in either conservatism or reaction for these are just different aspects of the liberal paradigm.
Liberalism, in this broad sense, is neither inherently good nor bad. It simply is the dominant worldview that frames all else. It’s inevitable, within the liberal social order, that everything becomes increasingly liberal. But as time goes on, liberalism becomes increasingly confused and abused. Liberalism began as a challenge to the old order and now liberalism, instead, finds itself in the position of defending the status quo. It’s hard for us modern Westerners, born into a liberal age, to see outside of liberalism to other possibilities. Eventually, like all social orders before it, liberalism will be replaced one way or another. Before then, it could be pushed to its extreme which would likely mean a more glorious collapse of the system.
The biggest failure of liberalism, as I see it, is it’s hyper-individualism. This is embraced, in the US, by both the left and the right. There are no other alternatives offered. Yet we haven’t come to terms with what this individualism can mean now that it has been pushed about as far as it can go. Ultimately, individualism can’t explain much about human nature and human society. It was a working model to achieve certain ends while leading to many unintended consequences. Liberal ideology (in all its forms: progressive, conservative, reactionary, etc) struggles to explain the world as it is. That is what causes all the conflict, animosity, and frustration surrounding such things as free speech. It’s not clear what free speech means: Whose freedom? Freedom from what? And freedom toward what? Liberal ideology has the tendency to get lost in abstractions, as part of its origins in idealistic philosophy, with its incipient form going back to the Axial Age. This has been a major civilizational project and at some point it has to end. Our reaching the constraints of the biosphere may be the final breaking point for this experiment, which either will lead to another experiment or be the end of all further experiments as far as humans are concerned.
Anyway, love it or hate it, we are right in the middle of it all. It’s not something that can be resolved, other than abandoning it all together. The challenges of free speech and such are nothing new. They have been dogging liberalism for centuries, not to mention its being the schizophrenic foundation upon which our country was founded. This conflict isn’t a sign of liberalism’s failure. It’s a feature, not a defect. Arguing about such things is at the very heart of the liberal project. To finally end that argument would be to end liberalism. And if liberalism must end, so be it. I’m fond of liberal idealism, but I have strong suspicions that maybe by design liberalism can’t live up to its own ideals. The reason for this is that some of its fundamental premises are wrong, specifically about human nature(such as how the egoic theory of mind has been devastatingly challenged by the bundle theory of mind). So, I don’t know where that leaves us. On a practical level, free speech is simply whatever speech you can get away with. No one will give anyone free speech. The first freedom is liberty from authoritarianism, but that is a negative freedom and in itself offers nothing concrete, especially considering the long and varied history of authoritarians claiming to be or posing as anti-authoritarians.
We have these battles of rhetoric. But for what purpose? And to what end? The problems of liberalism can’t be resolved on the same level those problems were created. And that is where the radical imagination comes in, for whatever it is worth. Radical imagination, if nothing else, pokes at the wounds and raw nerves. That is where we find ourselves, those of us who make up the malcontents of the world.
It is more insightful to view liberalism as a civilization’s project ( or product ) more so than identical with civilization or culture themselves, which become tenuous and difficult to define in abstraction. Speaking freely isn’t the same as charters to free speech; after reading your post on the facets of liberalism, is this an accurate summary of what you see as the main problem with the battles of rhetoric: “We can’t know much about a civilization’s possibilities or politics, looking at it from within the civil religion” ?
About free speech, it is true that speaking freely isn’t the same as charters to free speech. But without the ability and willingness to speak freely, charters to free speech are mere expressions of abstract ideology and empty rhetoric.
Charters to free speech tend to focus on negative freedom, which is the ideal rather than the applied actions and practical experience in the real world, specifically for those existing outside of the protected confines of privilege. It’s easy for wealthier people to talk about freedom and liberty. And it tends to be those wealthier people (such as John Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson) who write charters to free speech and enforce the laws supposedly embodying the ideals. This is how comfortable classes end up having more freedom and liberty than everyone else (e.g., George Washington violently suppressing protest of the lower classes in the early nation). And this is why the hypocrisy of the liberal class is so infuriating.
This is what the political right (pseudo-libertarians most of all) gets wrong, in their obsession about negative freedom. And I’d consider many (most?) ‘liberal’ class Democrats to be on the political right, judging them by their deeds rather than their words. Mainstream liberals talk a good game, but they rarely fight hard for positive freedoms that would improve the lives of the average person and the record of their treatment of the underclass is even worse. The radical left tends to be more aware of liberal failures, based on genuine concern and worry. That said, being aware of the failure is not the same thing as being able to offer anything better.
Liberalism as we have it is a patchwork of ideas and methods, cobbled together over centuries. It’s imperfect to an extreme, but it’s less worse than anything else so far devised on the national and international levels — the main alternatives that have been tried have mostly led to overt authoritariaism: theocracy, monarchy, feudalism, imperialism, colonialism, communism, fascism, etc. Some countries implement liberalism better than others (e.g., Nordic Social Democracy). Even those better examples still face the same limitations and weaknesses, challenges and difficulties, problems and failures.
I’d prefer anarcho-syndicalism, but no one has yet managed to get that going on the large-scale, mainly because the world’s ruling elites have continuously destroyed or hobbled all alternative experiments. Maybe anarcho-syndicalism would likewise fail, but I wish it was given the chance to fail on its own terms and its own merits. Maybe something like anarcho-syndicalism also gets caught up in liberal ideology, such as the freedom of individuals to congregate as they freely choose. Everything gets filtered through the liberal paradigm, with even communism and fascism (fundamentalism as well, as argued by Karen Armstrong) being a response and expression of the liberal age.
Still, I must admit that I’m a product of liberalism. It has irredeemably shaped me. I don’t know how to not be a liberal, just as I don’t know to not be white (race being one of the many products of the liberal age). The ideals of liberalism and all else that goes with them have seeped into the marrow of my bones. I wish liberalism would only live up to its promises. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, which portrayed liberalism as a shiny, futuristic, post-scarcity utopia. And what a beautiful vision it was, where everyone was free to do what they wanted and was given the opportunity and resources to fulfill their potential. But obviously that is far from the world we live in. Even according to Star Trek future history, we’d have to pass through global apocalypse before we can begin to work toward that liberal dream.
In asking a question, you suggested the summary of the predicament in these words: “We can’t know much about a civilization’s possibilities or politics, looking at it from within the civil religion.” That seems about right to me. Civil religion is a central pillar of the liberal order. The nation-state was born out of liberal modernity, having taking centuries of violent conflict to be created. Civil religion is what defines the nation-state, although there was some early attempts to create civil religion in earlier empires (e.g., Rome’s state religion that encompassed, allowed, and tolerated a diversity of non-state religions). The civil religion gives expression to the public narrative, solidifies the ideological paradigm, and enforces the social order. It’s a self-enclosed, self-justified, and self-reinforcing reality tunnel.
That is my thinking at present. I’ve developed this line of thought over the years. As I see it, liberalism can only be understood outside of its own ideological rhetoric. That is why I find social science more useful than most other perspectives. Anthropology, in particular, can help us to step outside of our cultural biases.