The Thousand Day Reich: Civil Society

by Henry on February 1, 2017

Over the next while, I want to write a bunch of posts looking at the Trump administration – and the worldwide surge of right wing populism more generally – through different lenses offered by different books. This may or may not be useful to other people – as much as anything I’m doing it to get my own thoughts in order about the condition we’re in, and the various possibilities for pushing back, using other people’s ideas as a starting point. First: civil society.

One way we can think of Trump and leaders like him is in terms of civil society. On the one hand, people like Daron Acemoglu argue that civil society is the last defense against Trump and his ilk.

This leaves us with the one true defense we have, which Hamilton, Madison, and Washington neither designed nor much approved of: civil society’s vigilance and protest. In fact, this is not unique to the United States. What is written in a constitution can take a nation only so far unless society is willing to act to protect it. Every constitutional design has its loopholes, and every age brings its new challenges, which even farsighted constitutional designers cannot anticipate.

The lack – and in fact active discouragement — of direct social participation in politics is the Achilles’ heel of most nascent democracies. Many leaders of newly emerging nations in the 20th century, who professed as their goal the foundation of a democratic regime, all but prevented the formation of civil society, free media, and bottom-up participation in politics; their only use for it was mobilizing core supporters as a defense against other leaders seeking to usurp or contest power. This strategy effectively condemned their democracies to permanent weakness.

On the other, Stephen K. Bannon, the eminence grise of the Trump administration, describes his fears of foreigners as follows:

Last November, for instance, Trump said he was concerned that foreign students attending Ivy League schools have to return home because of U.S. immigration laws. “We have to be careful of that, Steve. You know, we have to keep our talented people in this country,” Trump said. He paused. Bannon said, “Um.” “I think you agree with that,” Trump said. “Do you agree with that?” Bannon was hesitant. “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think . . . ” Bannon said, not finishing the sentence. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

Civil society is a notoriously loose term – Marx, Gramsci, Bobbio and a whole host of political theorists and writers in the 1990s mean very different things by it. So how can we make it useful? One good place to start is the work of Ernest Gellner.

Gellner’s book on civil society, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals, was published in 1994. My hardback copy was remaindered from the library of the American Enterprise Institute, which suggests a micro-history of the American conservative movement in itself. Gellner’s account of civil society makes it clear that what’s important about civil society is that it’s not the ‘civic society’ that Bannon is talking about, and in many respects is its antithesis.

Much of what Gellner has to say isn’t immediately relevant today. He’s writing in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites of which Gellner, an idiosyncratic social democrat, was not a fan. He also has a lot to say about the role of the umma in the Islamic world, stressing the ways in which Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ is a product of a set of very modern conditions. Yet what he has to say about civil society is highly relevant to Europe and the US. He writes with some skepticism about the efforts to build civil society in Eastern European countries where the state had atomized its citizens, and in which the local substitute for bourgeois modernizers were a clatter of spivs and former apparatchiks. This skepticism seems to have been born out in many cases, at least as things stand at the moment. The politics of the governing parties in Poland and Hungary, for example, are in part a deliberate retreat away from civil society into more traditional forms of identity such as religion and nationalism. It’s no coincidence, comrades, that the great hate figure of the populist right on both sides of the Atlantic is George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation is dedicated exactly to building up the kind of civil society that Gellner and his old sparring partner Karl Popper wanted to see.

And for Gellner, the cultural conditions of civil society are essential. Civil society involves a relationship of power, in which the forces within society and the economy are sufficiently strong to constrain the state. Yet it also involves a set of associated beliefs, or, more precisely, a pluralism of beliefs and identities, in which no identity is so overwhelmingly strong as to become a prescribed faith or universal moral order.

The emergence of Civil Society has in effect meant the breaking of the circle between faith, power and society. The loyal citizen of a liberal Civil Society may indeed grant a kind of conditional legitimacy to the society of which he is a member, and recognize an obligation to defend it and to observe its rules, even if he tries to change them; but he is not given to sacralizing the power structure or revering the ranking of the society. He who is above him is fortunate, or has some achievement to his credit: but is no longer better or nobler. Loyalty no longer entails credulity. The criteria of truth, the criteria of social efficiency, the social hierarchy and the distribution of advantages within society – all these are not mutually linked, and the citizen can live with the clear awareness that indeed they are not linked, that the social order is not sacred, and that the sacred is not to be approached through the social. Inquiry into truth and commitment to the maintenance of social order are separated. The social can become both instrumental and optional.

… Civil Society is above all a society whose order is not sacralized, or rather is only sacralized with ambiguity, irony and nuance … The social order is now instrumental, not the guardian of the absolute. Still, it needs values and a sense of obligation or commitment among its members. … In fact, it lives on a certain ambiguity, a compromise between faith and its absence and the obligation of honest doubt. It needs both …(pp.141-143)

This means, for one thing, that it has an awkward relationship with nationalism, particularly ethnic nationalism. Ethnic nationalism is, in the end, a “cult of community” which is at best indifferently compatible with the values of liberalism. This was especially marked in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe where:

the nationalists were hostile not merely to rival cultures, but also, and perhaps with special venom, to bloodless cosmopolitanism, probably in part because they perceived in it an ally of political centralism, and felt it to be a support for the old trans-national empires against neo-ethnic irridentism. They felt special loathing for those they considered to be the principal carriers of such cosmopolitanism. (They were right” in the end, the liberals committed to an open market in goods, in a sense men and ideas, were the last supporters of centralism, remaining faithful to it even when the old baroque absolutist partisans of the ancien regime had themselves given up the struggle. (pp.111-112)

There’s a lot to unpack in there. One obvious train of thought is the identification of liberalism in free movement of goods, markets and ideas with the ‘centralism’ of the European Union today – the hostility of Orban and Kaczynski to the EU has historic parallels (and differences) to an earlier generation of nationalism’s contempt for the Austro-Hungarian empire. Yet there also is a suggestion that ethnic nationalism (and – to extend Gellner’s thought a little to the US context – religious fundamentalism) is generically hostile and contemptuous towards liberalism precisely because the latter is based around a plural notion of civil society. Bannon’s “civic society” is a society where Asian immigrants are frightening, not because they threaten conflict, but because they embody the far more insidious threat of peaceful co-existence between a variety of ways of life, rather than a single moral order.

As Gellner notes (p.142) “A moral order, by contrast [to civil society], is comforting.” It gives people a sense that they know what the order of society is, even if they don’t always agree with it, and perhaps even if they don’t internalize its values at all. From this perspective, what Trump’s (and Orban’s, and Kaczynski’s, and Erdogan’s) politics purports to offer is not simply an economic restoration for those who think that they have been screwed by the bloodless cosmopolitans. It’s a moral restoration, of an order in which everyone knows, or ought to know, where they belong. This also perhaps explains the intuition behind the otherwise protean term ‘elite’ in populist discourse. Someone is an elite not because (or not simply because) they are doing better than you in economic terms. They are an elite because their pluralist system of values is not only doing better than the moral universe that you hold to be fundamental, but overwhelming it.

Gellner’s account of civil society is one that suggests a closer alliance between the left and a certain strand of libertarianism (there is nothing in Gellner that is more than slightly uncongenial e.g. to the people who are associated with the Niskanen Center). It suggests this because it emphasizes the values that the left and liberals hold in common, while pushing to one side the questions of redistribution and state power that they disagree on. Some people on the left – especially those committed to a strong state – would be left out of such a putative alliance.

It’s also one that emphasizes the value of social movements such as the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter. These – as Acemoglu’s framework suggests – can be seen as a reaction by a self-consciously pluralist civil society against the excesses and violence of a tacit alliance between the state and those who see themselves as defenders of the natural, white male dominated moral order of American politics. As Tyler Cowen argues, there’s a strong libertarian case for the value of #BLM. The detestation of many libertarians for the cause is less grounded in political principle than in their own peculiar identity politics.

Yet Gellner’s argument also points to the potential weaknesses of any such movement. If Gellner is right, civil society goes together with an ambiguous, even ironic attitude towards specific identities (they are of value, but no single one should be allowed to become overwhelming). Civil society is a faith without foundations, a faith that believes that there are no foundations in any absolute sense, and hence it is a faith composed of a mixture of attachments and ironies (non credo, quia absurdum est). This means that any broad movements in defense of civil society – such as the one that may be coming to life around us – will have always to struggle with itself, and specifically with those within it who are non-ironic partisans of their specific causes and identities. Even if it somehow succeeds, it will never be surely capable of generating the foundations for its own long term stability, since it is based on non-belief in a set of universal foundations that can reconcile facts and values.

Finally, and most importantly, the challenge that civil society faces – if it is to be a bulwark against the domination of the state – is to identify the political tools and conditions that allow it to exercise its strength. Many invocations of the strength of civil society aim merely to identify it as an enabling condition for forms of politics that they find attractive. The specific means, however, through which it may enable, are left largely undescribed, perhaps, in fairness, because they vary from context to context. The mere fact that civil society (or one version of civil society anyway) seems to be finding its voice is not sufficient to ensure that it can work to constrain the state as it ought in Gellner’s argument.

{ 138 comments }

1

Harry 02.01.17 at 3:03 pm

Nothing useful to say, Henry — just thanks for this, and looking forward to your further analyses.

2

Ronan(rf) 02.01.17 at 3:22 pm

“Many invocations of the strength of civil society aim merely to identify it as an enabling condition for forms of politics that they find attractive. The specific means, however, through which it may enable, are left largely undescribed, .”

This was Dylan rileys argument in “the civic foundations of fascism”,iirc. That the European fascist regimes could be explained by the emergence of an expanding civil society with no ‘hegemonic’ political alliance(ie between or within classes) to channel its emergence toward liberal and democratic ends.

3

Rob Chametzky 02.01.17 at 3:55 pm

Nothing useful/substantive here either; just thought that CT readers might enjoy Cosma Shalizi on Gellner

http://bactra.org/notebooks/gellner.html

He says the following about “Conditions of Liberty”:

Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its Rivals [The only book I know which makes sense of the shibboleth of “civil society”; but it’s very wrong about market socialism. See “The Civil and the Sacred” (PDF, 281k) for what amounts to a 50-page preview.]

–RC

4

engels 02.01.17 at 4:10 pm

“We must seize this critical moment to work with billionaires and Koch-funded ideologues to marginalise the hard Left!” er okay

5

Jake Gibson 02.01.17 at 5:00 pm

The populist right hates the idea of a pluralistic society. It is a broader and more nuanced version of LBJ’s “if you can convince the lowest white man he is better the best black msn, he will gladly let you pick his pocket”. Not the exact quote.
I have come to the conclusion that people are aware of privilege, no matter how much they deny it. They are completely invested in retaining that privilege. They see Trumpism as a path to retaining that privilege. That and maintaining traditional hierarchies.
And the hierarchies are more cultural than economic.

6

William Berry 02.01.17 at 6:31 pm

What Jake said.

7

Jay L. Gischer 02.01.17 at 6:42 pm

Maybe I’m misunderstanding all the stuff about ‘a mixture of attachments and ironies’, but I think that you are describing a civil society as a sort of negative space, a code that is mostly defined by what you don’t do, rather than what you do.

I think there is a positive statement of the values of civil society which can be made, which is rooted in the empirical fact that groups of humans which are not homogeneous make better decisions that last longer, form stronger attachments, and prosper as a group more.

This is, in itself, a good thing.

8

Neville Morley 02.01.17 at 6:46 pm

Instinctive rather than informed reaction: is there not a danger that the rise of the populist nationalists – and not only in former Communist countries – is in part the result of the decay of civil society as much as it’s a reaction against it?

9

Jacob T Levy 02.01.17 at 7:03 pm

“there is nothing in Gellner that is more than slightly uncongenial e.g. to the people who are associated with the Niskanen Center”

Indeed, and I’ve admired Gellner since I first encountered him in grad school. But I’ve also been critical of him on just the point your raise, both in Rationalism Pluralism & Freedom and in an essay on “Pluralism Without Privilege.” I think he underemphasizes how much vibrant, and oppositional, civil society depends on affective group membership, and overemphasizes how much “modular man” leaves such memberships behind.

10

Matt 02.01.17 at 8:17 pm

“A moral order, by contrast [to civil society], is comforting.” It gives people a sense that they know what the order of society is, even if they don’t always agree with it, and perhaps even if they don’t internalize its values at all. From this perspective, what Trump’s (and Orban’s, and Kaczynski’s, and Erdogan’s) politics purports to offer is not simply an economic restoration for those who think that they have been screwed by the bloodless cosmopolitans. It’s a moral restoration, of an order in which everyone knows, or ought to know, where they belong. This also perhaps explains the intuition behind the otherwise protean term ‘elite’ in populist discourse. Someone is an elite not because (or not simply because) they are doing better than you in economic terms. They are an elite because their pluralist system of values is not only doing better than the moral universe that you hold to be fundamental, but overwhelming it.

Is this longing for comforting hierarchies concentrated among older people, or crossing age groups? I’ve seen a depressing number of Trump Youth lately but random social media encounters are not a good approximation to actual statistics. If it’s mostly older people then I can somewhat still hope that it’ll get better as older voters die off and even gerrymandering can’t offset their declining numbers, so long as their rage fits don’t bring about World War III first.

11

Scott P. 02.01.17 at 8:31 pm

“Civil society is a faith without foundations, a faith that believes that there are no foundations in any absolute sense, and hence it is a faith composed of a mixture of attachments and ironies (non credo, quia absurdum est). “

I would disagree with this. I think such a foundation exists, in the principles of the Enlightenment. I realize the Enlightenment has acquired many enemies on both the left and right, but I think it provides the best starting point for a moral foundation of a civil society that does not depend on nationalism, ethnicity or religion.

12

engels 02.01.17 at 8:33 pm

there’s a strong libertarian case for the value of #BLM. The detestation of many libertarians for the cause is less grounded in political principle than in their own peculiar identity politics

Also, the Christian Right should all be communists because Jesus.

13

Sumana Harihareswara 02.01.17 at 8:55 pm

Seconding the thank-you, and looking forward to more installments.

14

Ronan(rf) 02.01.17 at 9:33 pm

“Is this longing for comforting hierarchies concentrated among older people, or crossing age groups?

It’s crossing all age groups, and afaicr (at least in Europe) young, men with less educational attainment are overrepresented. I don’t have a reference at the minute but I’ll try dig one up.

15

engels 02.01.17 at 9:56 pm

(How could it be that wealthy, white, male adherents of an American ideology that venerates guns, property and exploitative labour relations, and hates redistribution of wealth or income, are not sympathetic to movements that aim to liberate black Americans from white oppression? It makes no logical sense.)

16

Michael 02.01.17 at 10:22 pm

It’s hard to miss a strain in Trump himself, but also in Bannon, of resentment of high culture — enduringly cultivated thought and art — in all its forms. In Trump perhaps because he has always been an outsider in that world, which has despised him. In Bannon perhaps because of the alien ambiguities, ironies and complexities that go with long cultivation in traditions which open themselves to change and development in a wider world. But in any case we have reached a point at which it is not just subscribing to quality journalism, but even patronizing serious art, becomes a source, a bare seed, of resistance to what looks like textbook fascism taking shape. Shared arts and shared thought can offer an identity, and a significant one, against their now so vocal opposition. Orwell’s 1984 is evidently finding masses of new readers, all of whom will then be able to share that reference when, as they/we must, meet to plan, to march, to organize.

17

Matt 02.01.17 at 10:47 pm

I’ve seen a depressing number of Trump Youth lately but random social media encounters are not a good approximation to actual statistics.

I live in Russia during Putin’s rise to power, and was teaching at a university there during his first election. I was really surprised and dismayed at the number of young people I met – including university students – who supported him, and thought that democracy was a sham, that what they needed was a strong, decisive leader. The situations are not fully comparable, but I would no longer be surprised if there are a non-trivial number of younger Trump supporters in certain demographics and areas.

18

engels 02.01.17 at 10:52 pm

“Is this longing for comforting hierarchies concentrated among older people, or crossing age groups?” It’s crossing all age groups

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Trump+brexit+voters+old+young

19

Mario 02.01.17 at 11:24 pm

I don’t know why Orwell’s 1984 is so popular right now, as its depicted reality is pretty far off from the current situation, in many, many ways.

Orwell’s review of Mein Kampf seems more interesting (and revealing) to me.

20

Ronan(rf) 02.02.17 at 12:06 am

Engels, Matt didnt specify it to Trump/brexit. The context was support for the far right (the clipped part specifically references Orban)
Here is some polling on youth support for Le Pen

https://twitter.com/EuropeElects/status/826847042186121217

Here’s some research that shows youth support is stronger in specific parts of Europe (ie in Eastern Europe it’s stronger than in the Nordic countries)

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-954X.12268/abstract

There’s also evidence that certain groups of young Muslims in western countries are becoming more radical than their parents. This isnt surprising, since historically angry young men are a demographic known to become involved in anti system politics (also maps on to a lot of those who joined radical movements in the Middle East post Arab Spring)
Bear in mind also that the young who voted in Brexit were disproportionately wealthier and more educated (and had obvious class interests for wanting to maintain in Europe)

21

Ronan(rf) 02.02.17 at 12:11 am

Politico so take with a grain of salt, (Ill stop on this topic after this)

http://www.politico.eu/article/why-central-europes-youth-roll-right-voting-politics-visegard/

“Across Central Europe, young voters are moving further right on the political spectrum than their elders, with many expressing disenchantment with the European Union.

In Hungary, the far-right and Euroskeptic Jobbik party is a distant second to the ruling Fidesz when it comes to the overall population. However, Jobbik is the most popular party among university students, according to a 2015 poll.”

22

Lee A. Arnold 02.02.17 at 1:02 am

Basic need of society is to know that you can fit in, can find a job, are not taken advantage of, etc. To find placement in the material world, vis-a-vis all others.

Pre-modern society “guaranteed” this by obedience to authority in a top-down hierarchy emanating from the Absolute (god) at the top, down through royalty to the artisans and plebes. Everyone had a place.

Modern individualist liberalism replaced this with democratic government, framed by poetic speeches about virtue and the public good. But what actually guaranteed your material placement in the world was now quite different: a quite mechanical logic, the “market economic system”. And when that (rather soon) began failing to give a material place to everybody, social distrust began to grow.

The unfortunate “sacralizing” (surely the wrong word!) of ambiguity and irony cannot heal that wound. In fact it makes it worse, which is why the left is singularly unable to address the present crisis: because irony is their predominant trope of critical discourse.

Instead, most people want something quite different. They want to know how to trust a system. So they turn to populism, fascism (which never existed before the rise of the market system): the tropes aren’t working, they need a human embodiment of central decisiveness, you will know him because he smashes all language.

23

Lee A. Arnold 02.02.17 at 1:18 am

I think it follows that the only “political tools and conditions that allow [civil society] to exercise its strength” at this time are a genuinely new economic theory (as I argued from Keynes and Schumpeter in a comment under John Quiggin’s post, it is really a “satiety theory”) with public oratory to explain it.

24

Mike Furlan 02.02.17 at 3:40 am

“The detestation of many libertarians for the cause is less grounded in political principle than in their own peculiar identity politics.”

You are kind. For example I’ve yet to meet a Libertarian who didn’t think that any tax on a White man is a far greater crime than American slavery was for the Black man. Hence Lincoln was one of histories greatest monsters because he introduced the horror of the income tax to our shores.

And in contrast to engels, even the broke libertarians I met think this.

25

William Berry 02.02.17 at 5:16 am

@Lee Arnold:

” . . . the left is singularly unable to address the present crisis: because irony is their predominant trope of critical discourse.”

Except for that irony is a mode of discourse and not a mere “trope”, that’s a Purdy good analysis.

26

William Berry 02.02.17 at 5:43 am

Well, hell, screwed up ny own dumb joke.

Should be something like “downright Purdy analysis”, or whatever.

It is way past my bedtime.

Anyway, very interesting OP and discussion.

27

Pavel 02.02.17 at 6:32 am

Unfortunately, in its pursuit of the pluralistic society, the left often forgets to indoctrinate into its youth the relatively narrow set of basic values required to actually support a plurality of opinions. It’s the ultimate contradiction. I hope we’ll all still have time to resolve it.

Also, Libertarianism these days is a mishmash of gambler’s mentality and faith. A poor Libertarian often doesn’t realize that s/he has more to gain through some form of wealth redistribution than through the self-satisfaction of supporting the invisible hand. If a poor Libertarian were to support social assistance, they then might miss the opportunity to become wealthy within the Capitalist system someday. This is an opportunity they believe they will invariably exploit successfully, given that they are by far more rational than and superior to some sort of grubby moocher.

28

engels 02.02.17 at 7:43 am

Ronan, I don’t think you can just assume that the Far Right in Hungary etc should be lumped in with Britain and Trump, although they’re clearly in sympathy on a lot of points. The age skew seems noteworthy in the latter cases.

29

engels 02.02.17 at 8:00 am

in contrast to engels, even the broke libertarians I met think this.

Fwiw I don’t disagree (not sure why anyone would think I would..)

30

Sue 02.02.17 at 10:20 am

Regarding the very rational and sensible ideas and principles promoted by the Enlightenment the book by Neil Postman titled Building A Bridge To the 18th Century is a good read.
On the other hand he also pointed out that we quite literally amusing ourselves to death – the proof of the pudding being the “reality” TV star who is now the President.

Regarding TV I read a lot of essays re the state of the world in the 21st century by both secular scholars and back-to-the-past religious “traditionalists”.
Surprisingly very few of them mention the role/function of TV which is now easily THE dominant cultural formative influence, or more correctly, brain-washing vehicle in today’s world . We have all becoming quite literally en-tranced by its flickering light and images. And of course the influence of I-phones and similar computer devices is even more pernicious.
Nomophobia is now apparently quite common. Young persons go into existential panic is they lose access to their phone. Their entire identity and network of “relationships” is centered on their phone (phoney) persona. They also suffer from a what-if-I-am missing-out syndrome which compels them to check out their messages every few minutes or so, and “sleep” with under or next to their pillows.
That TV created “culture” now rules the world and it is fundamentally indifferent to, and even hostile towards the well-being of both human beings, all other living beings and the planetary eco-systems

31

Phil 02.02.17 at 11:15 am

On the point about ex-Communist countries and (the absence or failure of) civil society: in 1987 (at the END Convention in Coventry) I met some Polish dissidents, who argued that civil society was precisely what they did have. Their argument was that the horizons of Western activists were “state-bound”, in terms both of campaigning and of individual careers – however oppositional your stance, if you kept it up long enough there was always the chance of that invitation to Chatham House, that nomination to an inquiry panel, maybe a peerage… In the Eastern Bloc nations, state channels were closed off, so their activism was “civil society-bound” – which gave it strengths as well as weaknesses.

What I took from this was that the civil society-bound perspective was something we in the West could do with reviving, if only as a complement to the state-bound perspective made possible by democratic* institutions. Sounds like they lost it in Poland as well – to the extent that it was a reality in Polish society, and not only in a highly politicised dissident milieu – once there was a state there whose recognition people could aspire to.

The revival of populist nationalism – filling, or rather flooding, the space where civil society-bound politics could have been built – is something else we didn’t see coming. Although it’s not as if we weren’t warned – the Memorandum affair had broken in Serbia the previous year. I remember discussing it with people in Coventry, but only in semi-jokey terms (looks like the Serbs are going a bit bonkers… they always did have a bit of a thing about… but this, dear me…). At least now we’ve learnt not to underestimate nationalists.

*Defining the sense in which Chatham House, government inquiries and the House of Lords represent the workings of democracy is left as an exercise for the reader. Perhaps we need another word – permeable oligarchy?

32

Lee A. Arnold 02.02.17 at 12:13 pm

William Berry #25: “irony is a mode of discourse and not a mere ‘trope'”

I think it is technically both, but thank you, I take your point. I haven’t read Purdy. I think the widespread growth of ironic mode was first seen by the surrealists in the 1920’s, or perhaps Benjamin or Adorno. Maybe someone here knows who wrote about it, first.

33

William Timberman 02.02.17 at 2:46 pm

The Archdruid also thinks that rootless cosmopolitans always lose. His particular justification is Spengler, which suits a Druid contrarian, I suppose. In any case, he seems to be a more interesting guy to argue with than, say, Matt Yglesias, or Brad DeLong.

Myself, I’m still a fan of the Enlightenment, battered though it may be at this late date. Watching Trump the Magnificent trying to rule by decree, or his followers come to the conclusion that wearing a gun makes you free, and joining a union enslaves you, I’m tempted to believe that irony is the best policy after all.

34

Pavel 02.02.17 at 4:49 pm

@William Timberman

Irony is not the means to impress your value system upon the young or convince those outside of the cosmopolitan mindset to consider your position. It only functions if the value system is already in place or if you can appeal to some shared reality (or definitions) against which the unreality of some opinion is made starker by irony. If one already defines guns = freedom|unions = slavery|war = peace, the inherent irony of each of these definitions is not going to manifest itself no matter how many times you make a clever quip.

The Enlightenment needs defenders again. Too bad we discarded the Whigs.

35

William Timberman 02.02.17 at 6:16 pm

Pavel @ 34

I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but altering other people’s convictions is an arcane process, the more so since to a greater or lesser degree, it requires their collusion, the extent and character of which is usually opaque to what we’re pleased to call our sociology. Sometimes irony will do the trick, at other times it takes the violent death of a significant number of their relatives and compatriots.

As for potential defenders of the Enlightenment, aren’t we in fact surrounded by them here? And isn’t the governing principle of discourse in this bastion of the defense from each according to his ability, to each according to his need? That’s not enough, though, is it? Knowing which is which is the real art, the political art which makes all the rest of our Enlightenment desiderata achievable. As a brief history of the Whigs will tell you, mastery of that art is volatile at best. Sometimes you’ve got it, and sometimes not.

36

Jake Gibson 02.02.17 at 6:37 pm

Christians would be commies if Marx had not been an atheist. Religions have been happy to cozy up to authoritarians as long as they were given their due. What is heaven other than a perfect Communist dictatorship.

37

engels 02.02.17 at 7:56 pm

A place where nothing ever happens?

38

nastywoman 02.02.17 at 8:03 pm

‘Over the next while, I want to write a bunch of posts looking at the Trump administration – and the worldwide surge of right wing populism more generally’

Looking very much forward to any posts about the worldwide surge of right wing populism but somehow not so much about posts ‘looking at the Trump administration’ as I have come to the conclusion it actually has very little to do with any type of (serious) socio- or mainly ‘political’ movements.

I also thought so in the beginning and even saw ‘connections’ to Right Wing and (Neo) Fascistic Movements in Europe – but Neo Fascistic movements in Europe have very little interest in their TV ratings -(which is the most important ‘rating’ for the Trump administration) – and so we had to come to the conclusion that the so called Trump Administration is more or less a very unpolitical movement – where somehow the hugest a…hole a F…face of ‘greatest’ proportions has managed to get so many a…holes together that it is has become ‘the greatest cult of a…holes’ – anybody in the World has EVER created.
And there is NO way for the LePens in France or the Petry’s in Germany – ever to be related to such… such… ‘Greatness’!

Sorry!

39

A H 02.02.17 at 9:31 pm

If centrist liberal civil society insists in meritocracy along with pluralism, populism and nationalism are rational responses. Why have Cosmopolitan liberals have been pushing austerity since 2008 despite it’s obvious failings? If elite members of your society are telling you that bowing to international competitiveness means accepting lower wages then banding together in identity groups makes sense.

The liberal center and populists actually share similar neoliberal assumptions about the world. They simply disagree on the proper nature of competition. Liberal centrists believe that a meritocratic international elite should get the spoils, while populists believe that identity groups should compete directly with each other.

EZ economic policy has been the single biggest economic disaster since the great depression, yet liberal centrists are still believe that an austerian like Macron winning over Le Pen is somehow a victory.

Before fighting back against right wing populism, those who consider themselves members of civil society need to figure out why it has been so wrong on economic issues for a decade despite the obvious evidence.

40

Dwight Cramer 02.02.17 at 9:59 pm

Might I politely suggest that you consider two constructs that are somewhat foreign to modern liberal political thought–the dialectic and the Party.

There is a dialectic and in this situation you can actually observe an unfolding of it, perhaps more easily internationally than domestically. Pick a fight with Australia, and that country will hedge its bets, looking to China, just as after WW2, without abandoning the Commonwealth, it turned towards the United States. Pick a fight with Mexico, every country in Latin America feels threatened and a number of them remember (not fondly) Pinochet, the Dirty War and the Tupamaros (just to stick to the cone of South America at the other end of Latin America).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can’t, sitting here, anticipate how this will all unfold because enough cards haven’t turned over yet. And that begs the whole question of whether you are trying to understand, or merely influence, the situation.

The Party, of course, doesn’t exist, and I only bring it up because in my opinion Civil Society is no substitute for (and may even be inconsistent with) a mechanism for expressing political force. I think ‘Civil Society’ is a shape shifting descriptor colored by a bias that need not be named (at least when used by Progressives, I’m pretty sure Bannon had something else in mind). To expect ‘Civil Society’ to ‘Do Something,’ may be a step (or a Women’s March) along the way, but it isn’t going to get you there.

41

J-D 02.02.17 at 11:27 pm

A H

If elite members of your society are telling you that bowing to international competitiveness means accepting lower wages then banding together in identity groups makes sense.

No, it doesn’t. It’s a blunder. If elite members of your society are telling you that bowing to international competitiveness means accepting lower wages then the responses that make sense are solidarity and banding together in unions.
(I suppose you might define ‘identity groups’ in a way that makes ‘banding together in unions’ a more specific sub-category of ‘banding together in identity groups’, but the specificity is important.)

42

CarlD 02.03.17 at 12:00 am

My dad used to talk about being a radically undersized and underathletic offensive guard on the high school football team. He said the key is to move your feet. Wittgenstein said the same thing.

43

M Caswell 02.03.17 at 1:28 am

“I suppose you might define ‘identity groups’ in a way that makes ‘banding together in unions’ a more specific sub-category of ‘banding together in identity groups’, but the specificity is important.”

Especially since the logic of union organization tends towards the broadest feasible solidarity.

44

J-D 02.03.17 at 1:47 am

Dwight Cramer

Might I politely suggest that you consider two constructs that are somewhat foreign to modern liberal political thought–the dialectic and the Party.

There is a dialectic and in this situation you can actually observe an unfolding of it, perhaps more easily internationally than domestically.

Might I equally politely suggest that I have never encountered any helpful dialectic-invoking explanation that could not be made clearer by rephrasing it without invocation of the dialectic?

45

Ebenezer Scrooge 02.03.17 at 2:36 am

The Enlightenment does induce a feeling of rootless cosmopolitanism, even in its devotees. We’re all monkeys, and we all need a tribe. There’s an antidote for this: cabined irrationalism. I recommend being a sports fan: satisfying tribalism, on tap. It’s completely arbitrary, and very satisfactory. It admits both irony and introspection. My group of millionaire musclemen is morally superior to yours!

46

A H 02.03.17 at 3:34 am

“No, it doesn’t. It’s a blunder. If elite members of your society are telling you that bowing to international competitiveness means accepting lower wages then the responses that make sense are solidarity and banding together in unions.”

I personally agree that it doesn’t make sense. But taking neo-liberal assumptions about how the world works as given, then it makes sense for those below average to look for an identity group. I wanted to push back on the argument in the post that the left and liberals have a common project. If you look at basic assumptions about how the world work, the liberals and the nationalists are much closer.

47

Pavel 02.03.17 at 6:31 am

@M Caswell
“Especially since the logic of union organization tends towards the broadest feasible solidarity.”

This isn’t actually reflected by the history of unions in the US (or the UK, or Japan or many other industrialized economies). To a certain extent, pining for “good jobs” is just wishing for the union jobs of the 60’s and 70’s, and the largely white, male cultures that they represented. There is nothing inherent in that economic/power structure which leads it inevitably to a greater form of social diversity. Unions changing their policies today is reflective of shifts in the modern mindset.

48

Chet Murthy 02.03.17 at 7:14 am

A H:

Two things jump out immediately:

If centrist liberal civil society insists in meritocracy along with pluralism, populism and nationalism are rational responses. Why have Cosmopolitan liberals have been pushing austerity since 2008 despite it’s obvious failings? If elite members of your society are telling you that bowing to international competitiveness means accepting lower wages then banding together in identity groups makes sense.

So many people make the mistake of conflating “rich” with “elite”. Or even “interviewed in the media” with “elite”. Where of course, “elite” is taken to mean “the elite intelligensia of our society”. But in faact, the rich, their lackeys (wall street, the econ hacks who service them, etc) are all …. corrupt and morons, by and large. The *actual* intelligensia, at least, from what I’ve seen, by and large were and are alarmed by rising inequality, plummeting social mobility, and we sure don’t believe that just because Johnny (with the private school and the test prep) got high SAT scores, that doesn’t mean he’s -smarter- than Juan who goes to a public school in a poor part of town.

[Oh, guess what? Back in the day, when it was Wilmer in the sticks, Wilmer was given a break. Wilmer coudl be -less- accomplished than Jake-the-New-Yorker, and still get coveted fellowships. How do I know? B/c that’s why I got an NSF fellowship to grad school, I learned many years later — b/c I grew up in a small Texas town, and there was a policy of affirmative action for those rednecks. Gosh, nobody ever complained about that.]

(2)

But taking neo-liberal assumptions about how the world works as given

Again, who’s taking these assumptions as given? Paul Krugman isn’t. Brad Delong isn’t. Who is? Oh, I see! Greg Mankiw, with “yeah, that wall street trader -earned- his fat bonus”!! Dude, that’s not meritocracy. That’s the robber-baron’s sycophant, trying to ensure he gets his next paycheck.

“Cosmopolitan liberals” have been arguing for trade union protections, both in the US, and in the global supply chain, for decades. Read the works of Erik Loomis, for example.

In short, don’t blame liberals. Blame rich fatcats who buy respectability with their ill-gotten gains.

And vote for steep progressive taxation! Including wealth taxes.

49

Chet Murthy 02.03.17 at 7:17 am

Oops,

s/that doesn’t mean/means/

50

js. 02.03.17 at 8:17 am

This is brilliant. Thank you.

51

Layman 02.03.17 at 11:40 am

A H: “Why have Cosmopolitan liberals have been pushing austerity since 2008 despite it’s obvious failings?”

Which Cosmopolitan liberals have been pushing austerity?

“If you look at basic assumptions about how the world work, the liberals and the nationalists are much closer.”

Who are these liberals, and how are they much closer to the nationalists than to the left?

52

Faustusnotes 02.03.17 at 12:10 pm

It’s complete bullshit that irony is destroying the ability of the left to understand and fight these thugs. We have irony because the media have failed us and we need to go to comedians for any insight into what is happening. John Stewart made this point in his famous interview with those two dickheads on CNN: he wouldn’t even have a job if they would do theirs. This isn’t about generational differences or weak millennials: the us is not a democracy and the rich have taken over the most powerful country on earth. It’s also got nothing to do with trump being a reality tv Star: he’s a fascist real estate agent who got lucky, won a primary against piss poor opposition and lucked out in the general election to win a racist non democratic system by a bee’s dick, and he wouldn’t have done that if the posturing far left dickheads hadn’t widely spread the idea that he and Clinton are equivalent. His reality tv history, the “celebritization” of American “culture” and “identity politics ” have nothing to do with the fact that he was born lucky, ran lucky, and won with luck (and a helpful boost from a bunch of old white mostly male marxists who haven’t got a fucking clue).

You can analyze cultural shit about ironic bearded hipsters all you want but the reality is that America is not a democracy and the armed racist lunatics have a stranglehold on a broken system. The Berniebros and brocialists want to pretend there is some deeper malaise that can only be solved by revolution but they wouldn’t stand a chance against the Timothy mcveighs and turner diarists of the right. The only choice is to thoroughly discredit the thugs and racists of the republican revanche and since neither the media nor the far left give a fuck, the task was left to john Stewart and That Oliver bloke. With a couple of nerdy comedians as your sole bulwark against fascism of course you failed, and now the rest of us have to wear the shit your failure has splattered everywhere.

So don’t blame Hollywood, irony, millennials, reality tv or identity politics. This shit is serious, not some stupid first year student political meeting.

53

M Caswell 02.03.17 at 1:32 pm

“This isn’t actually reflected by the history of unions in the US (or the UK, or Japan or many other industrialized economies). To a certain extent, pining for “good jobs” is just wishing for the union jobs of the 60’s and 70’s, and the largely white, male cultures that they represented. “

Merely pining for “good [manufacturing] jobs” has almost nothing to do with the labor movement (cf Donald Trump). Ask a United Steelworkers member today if they’d ever cross an SEIU picket line. The UAW, to take an another example, simply wasn’t a “largely white” culture in the 60’s and 70’s.The logic of solidarity is pretty compelling, even if are plenty of historical deviations from it.

54

bob mcmanus 02.03.17 at 1:45 pm

52: Golly, you make your popular front so attractive and inviting.

55

Mike Furlan 02.03.17 at 2:30 pm

“It’s complete bullshit that irony is destroying the ability of the left to understand and fight these thugs.”

Jon Stewart, “Cobert” and “that Oliver Bloke” are there to make sure that we don’t figure out how to fight these thugs. They make some good joke, but the main message is “what are you gonna do?”

Their fight begins and ends when you turn on the tube. If they ever offered a idea dangerous to the 1%, they would be pulled off the air immediately.

Don’t forget Phil Donahue had the top rated show at MSNBC, but was fired when he came out against the Iraq war.

Forget the media, the plug in drug. Get out and march, boycott, write, call, confront your elected officials.

56

engels 02.03.17 at 2:43 pm

Who are these liberals, and how are they much closer to the nationalists than to the left?

Given the post explicitly argued for breaking with the ‘strong state’ (read communist) left in favour of alliances with people like Tyler Cowen and George Soros, and it was only a few comments before the likes of FaustusNotes showed up to start ranting about ‘far left dickheads’ I don’t think you have very far to look….

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Lee A. Arnold 02.03.17 at 3:14 pm

Faustusnotes #52: “It’s complete bullshit that irony is destroying the ability of the left to understand and fight these thugs.”

Nor did anyone claim that. But irony is opposite to the necessary popular communication to stop their ascension to power. Irony is insider stuff, between people already “in the know”.

Now that thuggier thugs are in power, the game changes, because their contradictions become more evident to all. So the thugs become easier to fight in one way, but in another way much, much harder. And on their way out, they will do much damage to the lives of the young and the innocent.

You also write, “We have irony because the media have failed us,” but this is historically incorrect. Irony began in social criticism perhaps with Nietzsche and certainly in Marx. But it grew in the discourses of criticism — discourses produced by both left and right. So much so that by the turn of the 20th Century, irony was identified as one of the conditions of modernism.

Irony’s co-conspirator in mental abdication, Pessimism, began to inhere with horror of the Great War.

Paul Valery’s remarkable little essay “The Crisis in the Mind” (1919) rings a lot of the notes, from inequality to scientific delirium madness (a phrase from the The Byrds).

58

casmilus 02.03.17 at 3:40 pm

A few years ago I thought James Burnham-according-to-Orwell was accurate (and it was the basis of “Goldstein’s Book” in “1984), but maybe not so much now.

http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/burnham/english/e_burnh.html

“Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of ‘managers’. These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organise society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.”

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A H 02.03.17 at 5:25 pm

If you don’t think liberals have been pushing for austerity I really don’t know what to say. The revealed preferences of the liberal ruling class are pretty obvious over the past decade. Left liberals like Delong and Krugman are a minor dissenting faction, and they have been steadily losing influence. After the french election, the biggest country headed by a left liberal will be Canada!

Re-reading the OP, I would refine my point.

“Yet Gellner’s argument also points to the potential weaknesses of any such movement. If Gellner is right, civil society goes together with an ambiguous, even ironic attitude towards specific identities (they are of value, but no single one should be allowed to become overwhelming). Civil society is a faith without foundations, a faith that believes that there are no foundations in any absolute sense, and hence it is a faith composed of a mixture of attachments and ironies (non credo, quia absurdum est).”

The problem is that the liberal center has real old fashioned faith in neoliberalism, even in the face of harsh empirical tests. So I am sceptical if the left and liberals actually have a working Gellnerian civil society.

An example of the cooperation between the western liberal order and nationalism has been it’s ability to accommodate the rise of China. What is more likely than alliance of the left and liberals, is right liberals striking deals with right populists so that the liberals are able to control investments and transnational capital while allowing the populists to have distributional privileges locally.

60

JoB 02.03.17 at 5:29 pm

“the worldwide surge of right wing populism more generally”

In Belgium (Flanders) that surge started in 1991 (Black Sunday). I don’t know whether it was the world’s first but it certainly was early. Despite all of the uproar it caused, there is no chance the extreme right party could get to power. The Trump trick seemed to consist in taking over the organized “normal” right. You never know but it is less likely that some extreme right party gets power in Europe than that a regular right party is taken over by a Trump-clone. One could argue that that is what already happened in Hungary. To me it’s certainly a bigger risk that ‘acceptable’ politicians surf the Trump wave than that a Le Pen wins the election (but fortunately Fillon seems out of the way). They have the option to be keeping a (small) distance from Trump and meanwhile keeping their common rhetoric of “Enlightenment defenders” (in Western Europe that’s the tradition abused to rationalize a basic drive to not share anything with anybody).

61

A H 02.03.17 at 5:30 pm

I mean Eric Loomis is a leftist, not a liberal!

Take Emmanuel Macron is the uber cosmopolitan liberal if you need an example.

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engels 02.03.17 at 5:50 pm

“But taking neo-liberal assumptions about how the world works as given” Again, who’s taking these assumptions as given? Paul Krugman isn’t. Brad Delong isn’t. Who is?

“Princoples of Neoliberalism” by Brad Delong
“Time to fly my neoliberal freak flag again!” by J. Bradford Delong

63

nastywoman 02.03.17 at 6:33 pm

@52
A few notes:
Firstly about ‘Irony’. We have Irony because America always was ‘THE homeland of Irony’ – and there is even this theory that Trump finally (seriously) ran for President because he got such a great Irony Treatment by Obama.
And about ‘Comedians’ – WE always needed to go to comedians -(or humor) for any insight into what is happening – and about ‘democracy’ – YES we still have aa democracy proven by the fact that a complete F…face von Clownstick can be erected to be President.
And about ‘the helpful boost from a bunch of old white mostly male marxists who haven’t got a fucking clue’ – and I can’t stand Glenn Greenwald either but isn’t that even more proof of a real democracy ‘if a bunch of old white mostly male marxists who haven’t got a fucking clue’ -(or the cult of A…holery) – could have been the tiny fingers on the scale.

So you can analyze ‘political’ -(or cultural?) shit about all you want but the reality is that America is a democracy and the armed racist lunatics -(who are compared to the Hipsters of California and NY) – are helplessly in the minority will slowly ALL die out – as they are much much older than any surfer I know – so please YOU don’t blame Hollywood, irony, or millennials for the current boom in Irony.

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nastywoman 02.03.17 at 6:50 pm

– and about the ‘greatest’ current boom in Irony – there are very serious people in this country who get nearly ALL of their (political, cultural and philosophical insight) from Comedians as ‘Non-Comedians’ seem to be so disappointingly less ‘insightful’ – and as one of the most powerful ‘complexes’ in the US – the ‘entertainment complex’ -(and comedy) born F…face von Clownstick – it is only logical that he should die by by comedy.

65

Chet Murthy 02.03.17 at 7:33 pm

A H@:

Loomis is indeed to the left of much of the Democratic Party. It’s interesting then, isn’t it, that he has been as vociferous as anybody, in supporting Hillary Clinton against Trump, yes? It’s almost like he can walk and chew gum at the same time — oppose the centrist sellouts and still understand that they’re better than fascism?

But more seriously, these distinctions are false. There is a wide spectrum of belief on the left-of-center, and for most of them, they unite around one thing: opposing the rights of property and privilege. And then, it turns out, “populism” on the right-of-center, is all about -supporting- the rights of property and privilege, all beneath a false banner of “the poorest white man can still be proud that he’s beter than the richest black man”.

But back to Henry’s subject. I’m no social scientist. Just a poor type theorist and systems hacker. And I must confess that a lot of the academic discussion was above my head (or maybe I didn’t try hard enough to understand, which is on me). But I read Steve Bannon’s quote about Asian Americans, and I thought: “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind”. Yeah, I’m betting that (East and South) Asians have been less involved in local politics than other minorities in America. I’m also betting: “no longer”. Our black and Hispanic (not to mention LGBT) brothers and sisters have been carrying this thing a long time, and I’m glad Steve reminded me of this — that I need to step up and lend my shoulder.

66

Chet Murthy 02.03.17 at 7:42 pm

A H: I didn’t address the second sentence of your comment. I don’t know Emmanuel Macron. So I’d like to substitute “any random DLC hack”. I think it’s fair that they have a lot to answer for. OTOH, at time the DLC was founded, it *seemed* (I was young, so don’t know if that was accurate, but it sure seemed) like the Dems had to move right, or die. Move right or die. So they did. And now they’re moving left. And lots and lots of leftists are still Dems, still vote for left-centrist pols, AND can believe that the DLC is all hacks, all the way down. All the way down.

I think a political scientist at LG&M said something like “you get the leaders you deserve; don’t look to your leaders to stake out positions to the left of their constituency — force them to do so”. Someone also pointed out that Secy Clinton’s platform was significantly to the left of Pres Clinton’s. B/c times have changed.

I myself feel that it’s both deplorable and understandable that Dems moved right, and that Dems like Feinstein are still far more conservative than I can stand. After all, if there isn’t a really, strong and vibrant, loud and strident constituency like the Tea Party, threatening them continually from the left, then the normal gears of government (that the rich have the time and money to get heard) will bias what our elected officials hear.

Last thing: which doesn’t mean that I don’t get livid at people like Mankiw and some of the freshwater economists. (Maybe I’m defaming him, but) Fama comes to mind (maybe unfairly, but I’m sure I could compile a list if I tried). There are lots of well-fed academics and pundits who are right-wing lickspittles. And lots of them even pretend to be liberal. Heck, the R party pretends they’re the party of protecting black Americans.

Sayin’ a thing don’t make it so. That somebody claims they’re liberal, don’t make it so. And $100m will buy you a member of the elite, with change left over for a double espresso at Starbucks.

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engels 02.03.17 at 10:08 pm

It’s interesting then, isn’t it, that he has been as vociferous as anybody, in supporting Hillary Clinton against Trump, yes

Not really—the whole point of that kind of party intellectual is to cajole people with Left-wing sympathies to fall into line behind the leadership so they can sell them out all over again. Unfortunately this time it didn’t really work.

68

Chet Murthy 02.04.17 at 12:29 am

engels:

Not really—the whole point of that kind of party intellectual is to cajole people with Left-wing sympathies to fall into line behind the leadership so they can sell them out all over again.

I’m sorry, I don’t get you. How would Loomis’ encouraging people to vote for Clinton over Trump in the general election be what you describe above? Do you believe Clinton was objectively close enough to Trump (or worse ;-) ?? I can understand that in the primary, it’s a different story. But then, lots of left-wing intellectuals were staunch Bernie supporters UNTIL he lost, and then became staunch Clinton supporters, and were clear that sure, they’d have preferred Bernie, but … “compared to Trump? Really? You have to ask?”

So …. how is it, that (people like) Loomis were planning to sell out these supporters via getting them to vote for Clinton? I really want to know and understand.

69

RichardM 02.04.17 at 12:50 am

> I recommend being a sports fan: satisfying tribalism, on tap.

I kind of suspect the fact that the US is massively under-supplied with sports teams (i.e. multiple cities of several million with no teams that play at a national level) probably explains about 30% of Trumpism.

70

Mike Furlan 02.04.17 at 1:16 am

“I kind of suspect the fact that the US is massively under-supplied with sports teams .”

Understatement of the year so far.

736 teams were in this years FA Cup tournament. The US population is 5 times bigger than England. Why don’t we have 3500 legitimate Baseball, or Football, or Basketball teams?

71

engels 02.04.17 at 1:32 am

How would Loomis’ encouraging people to vote for Clinton over Trump in the general election be what you describe above?

It wouldn’t necessarily (I think voting for Clinton was the smart thing for any decent person up do in a marginal seat). I just don’t think Loomis and LGM are especially left-wing—they mostly seem like Democratic wonks-in-waiting from what I’ve read, which is admittedly not much so I could be completely wrong…)

72

engels 02.04.17 at 1:33 am

“Seat” meaning “district” of course!

73

kidneystones 02.04.17 at 5:02 am

To take this excellent OP from the abstract to the real, and because John’s OP on the ACLU is closed for comments, I wonder where defending those we disagree with most fits into a civic/civil society.

I have extremely liberal views regarding the rights of minorities to express views the majority find threatening, radical, and offensive. In Canada, for example, we (used to?) defend the rights of racists to publish all sorts of nonsense. I put the ‘bell curve,’ Andrew Sullivan, and Ernst Zundel in the same group. Ramsey Clark is a great hero of mine, not least for doing what he could to ensure a real monster received something like a fair trial. That form of courage seems to have all but evaporated from the US and the UK today.

So, I wonder whether all the folks who recently joined the ACLU and others who believe in free speech plan on defending Milo. So far all we’re seeing from the ACLU is silence, and ‘dressed like that, she was asking to be raped’ from the ‘liberal’ establishment.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2017/02/03/milo_yiannopoulos_mainstream_media_legitimizes_violence_against_conservatives.html

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engels 02.04.17 at 8:57 am

I wonder whether all the folks who recently joined the ACLU and others who believe in free speech plan on defending Milo

Data point: no

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Alex K. 02.04.17 at 10:09 am

It’s a moral restoration, of an order in which everyone knows, or ought to know, where they belong.

The day after this was posted, Orbán shared his vision of “human values” during (or after) a meeting with Putin:

The highest human value, in my opinion, is that man should know where his place is.

I’m not 100% sure I got it right – I came across this quote in a Slovak translation – hope Hungarian speakers will point out any errors.

76

J-D 02.04.17 at 10:22 am

kidneystones

So, I wonder whether all the folks who recently joined the ACLU and others who believe in free speech plan on defending Milo.

Defending him how?

77

Placeholder 02.04.17 at 1:39 pm

“So, I wonder whether all the folks who recently joined the ACLU and others who believe in free speech plan on defending Milo. So far all we’re seeing from the ACLU is silence, and ‘dressed like that, she was asking to be raped’ from the ‘liberal’ establishment.”

A Milo supporter shot someone at the last event. If you want the ACLU to ban protests now you’re going to have to troll a little harder than that.

78

Catchling 02.04.17 at 2:49 pm

J-D:

Defending him how?

I believe the background is that Milo canceled his Berkeley talk because of a percieved threat of violence. This is turn prompted Trump to threaten defunding Berkeley.

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Henry 02.04.17 at 8:10 pm

Several comments with personal abuse (or, more innocently, referring to those comments) have been removed. Those responsible for the abuse should consider themselves on warning.

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J-D 02.04.17 at 9:29 pm

Catchling

I am familiar with the background information you refer to. It doesn’t answer the question I posed to kidneystones , so I shall dilate to make my point clearer.

What I was getting at is that kidneystones had no valid substantive point and was (as so often before) merely engagiedin fatuous rhetorical posturing. What action was the ACLU being challenged to take in that comment? Sometimes the ACLU acts for defendants/respondents and sometimes for plaintiffs/petitioners. In this instance, it is impossible for the ACLU to act on behalf of Milo Yiannopoulos in a legal action brought against him because no legal action has been brought against him. It might be possible for the ACLU to act on behalf of Milo Yiannopoulos in a legal action brought by him or on his behalf, but against whom would such an action be brought? No action can be brought against UC Berkeley for trying to prevent him from speaking, because UC Berkeley did not try to prevent him from speaking. It is possible that some of the actions of the protesters were criminal and that they could be prosecuted for them. The ACLU has not in the past been involved in the institution of criminal prosecutions. If the meaning of kidneystones’s comment was ‘The ACLU should seek to have the protesters criminally prosecuted’, then that should have been clearly stated, along with an explanation of why kidneystones thinks it’s the responsibility of the ACLU to branch out into this entirely new area of activity that they’ve never been involved in before. But I don’t think that is what kidneystones meant. I don’t think kidneystones meant anything. I think ‘mean’ was exactly what kidneystones was not doing.

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engels 02.04.17 at 9:52 pm

dressed like that, she was asking to be raped

Actually more like: if you harass, threaten and racially abuse people to their faces then expect to get punched. Which is common sense, at least where I grew up, and nothing at all like rape apologia.

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Chet Murthy 02.04.17 at 10:47 pm

engels:

Data point: no

Thank you! ROFL! Humor in evil times is a balm.

P.S. re: LG&M, ok, I guess I can see where you’d come to your conclusion. I myself have read them pretty religiously for a decent number of years, and think (esp. Loomis) they’re liberal, and mostly decently-leftist. Perhaps what you see as “D wonks-in-waiting” is what I see as “just very careful about what they think is achievable”. Which I can see that some people would mistake for “not very into this fight, are you?” Would that be a fair way to put it?

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Chet Murthy 02.04.17 at 10:48 pm

Urk. Completely bollixed the end-tags. Wish I could edit.

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LFC 02.04.17 at 11:58 pm

engels @71

B.c the rhythm/norm of the LGM blog requires its posters to post frequently, a lot of the posts there are blockquotes from articles w/ a bit of interspersed commentary. On this understanding of the verb “to write,” Loomis writes a lot about labor issues, global and U.S., at LGM, and favors, inter alia, stronger measures to make corps accountable for, and/or penalize them and/or subject them to legal action, for substandard, exploitative working conditions (incl. child labor) in their global supply chains. I would not describe him as a ‘Democratic wonk-in-waiting’. While all the LGM front-page posters agree on certain things, each has distinctive interests and, to at least a certain extent, distinct politics, though that is not always in evidence, to be sure, and the differences may be mainly ones of emphasis. That, at least, is my impression. I don’t hang out there a lot like some of their regular commentariat, but I do periodically read or skim it, depending on time and other things.

85

Layman 02.05.17 at 2:19 am

“Those responsible for the abuse should consider themselves on warning.”

A comment of mine was deleted, but I don’t believe it contained any personal abuse. And, the comments to which it responded remain. I’m confused. Am I on warning?

86

engels 02.05.17 at 1:46 pm

Chet and LFC—fair enough. It was a snippy comment and I take it back. I really don’t know enough their politics to have an informed opinion.

87

Pavel 02.05.17 at 6:43 pm

@William Timberman (and others)

I agree that it’s inherently difficult to alter other people’s convictions, but we seem to have arrived at a point where we’ve willfully lost the art and science of doing so almost entirely (and I’m going to re-iterate that irony is no substitute). The eternal possibility of changing people’s convictions is a foundational justification for a pluralist society and probably one of the mechanism that preserves that political state. Earnest (and honest) engagement and discourse are a significant load-bearing column of the Enlightenment project and irony appears to be a disengagement from that process. While I highly respect and enjoy the work that say John Oliver is doing in using comedy to bring attention to a variety of issues, as others have said, irony only works on people who already share you world view. Laughing at inherent contradictions, which usually means laughing at the people holding those contradictions, is equivalent to shaming in that it won’t get anyone to change their minds.

In the toolbox of discourse, irony, satire and shaming have their place. But for every Voltaire, you also need a Huxley, a dogged proponent of your ideals who is willing to engage every misconception the other side has. Retreat into irony is basically ceding ground to anyone willing to earnestly argue their cause, no matter how ridiculous or riven with inconsistencies. Sadly, this seems to be a place that does more of the former than the latter from what I can tell.

88

Kiwanda 02.05.17 at 7:43 pm

Catchling:

I believe the background is that Milo canceled his Berkeley talk because of a percieved threat of violence. This is turn prompted Trump to threaten defunding Berkeley.

More than a threat. The university said the right things before and after the event. I don’t see anything for the ACLU to do. Apparently despite rocks and fireworks thrown and property damage, and a few injuries, there were no arrests and little use of force by police.

89

Helen 02.06.17 at 2:55 am

Pavel, as John Quiggin has pointed out before, you can spend years engaging every misconception the other side has, and people will still pop up with the same zombie arguments time after time after time. We need our Samantha Bees and Rosie O’Donnells to keep our sanity and energy.

90

nastywoman 02.06.17 at 5:29 am

@87
‘I agree that it’s inherently difficult to alter other people’s convictions, but we seem to have arrived at a point where we’ve willfully lost the art and science of doing so almost entirely (and I’m going to re-iterate that irony is no substitute).’

I completely disagree – as neither for Lady Gaga not for F…face von Clownstick it (is) – was difficult to alter other peoples conviction. These are times where some convictions can be altered by the minute – and the most hardened ones – the ‘political’ or ‘economical’ ones just by ‘losing’ or ‘winning’ some dough.

And please don’t tell US that Lady Gaga or F…face von Clownstick just picked up some pre-existing convictions – they for sure did – but what did Mugabe say yesterday to Trump: “You think you are a real dictator?”
– and when Trump didn’t know what to answer Mugabe told him:
“I will rip out your spine and drink from your skull! You cannot even walk down stairs, you little white b—-! Don’t you ever call Zimbabwe again!”

Now that’s the art and science of altering convictions in this century!

91

kidneystones 02.06.17 at 7:09 am

@88 The ACLU national and state organizations issue statements on a wide range of topics. Here is the link just for the 2016 statements from the ACLU in Louisiana.

https://www.laaclu.org/press/2016/index.htm

I mentioned Ramsey Clark earlier. I grew up with Ramparts, Frank Zappa and Lenny Bruce. Indeed, I recommend a little Frank to start academic presentations.

Were Frank alive I have no doubt he’d be vociferously anti-Trump. People forget, perhaps, that leading Democrats championed censoring rock lyrics so that young people’s ears wouldn’t be polluted. Both Clinton and Obama condemned gay marriage.

Violent protesters denying citizens the right to hear and read what they like should be opposed. However, in 2017 in the UK and America, the right and ‘left’ agree: free speech is too dangerous for a civic society. Times have changed.

Or have they?

92

Guy Harris 02.06.17 at 8:10 am

kidneystones:

It’s not an official statement from any ACLU organization, but a senior ACLU staff attorney was quoted:

Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, tells Broadly that, under Title IX of the US Constitution, universities “have a duty to ensure a safe environment for all students, regardless of sex or gender identity.” But that doesn’t include “policing the speech of every adult who visits campus.” According to Rowland, “when a visiting speaker chooses to use a speech to attack the identity of an audience member, he is the one who bears moral or legal responsibility for those words.” Trying to hold a university liable for that “would be a death knell for controversial speech on campus.”

(The context was a trans female student at University of Wisconsin personally attacked by Milo in a talk.)

93

J-D 02.06.17 at 8:40 am

kidneystone

The ACLU national and state organizations issue statements on a wide range of topics.

No doubt. But it’s not an unlimited range of topics, is it? It is utterly irrelevant to refer to sheer quantity of ACLU statements independent of content; what would be relevant, if you were able to provide it, would be information about specific ACLU statements on cases similar to the one under discussion.

For example:
The first statement on your list of statements from the Lousiana ACLU is a letter objecting to a religious display in the grounds of a government building. If we were discussing a case in which there was a religious display in the grounds of a government building, but the ACLU was not objecting to it, this would be a relevant comparison to raise (although, of course, the ACLU can only object to such displays when they become aware of them and don’t automatically become aware of all of them as soon as they happen). But the case we are discussing isn’t like that at all, is it?
The last statement on your list is about a lawsuit over denial of Sixth Amendment rights through wait-listing defendants for representation by public defenders consequent on a shortage of public defenders resulting from under-funding. But the case we are discussing isn’t like that one, either, is it?
So what you have provided in support of your position is merely another demonstration of your remarkable capacity for irrelevant reference.

I grew up with Ramparts, Frank Zappa and Lenny Bruce.

And this information will no doubt be of great value to any future biographer, Captain Irrelevant. I grew up with Flanders and Swann and Tom Lehrer, just in case you were wondering.

Violent protesters denying citizens the right to hear and read what they like should be opposed.

Possibly. At least sometimes, definitely. But opposed how? That was the question, which you have signally failed to answer. The police are in the business of arresting people; the District Attorney is the business of prosecuting people; you haven’t complained that they haven’t done these things. You’ve complained only about the ACLU for not doing — well, for not doing what, exactly?

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kidneystones 02.06.17 at 12:03 pm

Hi Henry, sorry for the late addition. Like it, or not – Bill Maher is grasping the nettle and the cash that comes with it. http://www.avclub.com/article/bill-maher-wants-book-milo-yiannopoulos-record-bre-249723 Had Milo been allowed to offend freely, it’s far less likely Maher would be inviting him on his show.

By denying Milo the freedom to speak to an audience of 500, or so, (most of whom already sing from the same hymnal) at a couple of dozen universities across the states, free-speech for me but for thee liberals succeeded only in proving Milo with a platform from which he can reach an audience in the tens of millions.

Milo’s upcoming book will be published, will be read, will be a best-seller, and will be discussed almost everywhere, it seems, but on university campuses. Which perhaps leads to another important question: what is the role of the university in a civic society – to police and restrict discourse, or to question and challenge?

95

engels 02.06.17 at 1:09 pm

Times have changed. Or have they?

You tell me

96

Kiwanda 02.06.17 at 4:37 pm

Guy Harris, quoting Diana Tourjee at Broadly, quoting Lee Rowland, ACLU attorney:

…under Title IX of the US Constitution, universities “have a duty to ensure a safe environment..

Say what now? An Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Dept. of Education is pretty powerful, but not *that* powerful. Yet. Maybe under DeVos, except it will be creation science put into the Constitution instead of kangaroo courts.

97

engels 02.06.17 at 5:39 pm

98

Guy Harris 02.06.17 at 6:21 pm

Kiwanda:

I can’t find Lee Rowland’s quoted sentences anywhere online other than in the Broadly article or in other pages quoting from the Broadly article, so it might be that he spoke directly to somebody at Broadly, making it hard to see verbatim what he said.

I suspect, however, that he said “Title IX” and either 1) said what it was Title IX of and nobody at Broadly listened or 2) didn’t say what it was Title IX of and somebody at Broadly didn’t realize that the US Constitution has Articles, not Titles, and assumed there was a Title IX of the US Constitution and that he was referring to it. (Professional journalism FTW!)

Perhaps he was referring to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (amendments to US Federal law, not amendments to the US Constitution). It ended up as Chapter 38 of the U. S. Code. Rowland’s probably referring to Section 1681 – Sex, which starts out with “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” and follows it with a long list of “except that” items.

Not being an ACLU lawyer, I don’t have a list of court cases handy that address whether that part of the U. S. Code has been interpreted as saying that universities have a duty to ensure a safe environment.

99

William Timberman 02.06.17 at 6:50 pm

Pavel @ 87

I agree that it’s inherently difficult to alter other people’s convictions, but we seem to have arrived at a point where we’ve willfully lost the art and science of doing so almost entirely (and I’m going to re-iterate that irony is no substitute).

As Helen, nastywoman, et al., have already pointed out, there are a lot of tools in this particular toolkit. From my perspective, pretty much all of them seem to be in use at the moment, and I think it’s too early to tell what the outcome will be. In an era like ours, the one thing we can be sure of is that the future won’t follow the model of the past.

When we raise the stakes from changing individual opinions to changing the Zeitgeist, though, different rules apply, not least of them being that the time available to see the results of individual interventions either extends beyond individual lifetimes, or, paradoxically, shrinks to the vanishing point of signal events. If history is any guide, in such an era, you go with the wisdom you have and hope for the best. Irony is what keeps the rootless cosmopolitan sane. In saying so, I don’t think I’m asking from it any more than it has to give.

100

J-D 02.06.17 at 6:55 pm

kidneystones

By denying Milo the freedom to speak to an audience of 500, or so, (most of whom already sing from the same hymnal) at a couple of dozen universities across the states, free-speech for me but for thee liberals succeeded only in proving Milo with a platform from which he can reach an audience in the tens of millions.

A typical display of disregard for the facts. Milo Yiannopoulos was prevented from speaking at UC Berkeley, but not by liberals, and certainly not by the ACLU.

101

Pavel 02.06.17 at 9:04 pm

@kidneystones

Bill Maher booking a controversial figure isn’t exactly a new concept (he’s had Ann Coulter on a few times and a variety of other vile characters). As for whether that increases Milo’s exposure significantly above and beyond the exposure the traditional and social media have given him is questionable. He’s a great manipulator of both.

I think you make several implicit assumptions about how free speech and universities works that I’d like to tackle:
1) Universities, in your opinion, are responsible for being stages of completely open discourse. This is actually not true. Universities are producers and *curators* of knowledge. They don’t entertain every variety of crank and crackpot theory, because they would then be overwhelmed. It is, by definition, possible to generate more untruths than to discover truths, so having an open debate about every single untruth is basically impossible.
2) The Free Market of Ideas is inherently rational, the truth will out, etc. The basic idea here is that when ideas clash in an open manner, the more rational ones should inevitably win. However, this is simply not the case (this is a pretty terrible conclusion, given that I used to believe roughly the same thing). Cognitive neuroscience and behavioural economics have both shown that people are inherently biased and more interested in internal consistency than external consistency. The brain is far more likely to strive for existing ideas to become coherent amongst themselves than it is to make sure that existing ideas line up with the external world (however defined). This places a certain limit on what rationality can achieve on its own.
3) It is worthwhile to argue against Milo’s ideas. Milo is not presenting ideas that can be argued against. Not only is he arguing in bad faith, most of his “arguments” are simply there to rile the crowd and preach to the converted. Arguing against him isn’t going to do anything but legitimize his “ideas”. I know there is an inner tension between the concept of “defeating” ideas and “no platforming” them, but when your opponent is inventing their own facts as they go along, the whole concept of debate kind of becomes moot. If he’s there just to recruit the next batch of alt-right white supremacists, why should the university sponsor this?
4) Milo is ultimately harmless. Milo is harmful to the actual, paying students of the university. He routinely bullies and harasses minority students and exhorts his followers to dogpile and do the same. The university has every right to protect its most vulnerable students from such abuse over and above any supposed right for Milo to have a platform.

102

J-D 02.06.17 at 9:57 pm

kidneystones

Milo’s upcoming book will be published, will be read, will be a best-seller, and will be discussed almost everywhere, it seems, but on university campuses.

I’ve only just realised that this is another display of disregard for facts. The book will be read and discussed on university campuses.

103

kidneystones 02.06.17 at 11:09 pm

@101 Thanks, Pavel. Let’s say everything you claim about Milo is entirely accurate. Further, let’s say Milo is promoting ideas such as eugenics, or unfettered drug use, or the use of violence to achieve revolutionary aims, or the suppression of women on the basis of faith, or the need to lock-up dissidents and make up secret kill-lists of citizens.

Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy traveled college campuses to debate some of these issues. Advocates of any number of creeds argue that women are legally, physically, intellectually, and morally inferior to men and should be treated as such as a function of the public good. The US government under both Democrats and Republicans assassinates US citizens just as citizens of other nations do.

I’m frankly not much interested in the specific example of Milo, but rather in how communities respond to Milo. Douglas Murray makes many of the same arguments from the same gay intellectual point of view, but without Milo’s theatrics.

Frank Zappa is regarded as a secular saint for his mockery of Republicans and the religious right. Zappa, however, also filled the family coffers by mocking feminists, gay culture, cocaine users, Catholics, Jewish folks, African-Americans and middle America, and did so with all the good will and charity of Thomas Shepard in the ‘Sincere Convert’ – “if thou hast any good in thee, it is but a drop of rose water in a bowl of poison, where fallen it is all corrupted.” Many of us lapped this up.

Milo targets stuffed-shirt intellectuals and LGBT advocates many of whom, as Maher, Murray, and others have noted, lack any sense of humor and can’t bear to be laughed at, yet nonetheless argue that we all stand strong towards the ‘threat’ of the Christian right whilst turning a blind eye to dangers from other ‘faiths.’

Milo’s great sin, it seems, is to expose and laugh at the hypocrisy of his intellectual and moral superiors, and to encourage others to do the same. Like John Stewart, Maher, and Colbert, Milo is at once social critic, comedian, and self-promoter. Problem is Milo is laughing at the left and suggesting it’s right and reasonable to do so. Bad Milo.

I’m so old that I can remember when David Horowitz tried to have Berube et al barred from college campuses. How that worm has turned.

Thanks to Henry and others, adieu

104

Kiwanda 02.07.17 at 12:27 am

J-D:

A typical display of disregard for the facts. Milo Yiannopoulos was prevented from speaking at UC Berkeley, but not by liberals, and certainly not by the ACLU.

True about Berkeley, but I think kidneystones was speaking more broadly, and that has some support; from the FIRE database

University of Miami: Yiannopoulos’ event was canceled by the faculty due to alleged security concerns, following disruptions at his events at other campuses

DePaul: When the DePaul College Republicans re-invited Yiannopolous to speak after his event in May 2016 was shut down by protestors, the university informed the group that they would not be permitted to invite Yiannopolous back to campus to speak.

NYU: Administrators cancelled the event, citing concerns about the safety of Muslim and LGBT students

North Dakota State: Students canceled the event, featuring a speaker perceived as being bigoted, due to the threat of disruption by protesters opposed to his views.

Plus a half dozen other petitions etc. to disinvite. More than half of these situations, overall, involved public universities.

105

faustusnotes 02.07.17 at 1:58 am

Milo Yiannopoulos uses his university tours to single out individual members of the student body for harassment, people who organize peaceful protests against him get death threats, and he has been suspended from twitter for harassment. From twitter! You have to be pretty serious to get suspended from twitter. Rumour has it his effort at UC Berkeley was going to include outing undocumented migrant students.

I know there are some free speech absolutists around here, but why should this man be given automatic access to UC Berkeley’s fora to harass UC Berkely students?

106

J-D 02.07.17 at 3:05 am

kidneystones

I’m frankly not much interested in the specific example of Milo, but rather in how communities respond to Milo.

People respond to him in different ways. Some people respond with great anger; they have good cause to do so. Of course you don’t explicitly take the position that people should not respond with great anger, because that’s not a position you could justify; but in effect that’s what you’re castigating people for. Of course, castigation is your schtick.

Milo targets stuffed-shirt intellectuals and LGBT advocates many of whom, as Maher, Murray, and others have noted, lack any sense of humor …

There are people who do not find funny the same things that Milo Yiannopoulos finds funny; but not having the same sense of humour as Milo Yiannopoulos is not the same thing as having no sense of humour. Once again, you don’t explicitly take the position that people should agree with him about which things are funny, because of course you couldn’t justify that position; but in effect you are castigating people for taking a different view about which things are funny.

Milo’s great sin, it seems, is to expose and laugh at the hypocrisy of his intellectual and moral superiors, and to encourage others to do the same.

No; the complaints about him are complaints about his abusing, harassing, and telling lies about people, and encouraging others to do the same; if he, or you, or anybody else finds abuse, harassment, and lies to be amusing, that doesn’t mean they stop being abuse, harassment, and lies. People getting amusement out of abuse and harassment is fairly common, but not in any way exculpatory.

adieu

You don’t mean that, of course. But then, you never do mean much. Meaning isn’t your schtick.
Kiwanda
None of the examples you cite there appear to be instances of liberals preventing Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking; certainly none of them involve the ACLU. (I hope you’re not equating ‘university administrators’ with ‘liberals’.)

107

harry b 02.07.17 at 3:57 am

Is it still possible to argue that shutting down a speaker deprives anyone of the right to hear speech/expression they want to hear? In 1500 the only way to hear someone’s ideas was by listening to them. In 2000 one could read them. Now, one can, literally, hear them. Anyone who wants to listen to Mr. Yiannopoulos can go to youtube. People can’t get the spectacle without being there in person, but there are no ideas that they can’t get access to. If it’s ideas that they want.

108

Pavel 02.07.17 at 4:39 am

@kidneystones

I like how you’ve avoided most of my arguments and simply rattled on and on about a variety of other a**holes not inherently relevant to the point. But let’s get to the meat(s) of your counter-argument:

1) [Milo is a gadfly and just pokes fun at humourless liberals] Well, I mean, that’s clearly not the case (that was literally my whole point in the previous post). He routinely abuses the marginalized, incites hatred against minorities on campus and white-washes white supremacists (pun sort of intended). He’s an excellent fig leaf for the alt-right; their gay, jewish, black-f*cking friend (a holy trifecta!) that makes them seem less terrible or something.

2) [Something, something Islam is bad] You only implied this one, but I’m going to give you a heads up: many progressives know that fundamentalist Islamic values are sort of incompatible with the Enlightenment project, but they also know that fear-mongering and othering are a great source of misdirection and power. The US loves to overestimate and demonize its foes, ramp up the war machine and kill some brown people. The reality is that while fundamentalist Muslims are cruising around the areas our own foreign misadventures have turned into power vacuums, fundamentalist Christians are literally running the show in the US. Wake up and smell the (actual) theocracy.

3) [Liberals haven’t condemned all these other a**holes, why are they suddenly condemning this one?] Can you look up the Fallacy of Relative Privation please? I guess there are two main differences: i) the times they are a-changing. The rise of white supremacist thought and movements in North America and Europe means that it’s a tad more dangerous to give platforms to their recruiters (Milo, Spencer). Milo is particularly egregious because he serves as fig leaf meant to confuse people about where the battle lines need to be drawn (he is the walking personification of the “black friend” defence). ii) I guess now we’re slightly more aware about the limits of free speech in the context of social value (see my earlier points about the limits of the Free Market of Ideas). For free speech to eventually circumnavigate its way to the truth, it must exist in a climate where most parties are at least interested in finding it.

I guess we’ve now deteriorated to the level of YouTube commentary. Congrats. As for Frank Zappa, who cares what he thought (I was born in the USSR, my heroes spent their time fighting a much vaster and more nefarious machine). He was relevant 30 years ago. The last generation’s approaches to civic society (and economics, and the environment, etc) have clearly failed us. Let’s try something else.

109

Kiwanda 02.07.17 at 4:54 am

J-D:

None of the examples you cite there appear to be instances of liberals preventing Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking; certainly none of them involve the ACLU. (I hope you’re not equating ‘university administrators’ with ‘liberals’.)

I looked for someone besides you discussing the ACLU preventing anyone from speaking, didn’t find anyone.

So pressure via threats is put on university administrators, and they cave, but the suppression of speech can’t be pinned on either those exerting the pressure, because they didn’t suppress the speech, or on the administrators, because they didn’t make the threats. The heckler’s veto by proxy.

If Milo is committing crimes (“abuse, harassment….”), as has been repeatedly suggested, then he should be prosecuted for them. Using violence and threats to prevent him from speaking has nothing to do with those crimes. He has a right to speak, as long as his speech does not itself include criminal acts. Judgements about whether he is “ultimately harmless”, or “has no ideas” are irrelevant, as is the obvious point that we all have biases, even when that point is buttressed by *cognitive neuroscience* and *behavioral economics*.

110

Guy Harris 02.07.17 at 5:46 am

kidneystones:

Milo … Frank Zappa

So, would Milo:

1) knock jockeys off people’s lawns;

2) put jockeys on people’s lawns;

3) both;

4) neither?

111

kidneystones 02.07.17 at 6:18 am

@ 108 The last generation’s approaches to civic society (and economics, and the environment, etc) have clearly failed us.

I couldn’t disagree more. You’re suggesting that the latter half of the 20th century to the present is more violent, more racist, less environmentally sound than the centuries that preceded? Are you arguing that globalization has not seen quantifiable improvements in the rights of the poorest in the last two decades. Something like 10 percent of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty for the first time ever and this stands for you as a benchmark of failure? We’ve never had it so good. The only thing missing is employment, but that’s a topic for another thread.

As for ‘avoiding’ your claims. We disagree about who he is and the ‘threat’ he represents. I’m good with that.

All from me until next week.

112

Chet Murthy 02.07.17 at 6:31 am

@kidneystones

I’m disappointed by your inability to be honest in your discourse. Milo’s speech cost a young woman her right to safely attend college. Milo’s speeches “out” otherwise completely unrelated students, whose only crime is being undocumented. It isn’t Milo’s job (nor his privilege/responsibility) to out those students.

And while free speech has always been an important right, rights are balanced against other rights. That you don’t find Milo’s speeches to be provocations, and infringing on the rights of others to live safe and free lives, tells me a lot about you, and not flattering things.

Not a good look.

113

John Holbo 02.07.17 at 7:45 am

“All from me until next week.”

Has kidneystones ever actually managed to leave? Ever? We at CT are his Hotel California.

114

Guy Harris 02.07.17 at 8:33 am

kidneystones:

You’re suggesting that the latter half of the 20th century to the present is more violent, more racist, less environmentally sound than the centuries that preceded?

In at least one way, the latter half of the 20th century is less environmentally sound than the centuries that preceded. (Hint: CO2+CH4+….)

115

kidneystones 02.07.17 at 8:44 am

Hi John, Chet, and all,

An end to disappointment?

Thanks for the good times and the nudge!

116

Faustusnotes 02.07.17 at 10:04 am

So milo has the right to harass people and the nations universities are obliged to host his harassment. Free speech absolutism gone mad.

117

James Wimberley 02.07.17 at 3:04 pm

There is something to be said for what I perhaps falsely recollect to be the rules of public speaking in Republican Rome:
1. Any citizen who feels like it can get up in the Forum and say what they like.
2. Any other citizen who disapproves of what the said citizen is saying should feel free to take along a brick.

118

J-D 02.07.17 at 8:00 pm

Kiwanda

I looked for someone besides you discussing the ACLU preventing anyone from speaking, didn’t find anyone.

The ACLU has not been explicitly accused of preventing people from speaking; but it seems as if the ACLU has been accused of something without the specifics of the accusation ever having been made explicit. None of the examples you cited appear to involve the ACLU in any way, whether preventing somebody from speaking or being at fault in any other way.

So pressure via threats is put on university administrators, and they cave, but the suppression of speech can’t be pinned on either those exerting the pressure, because they didn’t suppress the speech, or on the administrators, because they didn’t make the threats. The heckler’s veto by proxy.

No, that’s not my position. I wrote ‘None of the examples you cite there appear to be instances of liberals preventing Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking.’ You haven’t produced evidence that the university administrators in the cases you mentioned acted as they did because of pressure from liberals (indeed, you haven’t produced evidence that they were under pressure from anybody; also, I hope you’re not suggesting that it’s wrong for people to put pressure on university administrators).

If Milo is committing crimes (“abuse, harassment….”), as has been repeatedly suggested, then he should be prosecuted for them.

I have not suggested that he has committed crimes. Abusing people, harassing them, and telling lies about them are not generally crimes.

Using violence and threats to prevent him from speaking has nothing to do with those crimes.

Well, if his actions (or attempted actions) were criminal — although I don’t think they were — then actions taken to prevent him obviously do have something to do with the actions they were preventing.
But in any case, if violence and threats against him were criminal, then I understand how it might be considered that the police should have arrested people for them or that the DA should have prosecuted people for them, and how they might be considered in default of duty for failing to do so, but what I still don’t get is how any of that is supposed to show the ACLU at fault.

He has a right to speak

I don’t know what makes you think that. I’m sure there’s no such thing as a right to deliver a speech at UC Berkeley, or on any university campus, come to that. If, for example, I demanded that UC Berkeley allow me to deliver a speech on campus, I doubt they’d agree, and yet that would be no denial of my rights.

119

Pavel 02.08.17 at 12:56 am

@kidneystones
That was kind of a throwaway line, but here goes:

The idea that globalization has improved the environment is somewhat laughable. If the US looks more environmentally-friendly to you today, it’s because globalization has shifted the dirtiest, filthiest industries to the poorest parts of the world. You can’t see the filth and pollution, but Southeast Asia and China sure can! Additionally, ascribing to globalization environmental regulations enacted by citizens often opposed to globalization itself, is stretching the limits of credulity (because those regulations are the thing that work, not the fact that you can extract labor at a cheaper rate somewhere else).

There have been lots of successes and failures in the last generation. I’m not sure you’re willing to take honest stock of what they are, however.

@Kiwanda
“If Milo is committing crimes (“abuse, harassment….”), as has been repeatedly suggested, then he should be prosecuted for them.”
I don’t think our justice system is at the point where it’s capable of effectively prosecuting someone on the basis of hate speech or twitter harassment or inciting anonymous mobs. I mean, the US justice system has trouble not throwing out tens of thousands of rape kits because “women, amirite?”. It’s not going to be able to effectively deal with all the new forms of cyber-bullying. Also, not sure if being a white supremacist poster boy is a crime in the US. It is in Germany, and I think I’m fine with that approach. Hiding behind legalism when the legal system is broken in a variety of fundamental ways just isn’t a valid argument.

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Kiwanda 02.08.17 at 3:27 am

J-D:

None of the examples you cited appear to involve the ACLU in any way, whether preventing somebody from speaking or being at fault in any other way.

When I said that “kidneystones was speaking more broadly, and that has some support”, I did not mean to suggest (and it wasn’t implied by what I said) that the ACLU was involved in the suppression of speech; your response to kidneystones mentioned the ACLU, but their claim (that Milo’s speech had been suppressed) did not. If kidneystones says “dogs are animals”, and you say, “not they’re not, and the sky is blue”, and then I say “kidneystone’s statement has some support”, I am not then insisting that the sky is not blue.

If this is important to you: I did not personally interview the protestors who shut down those invited speeches, so I don’t know their political views. You’re right, it ould be that, for example, they were homophobic, or bigoted against those of Greek descent, or both.

The (possibly) grecohomophobic protesters at Depaul walked on to the stage and took Milo’s microphone. The University of Miami charged the student organization for the security said to be needed, a prohibitive amount, due to concerns about (possibly) grecohomophobic protestors. NYU canceled a scheduled talk due to “concerns … about the safety and well-being of our community.” Grecohomophobic students weren’t mentioned, but surely they also need a safe space from words. According to the StarTribune (of Minnesota, I think) “NDSU’s student Republican group said Monday that Milo Yiannopoulos pulled the plug on his Dec. 16 stop because of concerns that protesters on both sides of the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute would be disruptive and potentially violent.” Well, OK, maybe no liberals there, but definitely some pressure.

But in any case, if violence and threats against him were criminal, then I understand how it might be considered that the police should have arrested people for them or that the DA should have prosecuted people for them, and how they might be considered in default of duty for failing to do so, but what I still don’t get is how any of that is supposed to show the ACLU at fault.

That ACLU thing again. Once more: it wasn’t supposed to show the ACLU was at fault.

Given the difficulty of figuring out just who threw roman candles at people, or set fires in the street, or broke windows, and the overall importance of keeping things from heating up even more, I thought the police in Berkeley showed appropriate restraint, I wish cops were like that more often. I’m a bit surprised you seem to think otherwise.

I don’t know what makes you think that [Milo has a right to speak]. I’m sure there’s no such thing as a right to deliver a speech at UC Berkeley,

As UCB Chancellor Dirksen said (link in an earlier comment): “First, from a legal perspective, the U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory. Longstanding campus policy permits registered student organizations to invite speakers to campus and to make free use of meeting space in the Student Union for that purpose.” On a more down-to-earth level, I think you could stand on a chair in Sproul Plaza and start declaiming, and no one would bother you. Nor should they.

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J-D 02.08.17 at 5:40 am

Kiwanda
On a number of occasions Milo Yiannopoulos has been prevented from delivering speeches on university campuses — prevented in various ways under various circumstances. One question about that is ‘Who prevented him?’ and another is ‘Was it right, what they did to prevent him?’ It’s true that those are two independent questions.

You’ve described a few instances: one in which somebody took away his microphone; one in which a university imposed a prohibitive charge for security for a planned speech; one in which a university cancelled a scheduled talk on the grounds of concerns about safety and community well-being; one in which he is reported to have cancelled a speech himself because of concerns that protesters might become violent.

So we have these questions:
is it right to take a microphone away from somebody?
is it right to impose a prohibitive charge for security for a scheduled speech?
is it right to cancel a scheduled talk on the grounds of concern about safety and community well-being?
is it right for somebody to cancel a speech because of concerns that protesters might become violent?

My answer to each of those questions is the same: ‘It depends; I would need to have more information before I could form a judgement.’

If somebody else took the position, for example, that it is always wrong to take a microphone away from somebody, I would like to know why. I can’t find a justification for that position.

First, from a legal perspective, the U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory.

I don’t dispute that: but UC Berkeley did not do such a thing. Also, I can ask why the US Constitution prohibits such behaviour, and whether that prohibition is a good idea.

Longstanding campus policy permits registered student organizations to invite speakers to campus and to make free use of meeting space in the Student Union for that purpose

Again, I don’t dispute that; but again, I can ask whether that’s a good policy.

On a more down-to-earth level, I think you could stand on a chair in Sproul Plaza and start declaiming, and no one would bother you. Nor should they.

I don’t know whether they would; but whether they should depends, at least in part, on the content and manner of my (hypothetical) declamation.

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Kiwanda 02.08.17 at 10:49 pm

J-D, you’re close to Trope Three of Popehat’s How To Spot And Critique Censorship Tropes In The Media’s Coverage Of Free Speech Controversies,”Not all speech is protected”. Gosh, you say, it just all depends.

As in an earlier round of discussion, I will once more stipulate that “…I’m regarding the discussion as occurring in the context of political speech; I do not support [bad person]’s unqualified right to utter any commercial speech he wants, or slander, or anything intended and likely to incite an immediate breech of the peace, or copyright violation, or violation of a nondisclosure agreement, or revealing classified information, or speech so loud as to damage the hearing of those present, or speech likely bring on an invasion by aliens, or magical spells bringing forth demons, or jokes that kill those that hear them, or the ending of Game of Thrones, or anything related to Harambe, Lena Dunham, or Milo Yiannopoulos…”

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engels 02.08.17 at 11:06 pm

J-D, you’re close to Trope Three of Popehat’s How To Spot And Critique Censorship Tropes In The Media’s Coverage Of Free Speech Controversies,”Not all speech is protected

Er, is this supposed to prove something? If so, what?

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Placeholder 02.09.17 at 1:06 am

Trolls on here: you posture about the right to speak; how will you suppress the right to protest? As Robespierre said “do you want the first amendment without the first amendment?” Which half are you defending today? Come on, out with it.

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J-D 02.09.17 at 3:16 am

Kiwanda

… I’m regarding the discussion as occurring in the context of political speech; I do not support [bad person]’s unqualified right to utter [various things, including] slander, or anything intended and likely to incite an immediate breech of the peace …

It is possible for something to fall into the category of political speech and also to fall into the category of slander and/or the category of ‘intended and likely to incite an immediate breach of the peace’. How is your stipulation intended to operate in such cases?

This discussion is occurring in the context of what Milo Yiannopoulos actually says, and has said.
Do you accept the assertion that what Milo Yiannopoulos actually says includes abusing people, harassing them, and/or telling lies about them — or is that assertion still under question?
Do you support his unqualified right to abuse people, harass them, and tell lies about them? or do you support that subject to the qualification that what he says falls short of slander, breach of the peace, or otherwise giving rise to criminal and/or civil liability? or do you support that subject to the qualification that it is in the context of political speech? or what?

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Kiwanda 02.09.17 at 5:14 am

engels:

Er, is this supposed to prove something? If so, what?

I’m hopeful that a period of careful reading and sober thoughtful reflection will reveal it to you.

Placeholder:

Trolls on here: you posture about the right to speak; how will you suppress the right to protest?

Not sure who exactly is being addressed, since no one here has sought to suppress the right to protest.

J-D poses many questions, including about the case of political speech that is slander and/or “intended and likely to incite an immediate breach of the peace”. I believe that there can be civil or criminal penalties in such cases, which I would find appropriate. Outside the categories I described, speech should be unrestricted.

I don’t know any specifics of Milo’s bad acts that J-D characterizes as abuse, harassment, and lies; links appreciated. J-D, do you feel that some of his actions, such as “telling lies about [people]”, should be subject to civil or criminal liability?

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J-D 02.09.17 at 8:08 pm

Kiwanda

I don’t know any specifics of Milo’s bad acts that J-D characterizes as abuse, harassment, and lies; links appreciated.

Why not start with one already posted by Guy Harris in an earlier comment? You’ve already cited it yourself in response, did you not read through it?

I believe that there can be civil or criminal penalties in such cases, which I would find appropriate. Outside the categories I described, speech should be unrestricted.

Why?

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engels 02.09.17 at 11:03 pm

Kiwanda, you’re very close to trope seven of Engels’ “How to be a self-satisfied snartass who appears to believe that calling a commonly made, valid argument a ‘trope’ somehow obviates the need for rational engagement with it…”

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mjfgates 02.10.17 at 2:52 am

Is there a copy of Engels’ “How to be a self-satisfied smartass etc.” out there somewhere? Sounds like it might be a fun read.

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Faustusnotes 02.10.17 at 7:50 am

Multiple posts by Kiwanda about milo’s right to us impeded speech with no attempt to engage with how he uses that speech. There are facts, but Kiwanda is thoroughly uninterested in them. Instead he thinks ucla should be required to allow someone into their campus to abuse and threaten their own students.

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engels 02.10.17 at 2:58 pm

Is there a copy of Engels’ “How to be a self-satisfied smartass etc.” out there somewhere?

I refer you to the totality of my comments on this blog.

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Harry 02.10.17 at 4:27 pm

Can I defend a point kidneystones made earlier on? The campaign against Milo on campuses, as it has been carried out, has increased his notoriety in pretty much exactly the ways he has been aiming at. He wants to provoke confrontations and prohibitions, because that is an effective way of both enriching himself and recruiting to his revolting cause.

Now, I have no sympathy with the idea that he has a right to peddle his filth in public or to be invited onto campuses. I grew up in the same environment as engels — if you say the kind of things that make reasonable people want to punch you in the face, especially if you do so with the aim of getting them to punch you in the face, then you have no grounds for complaint if they do so. Milo evidently grew up in a very precious environment if it was different for him.

But… the question is, what is the most effective way for campus activists to deal with him, given that actually punching him in the face is what he seeks, and for good, strategic, reasons? Probably not, in current circumstances, the way that some people have been dealing with him. He is being given the oxygen of publicity when, as the late Linda Smith would have said, its not clear that he should even have the oxygen of oxygen.

I say that not as a criticism (I don’t have the standing to criticize the activists on this particular point), but to provoke comrades to discuss how to handle him better. If he were invited to my own campus (a public flagship in a State that voted narrowly for Trump, and voted for a Republican governor 3 times in 4 years!) I would hope that he would be dealt with in a way that minimized his effectiveness and also minimized hostile backlash to the campus from legislators and voters.

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Kiwanda 02.11.17 at 12:31 am

engels:

Kiwanda, you’re very close to trope seven of Engels’ “How to be a self-satisfied snartass who appears to believe that calling a commonly made, valid argument a ‘trope’ somehow obviates the need for rational engagement with it…”

Now I’m less hopeful.

me and J-D:

>I don’t know any specifics of Milo’s bad acts that J-D characterizes as abuse, harassment, >and lies; links appreciated.

Why not start with one already posted by Guy Harris in an earlier comment? You’ve already cited it yourself in response, did you not read through it?

>I believe that there can be civil or criminal penalties in such cases, which I would find >appropriate. Outside the categories I described, speech should be unrestricted.

Why?

It’s a fair point, no, I didn’t read it through, mainly because the hatefulness of Milo’s speech, in itself, is not particularly relevant to his right to speak. Again: do you think that Milo’s nastiness to e.g. Adelaide Kramer should be illegal, or subject to civil suit? Subjecting a private, vulnerable person to ridicule is an awful thing to do; maybe it should be a crime. Should it entail stifling all future speech?

faustusnotes:

Multiple posts by Kiwanda about milo’s right to us impeded speech with no attempt to engage with how he uses that speech. There are facts, but Kiwanda is thoroughly uninterested in them. Instead he thinks ucla should be required to allow someone into their campus to abuse and threaten their own students.

I’ve described various ways in which speech is limited. For example, making “true threats” is not protected speech. What categories of speech deserved to be muzzled? Exactly those that faustusnotes wants to muzzle, or what?

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Faustusnotes 02.11.17 at 3:13 am

And, Kiwanda, you have refused to accept that milo engages in harassment and basically admitted you don’t want to find out. So you haven’t checked to see if milos speech is in one of the categories you think should be restricted, while insisting on using him as an example of how speech shouldn’t be restricted. Meanwhile you haven’t answered the question of whether ucla should be obliged to invite a man to their campus so he can harass their own students.

This is the third time milos speech “issues” have been raised at CT and the third time his defenders have refused to investigate whether the content of his speech is a threat to individuals or classes of people, despite being offered repeated evidence and opportunities to educate yourselves.

I guess it’s easier for you to stick to alternative facts about him, right?

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J-D 02.11.17 at 6:14 am

Kiwanda

I notice that you haven’t responded to the question I posed to you. You suggested (unless I have misunderstood you) that there should be no restrictions on speech unless it fell into those categories (previously referred to) which are already subject to criminal or civil penalties; I asked you why you thought so. Why do you not answer that question? I can’t see any justification for the idea that speech should be limited only by the law and that speech which is not restricted by law should not be restricted in any other way.

Perhaps, however, I have misunderstood, and your position is different from what it seems to me, in which case perhaps you can explain how your position is different from my misinterpretation.

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Kiwanda 02.11.17 at 5:22 pm

I pretty much agree with this discussion, which is consistent with what I’ve been advocating and says it better than I could. In particular, harassment (properly defined) is or should be punishable by law. If Milo is engaging in that, or other illegal conduct, he should be prosecuted.

J-D, what extra-legal means of restricting speech are you advocating? Keeping in mind that in the U.S., “Speech codes adopted by government-financed state colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution.”

(Jeepers, faustusnotes. “Alternative facts”!)

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J-D 02.11.17 at 11:45 pm

J-D, what extra-legal means of restricting speech are you advocating?

I don’t know. Which ones are you advocating against?

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Faustusnotes 02.12.17 at 2:25 am

So under this framework, someone can tell ucla that they are coming to the campus to break the law and harass one of ucla’s own students and instead of saying no we won’t let you break the law and harass our students on our campus, ucla is required to let him come and do these things because “freedom”. Even though milo has plenty of other fora in which he can break the law, it would be censorship for ucla to deny him the right to use its free speech facilities to break the law and harass a ucla student?

You understand how stupid this principle is?

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