The phrasing here skirts awfully close to suggesting right-wingers are complicit in the “anti-fascist” violence directed at them. If a provocateur like Coulter “throws herself into a volatile situation,” don’t be surprised if the locals are provoked in a “volatile” way, I guess.
Charles Cooke anticipated this idea of “volatility” yesterday in summarizing the campus view of speech this way: “Your opinions are fighting words because I’ll riot if you express them.”
[A]cross the country, conservatives like her are eagerly throwing themselves into volatile situations like the one in Berkeley, emboldened by a backlash over what many Americans see as excessive political correctness, a president who has gleefully taken up their fight, and liberals they accuse of trying to censor any idea they disagree with.
The situation adds up to a striking reversal in the culture wars, with the left now often demanding that offensive content be excised from public discourse and those who promote it boycotted and shunned.
Did Charles Murray throw himself into a “volatile situation” when he tried to give a talk at Middlebury? Nope, says Murray. He just wanted to give a talk. But if he knew beforehand that the reaction would be “volatile,” so what? I’m sure it’s true that some right-wing speakers are deliberately choosing citadels of liberalism like Berkeley as places to speak, but there are virtuous reasons to do that beyond simple provocation. Intellectually you might do it for the same reason Bernie Sanders chose to speak at Liberty U, to reach an audience that normally isn’t exposed to your ideology. Symbolically you might do it to make a statement that universities, especially public ones, should live up to their promises of diversity and the free exchange of ideas.
I don’t think the Times excerpt is inconsistent with that. If anything, I think it sins not by implying that conservatives are to blame when “antifa” dirtbags rampage but by implying that self-promotion is the chief reason conservatives might want to be able to speak freely at Berkeley. The piece begins by noting that “Coulter on Wednesday made herself the latest cause célèbre” in the battle over campus free speech. Even if that were true, and it’s not — the leftists who turned the speech a security risk made her a cause celebre — again, so what? Coulter’s speech might have been a PR stunt from the word go, but if it succeeded in drawing attention to the fact that some American universities are no longer fully safe for half the population (insert your own joke about “safe spaces” here), it served a purpose.
And it forced people to take sides, including liberal thought leaders. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and the ACLU all spoke up this past week against the “shutdown” approach to unpopular speakers:
The heckler’s veto of Coulter's Berkeley speech is a loss for the 1st Amendment. We must protect speech on campus, even when hateful.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) April 26, 2017
It’s good to have those lines drawn, because the shutdown approach isn’t always limited to universities and may be less limited in the future. Here’s a nice report about very liberal Portland having to cancel a parade because of threats against a local Republican group promising “two hundred or more people [will] rush into the parade into the middle and drag and push those [Republicans] out” if they attempted to march. Should the Republicans have quit or “eagerly thrown themselves into a volatile situation” to assert their rights in the face of intimidation? Exit quotation via WaPo: “On social media, however, many in the anarchist and antifascist camps pointed to Coulter’s cancellation as proof their use of violence as a tool works.”