If you tell protesters at Middlebury College that shutting down conservative scholar Charles Murray was an assault on free speech, civil discourse and the notion of tolerance, they likely won’t be offended.
That’s the message of an editorial from the Washington Examiner, which argues denouncing protesters for forgoing those principles won’t be enough to reclaim free speech on college campuses:
But here’s the thing many critics haven’t realized: You can’t invoke those ideas to argue against the campus radicals at Middlebury, at the University of Missouri, at Yale, or at any other campus because these people don’t agree with the ideas.
Calling campus radicals “censorious” or “illiberal” is not, to their ears, a criticism. It would be like calling Ted Cruz “an Obamacare opponent.” It’s merely a description, not a counterargument.
The people we are arguing against don’t share our principles, so we can’t refute them by waving our principles at them.
The editorial states “the ground rules of debate have become the matter we are debating,” while pushing that there’s value in debating someone who you believe holds ideas that are false or hateful:
No matter how certain you are that the other guy is wrong, it’s generally worth considering the possibility that maybe you’re the one who is wrong. And no matter how much error the other guy is in, there’s a good chance you can learn from him anyway.
The Examiner argues Middlebury students who protested could’ve learned something from not only allowing Murray to talk, but also by engaging him in civil discourse and debate:
They may think Murray is wrong, but even wrong people have right ideas or at least good questions. To reject that is to abandon the humility and curiosity that surely these college students must value.
The editorial also points out that “a second case against the radicals’ censoriousness is that it relies on a physical, corporal advantage.” It’s an advantage not uncommon today on college campuses, but one that students won’t have forever, the Examiner notes:
At Middlebury, radicals may be the majority. Certainly, they were the majority of that room. But when they walk off their leafy campus into the real world, they may not be a majority anymore. Do they really want a world in which the loudest, strongest and biggest get to determine which ideas are aired? Have they thought through the merits and dangers of suggesting, as they did, that might makes right?