More calls to ban Steve Bannon at my university

Posters like this one, or related ones, are now plastered all over campus, relating to the student and faculty movement to disinvite Steve Bannon from speaking at the University of Chicago this fall (see my earlier posts here). I photographed this one, put up by the UChicago Socialists, on a lightpost near the campus. Note that the meeting, which I thought about attending but didn’t, took place at the University Church (not part of the University) right off campus. I wanted to hear if they planned to disrupt his talk.

I’ll transcribe the words at lower left so you can see that this is really a call to deplatform him

The invitation of alt-right ideologue Steve Bannon to speak in our community is an insult to and attack on marginalized people. Does the University care more about the free-speech of bigots than it does about the lives of students, staff, faculty, and community members? Join the UChicago Socialists for a discussion on the intertwined issues of the campus free speech debate and confronting the far right.

Here we have all the familiar tropes of the censorious Left: the claim that his talk (and remember that it’s a debate) is an “attack on marginalized people”, even though we don’t yet know what Bannon will say. They’re objecting not to his speech, but to his presence and impure ideological views. Further they place free speech below “the lives of students, staff, faculty, and community members”, as if Bannon’s debate will somehow threaten the lives of individuals in those groups. Let’s get serious: it won’t. His debate may offend people, but it doesn’t threaten them.

Finally, the issues of free speech and “confronting the far right” aren’t, as the poster implies, alternatives that we must choose between. One can have free speech and also confront Bannon—through counter-speech and peaceful demonstrations.

But that’s not what these people want. They want him kicked off campus. Bannon’s view are odious, but so what? Free speech is for odious views as well as congenial ones, and the UChicago Socialists seem ignorant of the whole history of that idea.

I have to say that I have no patience for people who, when they get offended, act like bullies and retaliate by trying to shut down the offenders. These people are not only censorious, but ignorant. Who will protect them when the censors come for them?

The good news is that there is no way that the University will ban Bannon, for we have the most liberal free-speech policy of any American university—and I’m proud of that. Students are free to demonstrate and write against Bannon all they want, but if they try to block his speech, disrupt it, or shut it down, I hope the University will use the disciplinary regulations recently put in place, and teach them the meaning of the First Amendment.

 

42 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Just think, strange that it might be, if Mueller felt the same as the students regarding Bannon. With all the other news I have not heard for sure, but Bannon was suppose to be spending this week being interviewed by special council Mueller. I am pretty sure he will not be offended at all.

  2. Jake Sevins
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    When did “socialist” become a good word again? I think I must have drifted off…

    • Historian
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Perhaps socialism became a good word since Bernie Sanders referred to himself as a democratic socialist. According to a May 2016 Gallup poll, 35% of Americans have a positive image of socialism. 60% have a positive view of capitalism. For the first time in a long time, socialism is at least a respectable competitor to capitalism as an ideal of economic organization. And socialism is NOT communism.

      http://news.gallup.com/poll/191375/socialism-capitalism-others-trend.aspx

      • Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Yes, Bernie Sanders did a lot to make socialism less of a third rail.

        It is time we move beyond thinking of socialism and capitalism as competitors. We have always had parts of our government and economy that are socialist in nature. Same for capitalist. The discussion should be more about how to manage each segment of our economy best.

      • Filippo
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        Private corporate tyranny tax breaks smack of socialism, eh?

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Outside of the USA, “socialist” has never been a bad word. It’s just a word that describes a political ideology that some Americans seem to be irrationally afraid of for no good reason.

      • Posted February 15, 2018 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        I am an Eastern European, and “socialist” is quite a bad word for the majority of people here. And there are reasons for it.

  3. Robert Bray
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    As I’ve commented before, this is the Commedia dell’Arte reenactment of the University of Chicago campus protests from way back in the late 1960s. Though freakishly stereotypical and derivative, however, it’s not funny.

  4. Posted February 15, 2018 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I’m far from surprised that the Socialist club promotes authoritarianism. Frankly, I’d be much more surprised if they didn’t.

    The implicit claim that free speech somehow threatens the lives of those who disagree with what is being said needs to be challenged far more often. It’s achieved a kind of immunity from questioning among the regressive left. Your summary “Let’s get serious: it won’t. His debate may offend people, but it doesn’t threaten them.” deserves broader distribution.

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Many self-described socialists like trimming other people’s freedom. They are most interested in other people’s property, but freedom of speech is not far behind.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Hell, if (pace The Mooch) Bannon can pull his johnson outta his piehole long enough to participate, I say let the debate begin!

  6. Dave137
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    The more confrontational the ideas and beliefs of any speaker, *the better.*

    Disagree with Bannon? Sit in the audience and wait to ask a question — one that intelligently challenges whatever self-righteous position he espouses.

    Want to say more about Bannon? Then put together your own event with your own speakers.

    But no. Instead, these students choose censorship; then they turn whichever speaker into a First Amendment champion, pivoting away from the actual topic at hand.

    “Does the university care more about the free-speech of bigots?”

    Absolutely it should: because it means indirectly that the university also defends the rights of its students to call others “bigots.”

    Feels like we’re circling the drain.

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      While I don’t agree with the Authoritarian Left’s censorious ways, they are responding to a real fear that others (not their “woke” selves) may be influenced by what Bannon has to say and, perhaps more importantly, the mere provision of a platform. Giving him a platform boosts his ideas even if few people hear his talk. While the language they use to make this case is all about personal offense, I suspect it is really about influence.

      We have a perfect example in the rise of Trump. Trump really didn’t convince a lot of people that racism or xenophobia were better than their alternatives. Instead, he simply made it ok for those that lean those ways to express themselves more openly. In a real sense, he took a platform that was offered to him by circumstance.

      I have never heard Bannon speak and I doubt whether I ever will. My knowledge of him is dominated by the platforms he has been given and what others say about him, especially the MSM. For people like me, his merely being given platforms gives him prominence. If I shared any of his opinions (I don’t AFAIK), his platforming might help me to conclude that these ideas are now ok to think, say, and to influence my vote.

      In short, platforming is a kind of speech in the world today and this is what they are objecting to. They know that very few people will hear Bannon’s thoughts first-hand, let alone get to refute them.

      • Robert Bray
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Surely U of C students can smell sophistry when it’s in the air and open their minds’ windows to clear it out. The worry that the appearance of speakers like Bannon will somehow poison less ‘woke’ souls ought not trouble anyone–especially at that university, where the undergraduate curriculum was (and to an extent still is) based on Robert Maynard Hutchins’ ‘Great Books.’

        Including Plato: sophistry is rhetoric and (debased) philosophy intended to ‘make the weaker argument appear the stronger.’ The ‘woke’ person, to be worthy of studying at Chicago, should confront and defeat sophistry in dialectic and debate. That’s education, U of C brand.

        • Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          The people hearing about Bannon’s platforming obviously go way beyond the university. We’re talking about it, for example, as I assume our friends on more right-leaning venues are as well.

          • Robert Bray
            Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

            Speaking of sophistical rhetoric (as I was), ‘obviously’ is a word of reader intimidation.

      • Dave137
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        That same platform can also inspire the opposite effect, by refining and even amplifying arguments *against* the ones being made.

        Simply removing the platform does not make repugnant views vanish: if anything, such censoring permits such views to fester.

        The response therefore to speech perceived as dangerous or unfavorable, is more speech — not less.

        • Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          First, I am not arguing for censorship, merely attempting to understand the thoughts and motivations of those attempting to de-platform speakers like Bannon.

          Second, the MSM may report on Bannon’s speech (if it occurs) but I doubt they will report on good questions offered by the opposition and tell us whether their arguments carried the day.

          I agree that censorship can boost the very ideas that it attempts to suppress. Same with giving them a platform. That said, letting the discussions occur is the right choice.

      • Posted February 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        I understand the reasoning of the left, but they are wrong on this.

        The first thing they should understand is that Steve Bannon already has his platform. He ran Breitbart and was a senior member of Trump’s team for a while. He has a high media profile and can pretty much get a platform whenever he likes, often ones where he won’t be exposed to the kind of in depth questioning he’s going to get at UC.

        The second thing is that people who are racist and xenophobic will remain racist and xenophobic whether or not they feel they can express their views. The problem was always there and Trump making it OK for them to express their views hasn’t really made it any worse but at least we do know how bad it is now.

        • Posted February 15, 2018 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          “The second thing is that people who are racist and xenophobic will remain racist and xenophobic whether or not they feel they can express their views. The problem was always there and Trump making it OK for them to express their views hasn’t really made it any worse but at least we do know how bad it is now.”

          Yes, this is true. As you say, it is good to know how bad it is. Some people (including SCOTUS) were declaring the end of racism in America when Obama was elected. Not even close!

  7. glen1davidson
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Does the University care more about the free-speech of bigots than it does about the lives of students, staff, faculty, and community members?

    Well, they care enough about the free-speech of bigots to let you have your say.

    You should appreciate that.

    Glen Davidson

  8. glen1davidson
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Should be:

    Join the UChicago Socialists for a discussion on the intertwined issues of the campus free speech debate the and confronting the far right.

    It’s hard to make sense of without the fix.

    Glen Davidson

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Wow, these soi-disant UChicago Socialists apparently aren’t big on either history or irony, inasmuch as it was the Socialist Party that fought for unrestricted free speech during the first and second Red Scares. See, e.g., Gitlow v. New York. And unrestricted free speech remains a plank of the International Socialist Party platform. See here and here.

    George Santayana was right — except these kids are repeating history from the wrong side of the street.

    • George
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      I am not sure how many of the Socialists are “kids”, i.e. college students. When I was at UofC, most of the members of the far left groups were not students. Some had been students at one time, dropped out of school and hung around Hyde Park. Others were just activists that turned up in Hyde Park and were never students. The groups had a hard time being RSOs (Registered Student Organizations) because they had no students as officers.

      Evidently, Uchicago Socialists is an RSO but not really active.
      https://blueprint.uchicago.edu/organization/uchicagosocialists

      They have a Facebook page but seem to be subsumed in the larger Chicago Socialists organization.
      https://www.facebook.com/uchicagosocialists/

    • DrBrydon
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Remember Marx: History always repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        Paraphrasing Hegel, in the Brumaire.

        • DrBrydon
          Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

          Yep. I had to pull my copy out, as I couldn’t remember whether it was the Brumaire or the Class Struggles.

    • Historian
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      The ignorance of history as reflected in the statements of the UChicago Socialists mirrors the ignorance of society at large. This abysmal situation allows the proliferation of “fake” history from both the right and the left. Ultimately, it jeopardizes democracy.

      From another perspective, I think an argument can be made that devotion to democratic ideals such as free speech is only present when it serves a group’s interest. If it doesn’t, rationales are brought forth to discard it or suppress it. I think for many (hopefully not a majority) the concept of democracy as an inherent good is rejected. Authoritarianism is just fine for those people who support the views of authoritarians.

    • mfdempsey1946
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      During the 1960s, no less a counterculture warrior than Norman Mailer reportedly witnessed and perhaps took part in one particular meeting of young, self-styled “revolutionaries.”

      I can’t find a citation for his alleged reaction but do recall how he was quoted back in the day (although not precisely what caused his reaction).

      But unless this story is apocryphal, apparently some scales fell from his eyes:

      “I’m not so sure I want a revolution. Some of these kids are awfully dumb.”

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        I don’t recall that particular passage, but it sounds like it could’ve come from Armies of the Night, his book about the anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon.

  10. DrBrydon
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I like that the University Socialists are meeting in a church. I’m sure they must fill the large part of a pew.

  11. Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    mildly interesting, though perhaps posted here before https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/honor-dignity-victim-cultures/

  12. Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    A ‘truth in advertising’ rewrite might go:

    “The invitation of [our political enemy] to speak in our community is an insult to and attack on [our political friends]. Does the University care more about the free-speech of [our political enemies] than it does about the lives of [our political friends]?”

  13. naveen1941
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I posted a comment defending the right of Bannon to speak at the Chicago University. That was removed. Therefore it is clear that Socialists are not only bent on silencing the persons who disagree with them but also silencing those who want to comment on the rights of these people to express their opinions. By banning you are not going to get rid of these opinions. These are the things that will shape the future if socialists come into power. In India the socialists were in power for over 60 years. They dominated the media, they wrote the text books and they created terror for those who disagreed with them. If you said Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Che were mass murderers, which they were, the Indian media would not publish. I just shudder to think what will happen if these socialists will come to power in the US.

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Yeah, every time I hear Bernie Sanders speak I keep thinking about those socialists in India.

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Where did you post your comment?

  14. Jon Gallant
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m willing to bet, with no specific knowledge, that the “U. Chicago Socialists” consists of the following: (a) a couple of ageing Trots from the local branch of the SWP, who set the tone; and (b) a handful of excitable kids (some students and some not) who have never heard of a place called the German Democratic Republic, Erich Honecker’s Socialist Unity Party which ran it, and all the other phenomena of that galaxy far away called the world from 1945 to 1991.

  15. Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    So far so good, in a way. No disruptions and *calling* for ban is very different from doing one or insisting upon it.

  16. Frank Bath
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    If free speech doesn’t include the right to offend it isn’t free speech at all.

  17. eric
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Does the University care more about the free-speech of bigots than it does about the lives of students, staff, faculty, and community members?

    Lives? No. But then again, AFAIK Bannon isn’t planning on ending anyone’s life in his role as speaker.

    Feelings? Yes. And it should.

  18. glen1davidson
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Zingales went ahead with the town hall on why Bannon was invited, and should not be disinvited. I thought this was probably the best argument for inviting him in the first place, even if it should be obvious to anyone who thinks rather than merely reacting:

    Professor Luigi Zingales defended his decision to plan a debate with Steve Bannon at the University of Chicago, telling about 50 students at a town hall Monday evening that he has valuable perspective on understanding Donald Trump’s rise.

    https://tinyurl.com/y8t34hvr

    Why university students and faculty wouldn’t want to better understand Trump’s win would seem to have no good answer.

    Glen Davidson


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