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The Mob at Middlebury

Nobody should be silenced by the mob, but Charles Murray is exactly the kind of right-winger left-wingers should want to debate rather than merely denounce

My latest column at The Week is about the appalling events at Middlebury College:

The violent protests that greeted the conservative political scientist when he tried to speak at Middlebury College last week could be easily dismissed as the latest episode in the by-now tiresome campus speech wars. They shouldn’t be. Murray isn’t just another right-wing gadfly who enjoys provoking left-wing outrage. In a very real sense, if the left thinks he isn’t worth debating, then one has to wonder who they think is.

I probably don’t need to rehash what happened here; if you want to read Murray’s own account of the events, here it is.

It should go without saying that violence is completely unjustified, and that so is protesting a speaker in such a fashion that he is unable to speak. But I spent the bulk of the column arguing specifically for the importance of engaging someone like Murray:

Murray is someone students need to hear from. He may be utterly wrong in his explanations for the phenomena he is studying. He may be thoroughly misguided in his proposed solutions. But he is asking questions that must be asked — and that must be asked in particular of a community of higher education which is a primary vehicle for the stratification he worries about.

Moreover, the concerns Murray is airing should be of particular interest to the left, which historically stands against the concentration of economic and political power, and against domination by a ruling class. If meritocracy and equality of opportunity does not increase social mobility and reduce class stratification, but the opposite, that would seem to be at least as powerful an argument for old-school left-wing solutions, like strong labor unions and the redistribution of wealth, as it is for Murray’s own conservative libertarianism.

But that’s why you have a debate.

Left-wingers should want to hear Murray — and hear what answers can be had from his analysis — more than conservatives should, because he is asking precisely the questions they need to answer. By ruling Murray unworthy of consideration, the radicals who protested him have not just traduced important norms related to free speech and civil respect (which would be bad enough), they have traduced those norms in the name of preserving themselves from having to question the institution they attend and its place in our society. A less-radical agenda than theirs is hard to imagine.

I conclude:

At some point in an article like this, the writer typically says that they abjure Murray’s abhorrent views but stand firmly for his right to air them, or that by engaging in violent and disruptive protest you merely turn him into a martyr and thereby enhance his stature rather than silencing him. And if I were writing about an odious troll like Milo Yiannopoulos, and I bothered to write an article about him at all, I might say something like that.

But I’m not going to say that about Charles Murray. He deserves to be debated not only because free speech belongs to everyone, but because he is asking absolutely vital questions. And any left worth its salt would jump at every chance to demonstrate that they have better answers.

Read the whole thing there.