Berkeley is burning. So are thousands of college and university campuses across the United States.
Not literally. Not at the moment. The actual fires have died down at the University of California’s flagship campus. But the destructive impulse remains.
Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind: “Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts.” Berkeley, the home of the much touted “free speech” movement, descended into chaos this week because its largely leftist student body was confronted with such an alternative.
Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos aimed to extend his campus tour to the famously liberal institution where he was met with steep resistance. A motley collection of left-wing activists, anarchists and nihilistic thrill seekers uniting under “anti-fascism” banner turned the California university into a near war zone. The aim of the protesters was to shut down Yiannopoulos’ planned speech that evening, and in so doing send a message to any who dare question the Left’s narrative.
Protesters attacked conservatives and supporters of President Trump who sought to attend the event. Graffiti around campus included language such as “kill Trump” and anarchist symbolism. And, of course, no university riot these days would be complete without extensive property damage on campus and off. Amazingly, Berkeley police managed to make only one arrest..
All of this amounted to an initial call for victory from the far Left. That is until President Trump weighed in with threats to cut federal funding from the university, and Yiannopoulos was given a prime-time slot to reach an audience of millions on Wednesday night.
What were they thinking?
Freedom of speech has been enshrined in the American imagination since—well, since before there even was a United States. Nowhere is this right held to be more sacrosanct than at our universities, where students are supposed to go to find new, challenging, and yes even dangerous thought. But for too long that hasn’t been the case.
Bloom’s book first written in 1987 described the architecture of the “closed minds” of today’s universities. Enthralled with left-wing shibboleths today’s elite universities more resemble theological seminaries for leftism than institutions dedicated to higher discourse.
Leftist opponents of Yiannopoulos (and anyone to the right of David Brooks) usually present their arguments in terms of “no-platforming”—a noxious British import where one’s right to “free speech” is defended more or less in the abstract, but you are denied a venue in which to have it. A variation is “hate speech is not free speech.” Either way, this is just liberal censorship, masquerading as support for the First Amendment.
It’s even more outrageous when one considers that UC Berkeley is a public institution. Hence the claim now making the rounds that Yiannopoulos has the right to speak, but not at Berkeley. Sorry, but yes he does. You better believe he does.
Yiannopoulos presents standard conservative arguments against multiculturalism, immigration, and feminism. Yet he does it in such a way as to provoke a left-wing response that exposes their hypocrisies and real intentions. Instead of merely preaching to the converted at National Review or elsewhere, he heads into the lion’s den itself: American universities.
Because Milo is effective among the college students the Left has decided belong in their custody, they treat him like the second coming of Joseph Goebbels.
Students are starved for an alternative.
For four years, they are subjected to a never-ending parade of self-flagellation, apology, and tut-tutting about America and her history. It’s been this way for most of their lives, and it has only intensified in the wake of the election of President Trump.
In just the past year we’ve seen a proliferation of trigger warnings and “disinvitations”; portraits of Shakespeare torn down; protests against college benefactors with unfortunate-sounding names; college administrators turning into anti-Trump bully pulpits—among countless other nameless attempts to ensure colleges remain formless, boring left-wing echo chambers.
Our institutions of higher education have ceased to be places of learning. Instead they have become joyless places for the theological indoctrination of students into the vagaries of today’s leftist hegemony. Today’s “antifa” protester becomes tomorrow’s EPA bureaucrat.
President Trump is already seeing the fruits of several decades of this kind of indoctrination in the deep state’s resistance to his presidency and the bureaucracy’s opposition to his administration. This is what Bloom and so many others presaged back in the 1980s. The Left likes to say that the president is not “normal.” Well, thank God for that! For too long it has been “normal” for the leftist narrative to go unchallenged in our government and in our institutions of higher learning. Today we have a president who has changed all of that in just under three weeks!
In response to the Berkeley riots, Trump even hinted he may look into cutting federal funds for such places unless they start acting like—well, universities.
This is the first major threat to the campus Left since Ronald Reagan met them head on as governor of California in the 1960s. It doesn’t come a moment too soon either. Conservatives have long lamented the liberal bias of our colleges and universities and Donald Trump, in one tweet, has done more to combat it than decades of activism have been able to do.
The minds of the academic Left (and their shock troops) are exploding. This is a great thing, the more they do, the more the minds of Americans will be open once again not only to conservatism, but to the greatness of America itself.