“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges ...”
-- Anatole France.
Of course, we all know that the rich do not sleep under bridges, and so the law, which in this case enforces the same rules of behavior for rich and poor, is not at all majestic, or merciful, or just. Justice, Aristotle says, treats equal things equally and unequal things unequally.
Let’s begin with an obvious observation: a university talk by Ben Shapiro and Anita Hill are in no sense equal. And we know from bitter experience that opposition to such talks are radically (pun intended) unequal. Susan Herbst, the president of the University of Connecticut, would be hard pressed to cite a case in which a political sermonette by a noted liberal was cut short by audience thugs. But in the case of conservatives invited to speak at colleges, address-interruptus, sometimes violent, always ill mannered, is as common as applause. It would appear then that conservative speakers are in no sense equal to liberal/progressive/socialist/communist speakers; their messages are different, and reception to their messages is different.
Anita Hill was permitted to speak at UConn without enduring the kind of interruptions that have become common when conservatives exercise their First Amendment rights at public universities such as Berkley, where protesters set fires, broke windows, taunted cops and speakers, and engaged in mob behavior reminiscent of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung. In California, a progressive poverty catch-basin that has more homeless people on its streets than Alabama,
Antifa, aligned with other groups that would not protest a college address given by Hill, was successful in closing down an address given by Milo Yiannopoulos, a former senior editor of Breitbart News, a “cultural libertarian,” a gay provocateur in full scale rebellion against the baneful excesses of third wave feminism, radical Islam, political correctness, academic intolerance and weepy students searching for safe places in edenic universities.
Some weeks ago, audience thugs at UConn successfully shut down an address given by Lucian Wintrich , the White House correspondent for the Gateway Pundit, provocatively titled “It’s OK To Be White.” Arrested by UConn police, perhaps in order to protect him from the lynch mob in the audience determined to shut him down, charges against Wintrich were quickly dropped. A prosecutor soon brought charges against one of his tormentors, student adviser at Quinebaug Valley Community College Catherine Gregory, who had created a ruckus by stealing notes from the speaker’s speech. Her charges were later reduced.
That incident produced an administrative policy at the university that, in its majestic equality, forbids both conservative and progressives to attend college addresses at UConn, unless the attendees are UConn students. The university’s precautions censor the audience rather than the text, which is just as objectionable as pre-censoring printed material. Both are forms of prior restraint.
Obvious observation number two: Ben Shapiro is not Yiannapolis – not that there’s anything wrong with being Milo. Neither is he Wintrich or Anita Hill, best remembered in connection with her opposition to the nomination to the Supreme Court of now Justice Clarence Thomas, an African-American associate justice married to a white woman who presumably is non-racist. Nor is Shapiro an alt-righter, as he has been labeled in recent news reports issuing from Connecticut’s inattentive media. In fact, Shapiro is an adamant non-alt-righter.
Listening to Shapiro is a bit like listening to a Gatling gun that speaks English in full sentences. And the dialogues he conducts at the end of his addresses with articulate students who think they disagree with his message, remarkably free of overt and intended provocations, is Socratic in structure and mildly subversive, because Shapiro is entertaining, rational and persuasive, not only to the conservative/libertarian choir that comes to hear him sing, but also to students making an honest and arduous journey between progressivism and conservatism in an age in which conservatives are treated in academia much the way witches were in Cotton Mather’s Boston.
In remarks preceding his address, “White Privilege Microaggressions and Other Leftist Myths,” Shapiro lamented that the beefed-up security was necessary, remarked “that the left is so afraid of open conversation that they scheduled an event at the exact same time,” and regretted that more left-leaning students were not in attendance. He “prefers speaking to people with whom I disagree,” Shapiro said, “ because discussions are useful.” A month prior to his appearance, college administrators circulated a notice to the insulted and injured at UConn that Shapiro would be making an appearance at the university; but not to worry, because empaths at UConn would provide counseling for aggrieved students – signs of the times that show just how far universities have come since Cardinal Newman published his “The Idea of a University,” which should be required reading for all administrators at UConn.
Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist and a frequent contributor to New England Diary.