More on Mob Rule

February 3, 2005

One of the difficulties in persuading angry and indignant people to cease their demands for censorship is that you are frequently countering their concrete grievance with a seemingly abstract hypothetical argument. To someone who is furious at actual speech uttered by a real person, it is often not persuasive to say, “But this kind of censorship might be used against you or people you like.”  We human beings tend to be persuaded more by experience than by argument.

Yesterday, I condemned Hamilton College for canceling Ward Churchill’s speech in response to unspecified threats. To conservatives who might be tempted to applaud such a decision—well, let me show you a different kind of mob. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, especially a vivid picture of a group of student protestors forcing an Army recruiter to leave campus. The caption notes that the protestors “were successful” in getting the recruiters “to leave their table under escort by campus security officers.” In other words, the college refused to protect the free speech rights of the recruiters (and, yes, Army recruiters do have their own rights to participate in the marketplace of ideas).

Civil discourse should not be reduced to the level of “my mob is stronger than your mob.” Shame on college administrators who forget that simple truth.

Schools:  Hamilton College