In response to “Free speech is a vital part of social progress” published in the Nov. 30 edition of The News-Letter.
In Rachel Fortinsky and Michael Leff’s recent op-ed on free speech, they attempt to use a historical perspective to make the case for unfettered speech rights in the name of continued social progress. They bring up examples like the feminist movement, abolition, and the LGBT rights movement being things that would not exist without the right to free speech. They then, however, diverge from this discussion by using it to make a case that even someone as abhorrent as Richard Spencer should be given a platform, since small towns would find a leftist speaker just as offensive as we would Richard Spencer.
I think this logic is not only ignorant of Western history but irrational in its scope. One seeking to genocide an entire religion is leagues different than someone promoting same-sex marriage. This false dichotomy ignores why people are so reluctant to hear the views of nazis and others espousing genocide in the first place. The stoking of nationalist values we see today is disturbingly similar to the historical conditions in pre-WW2 Germany. Tellingly, some of the last remaining Holocaust survivors have said this themselves. Do we dare ignore history in the name of our ideals? Should we sacrifice the integrity of the nation and our values on the altar of giving anyone, no matter how dangerous, a platform? Whilst we can’t prevent far right nationalists and explicit nazis from speaking at all, it’s foolish to give them an open and prominent platform. Any student of history knows that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We should learn from history, and abstain from letting fascists seeking explicitly violent goals that go against our values use our campus or any other to speak.
I’d like to re-emphasize that the crucial difference between the harbingers of progress the writers of this op-ed describe and Richard Spencer, whom they use as an example, is that we have literally seen what happens when people like Richard Spencer have a platform. They will spread their ideology and stoke racial tensions in response to economic concerns. This is objectively bad. That the writers of this op-ed think one advocating tolerance of a minority group is considered the same level of controversial as one advocating literal genocide simply doesn’t pan out. Do you want to advocate for free speech? Go ahead. But don’t do it like this.