Campus Free Speech

Brown University Students: Free Markets, Free Speech Enable 'White Supremacist and Fascist Ideas'

Activists protest conservative Guy Benson, but event proceeds as planned.


Guy Benson
Gage Skidmore

Conservative writer Guy Benson gave a talk at Brown last night, to the disappointment of student-activists who had released a statement opposing his presence.

The students declared that Benson, an editor at Townhall and co-author of End of Discussion, a book about leftist hostility to free speech, is a supporter of "fiscal conservatism and free market ideology," which "enable white supremacist and fascist ideas."

In defense of their position, the students cited a Salon article about the left's current favorite subject: the horrors of "neoliberalism." For the past year, I've been tailing student activists and parsing their belief system, and I can indeed testify to the fact that passionate opposition to neoliberalism is one of their main ideological positions. The meaning of neoliberalism shifts around a lot, but lately it has often meant moderate Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton—or Jonathan Chait and Vox—who they regard as little better than conservatives. In supporting free speech protections for people who hold abhorrent views, these liberals are seen as essentially traitors.

And Benson, a conservative, is empowering hate, in the activists' view:

Arguments like Benson's enable white supremacist and fascist ideas to fester and flourish by defending the speech of already empowered people over and above any concern for justice or histories of violence.

How does Benson's claim to free speech and his dismissal of the racism at the heart of 'free' speech debates, help our community heal, learn, and grow? OUR institution cannot simultaneously honor this speaker and claim a commitment to change.

On Twitter, Chait remarked that the activists were "admirably clear about their belief Republicans have no right to free speech. None of the usual obfuscation here." Indeed, speech-negative students often fall in to two camps: an "obfuscation" camp that claims to support free speech but treats all speech unfriendly to the activists' goals as not actually free speech but hate speech, which they consider a form of violence; and another camp that simply rejects the idea that the oppressors—defined as anyone opposed to the activists—deserve free speech rights. The Benson critics seem to fall into the latter, purer camp.

Nevertheless, Benson's event went off without a hitch. A small contingent staged a walkout, which Benson noted is "a perfectly acceptable response to speech one may deem objectionable."