Economist Herbert Stein is famous for the quotation “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
For many years, Stein was a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where I am an adjunct fellow and Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar in the social sciences. Last week, Dr. Murray attempted to give a speech at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, and well, you’ve probably heard how that went.
It was the most violent instance in the recent trend of out-of-control protesters on college campuses silencing speakers with whom they disagree. Just days after Dr. Murray’s talk, the philosopher Peter Singer, who I think can fairly be put at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Dr. Murray, had a lecture shouted down by students with megaphones.
This cannot continue. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think the events at Middlebury represent a turning point in the free speech battle on college campuses. My perusal of the media coverage of the event shows near universal condemnation of the students’ actions. From the New York Times to National Review, educated people of all political stripes have opposed it. Dr. Murray himself has praised the administration at Middlebury, which is rightfully embarrassed and has committed to fixing the problem.
Time will tell, and the concrete steps Middlebury takes will be important, obviously. But I think the tide is turning. If you follow writers like Kat Timpf at NRO or Robby Soave at Reason, it seems like not a week will go by without some speaker that deviates even a tiny bit from the orthodoxy on some issue getting shouted down. Liberals are being protested, conservatives are being protested, and seemingly apolitical folks are being protested. It’s like that scene from Oprah’s “favorite things” episode when she gave everyone a car: “AND YOU GET A PROTEST! AND YOU GET A PROTEST!”
Ironically, the upside is that it isn’t just conservatives who are being shouted down anymore. This has the effect of widening the group of people who oppose the protests. It’s easier to be a bystander when you disagree with the person who is being protested. It’s harder when you feel your own tribe is under attack.
Things that cannot continue, won’t. This has to end, and the sooner the better.