The recent uproars at the University of Missouri and Yale have been bludgeoned to death with analysis, roundly criticized by publications from the Atlantic to the Wall Street Journal and everyone in between. And rightly so: what we’ve seen in Columbia and New Haven has been nothing short of lunacy: protests spawned from wisps of controversies, leaving in their wake mob rule without even a modicum of logic. (If you taste closely, you can detect a faint hint of racism, with silky tannins of political incorrectness; in vino veritas, and in whining the ouster of Tim Wolfe.) Still nobody can quite ascertain exactly what lit the powder keg at Mizzou, and why Yale has imploded. The best guesses ventured to this point, respectively, involve a slew of racist incidents (which are bad, indeed) and an email sent by a faculty member saying she doesn’t think it right to tell students what to wear on Halloween (which is not). In other words: the President of the UM system resigned because individuals on his campuses said despicable things he couldn’t control, and Yale faculty are suffering verbal abuse for not being authoritarian enough. As a college student, I confess that I find none of this surprising.
To put the mind-boggling absurdity of these “protests” aside for a moment, it is worth noting how peculiar the coverage has been. All of a sudden, as if horrified that the prophecies of conservatives like Princeton Professor Robert George were coming true, the Left-but-not-bereft-of-any-logic-or-foresight-Left has conceded that these Progressive campus movements do indeed have a significant chilling effect on speech and dialogue. An even more novel realization: this chilling effect is actually anathema to what universities are about. And, sure, we might even admit that this is “anti-diversity, anti-pluralism, and anti-tolerance,” as the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf put it. Funny how the revolution has begun to consume itself, in the very name of tolerance and diversity.
Many are focused on the free speech issue. It is undeniably unfair, wrong and un-American that petulant Missouri “protesters” bullied a student photographer to the extent that he could not document what was going on. It is painfully ironic that student activists at Yale protested, without any sense of irony, a free-speech-advocacy panel’s invasion of their “safe space.” But not unexpectedly, the criticism stops there, making these concessions about free speech but failing to take the next step: it is not simply speech being chilled, but the liberty to live as a freethinking individual who does not subscribe to progressive orthodoxy. Today’s whiny protesters are tomorrow’s totalitarians. They are annoying and intolerant, sure, but they are also flexing their muscle. Tim Wolfe was forced by the mob to resign and apologize for his amorphous crime (an unforgivable one, surely, as soon as we can figure out what it is) and that’s no small deal.
But none of the free-speech issue is new, and none of this is primed to change. The toxic brew of me-first ideology combined with constant competitions over who is most victimized is an outgrowth of progressivism that won’t be leaving anytime soon, so long as students can at once see themselves as perpetual victims deserving of pity and brave warriors for social justice, speaking truth to power on their patriarchal and racist campus. Students will continue to scream at Greg Lukianoff (appropriately, it was FIRE in the theater of the absurd) and do whatever Marxist voodoo die-ins help them feel better about their insignificance on God’s green Earth.
The pain Tim Wolfe and Erika Christakis are feeling as they contemplate their intersectional sin (egregious, truly egregious) is a birth pang of burgeoning Leftist totalitarianism. This is not to be underestimated. Students at Yale are undoubtedly going to be influential people in one capacity or another (I’ve had my reservations about Mizzou students since Chase Patton’s NFL career didn’t pan out) and they have been groomed with the guiding teeth of progressivism, fashionably preparing graduates to worship at the altar of anti-racism and bristle at any microaggression or trespass upon their safe space. The solution to perceived wrongs is simple: forcible compliance. If you do not agree with us, we will agree to disagree! As long as you forfeit your job, admit your complete guilt before the mob, and ritually declare your privilege, obviously. This is totalitarianism in its purest form. Everyone must comply. Or we will ruin your life.
These recent events are not just the same old, same old. College progressivism is doing just that: progressing, to the point of having power, wielding megaphones as pitchforks to enforce their utterly arbitrary will, with too few willing to yell, “Stop.” It’s no longer about free speech on campus; that ship sailed a long time ago, and I see little hope of restoring vibrancy, nuance or respect to campus debate. The new phase is upon us, and it doesn’t bode well for the United States to produce a generation steeped in critical race and gender theory, doused in cultural Marxism and sprinkled with a reminder that dissent is inherently evil and must be suppressed.
It was once said that if you scratch a progressive enough, a totalitarian begins to show. Scratching is no longer necessary.
Tal Fortgang is a junior from New Rochelle, NY. He is majoring in the Politics Department. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.