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The ideology of censorship

Free speech and subversive repression

Sam Dugan, Special to the Quad

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A recent study of college students’ views on free speech conducted by the Brookings Institution produced shocking findings. Of 1,500 undergraduates polled from four-year institutions across the country, 44 percent thought that “hate speech” was not a constitutionally protected speech, only 39 percent correctly stated that it was and 16 percent said that they didn’t know.

Over half of students said it was acceptable to shout down speakers whom they disagreed with and about one-fifth said that violence was also an acceptable means of shutting such a speaker down. Perhaps most alarming, more than half of students thought that it was more important for colleges to censor offensive or biased speech and viewpoints than to provide an open learning environment where students are exposed to all kinds of speech and viewpoints.

To see what led to these positions against free speech, it is crucial to understand the ideology beneath them. One of the most indispensable thinkers in this regard is Herbert Marcuse, a member of the Frankfurt School and the father of the New Left movement.

The Frankfurt School consisted of thinkers aimed at producing a NeoMarxist revolution in the United States. Whereas classical Marxism pitted the working class against the middle and upper classes, Neo-Marxism divides society into an oppressor versus oppressed dynamic by using racial, gender and sexual identity groups. The oppressor group consists white, heterosexual men and the oppressed group is composed of everyone else.

Marcuse and other leaders of the Frankfurt School saw the U.S. as corrupt to its core. They completely rejected the foundations of our country, such as natural law, natural rights and capitalism. To them, America was not exceptional, but evil. Our country was inextricably linked to exploitation, domination and oppression; there was absolutely nothing of value contained in our founding ideals.

For these reasons, members of the Frankfurt School did not desire to merely change America, but to fundamentally transform it. They wanted to completely destroy society by convincing people to subvert our institutions and traditional values. This destruction, or so-called “liberation,” would then pave the way for a topdown restructuring of society by elitists aimed at achieving the communist utopia (now referred to as “equity”).

To achieve revolution, freedom of speech would have to be eliminated. Herbert Marcuse, in his 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance,” laid out the ideology to do so.

Marcuse said, “the realization of . . . tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes and opinions which are…suppressed.” By this Marcuse means, “restraining the liberty of the Right.” Intolerance must be applied to groups and ideas including those which “oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.”

To Marcuse, freedom of speech is “serving the cause of oppression” by not privileging revolutionary ideologies over all others. To achieve revolution, tolerance must instead become “a partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice.” He says, “such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation.”

This is exactly the ideology of college students who de-platform speakers. Students frequently prevent the speech of those they disagree with by claiming that any ideas in opposition to their ideology threaten their very existence. By claiming that their existence is under threat, students can also then justify violence in response to speech.

If groups see themselves as oppressed, and view their existence as being threatened, then any criticism of their ideology serves as a roadblock to their goal of “liberation” from oppression. Dissent itself is then equivalent to violence because it maintains the structures of oppression against marginalized groups. That is why we now see students saying that speech is violence.

Freedom of speech is based on the principle that people are rational and free-thinking. But, Marcuse insists that people have deceived themselves into accepting their own oppression and so they are not rational or free-thinking. People have a “false consciousness” because they have “internalized oppression.”

The oppressed therefore need those like Marcuse, everyone “‘in the maturity of his faculties’ as a human being, everyone who has learned to think rationally and autonomously” to free them from their self-deception and oppression.

Once the oppressed have been “liberated” and society has crumbled, enlightened intellectuals would take charge of restructuring society. They “would be a small number indeed, and not necessarily that of elected representatives of the people.” Since people are living in self-deception, they cannot be trusted to elect their own leaders. Instead, intellectuals like Marcuse, who deem themselves fit to rule, would appoint themselves as dictators.

And therein lies the real motive of intellectuals like Marcuse and some of the professors who are leading the charge for radical egalitarianism today. These people resent and envy anyone who possesses more authority than them. What really grips them is a lust of power and a desire to rule over others.

These intellectuals convince people that they are oppressed so that the oppressed groups can be mobilized as a destructive force against civilization. Intellectuals would then remake society according to their own will. It is not an exaggeration, then, to say that these are the sort of people who suppose themselves fit to be God.

Now, I am not saying that everyone in favor of establishing an egalitarian society does so strictly because they desire power. Some people certainly have good intentions. But as Lawrence Reed once said, “Too many times in history to count, this is how freedom is lost. Bad men of power always lurk among those with good intentions, the former using the latter’s gullibility and naivete to advance their own agenda.”

I’ll leave you with the following question to consider.

Which seems more likely: that America is corrupt to the core and contains nothing of value worth preserving, or that the people who push such a notion forth may have something to gain from its adoption?

Sam Dugan is a fourth-year student majoring in economics with a minor in philosophy. They can be reached at [email protected]

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The ideology of censorship