Here are some messages from the leadership universities in this context. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has announced “its goal to help support students when they are impacted by hate speech.” “The following examples of expressive activity exceed the limits of free expression and are prohibited at York University: hate speech…” From Wilfred Laurier University: “If students have experienced … hate … in the classroom or in student-advisor interactions, there are avenues at Laurier to address concerns…”
According to the Washington Post: “At colleges, violence in Israel and Gaza ignites a war of words. College campuses have long been staging grounds for debates over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. War has intensified them.” PenAmerica has delivered itself of this statement: “Even short of hate crimes or harassment, manifestly malicious and intimidating speech can impair equal access to the full benefits of a college education and the ability of all students to participate in campus discourse.”
However, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” Those who inveigh against “hate speech” are merely fulminating against opinions with which they disagree. Undoubtedly the support for Israel on the part of the present author will be deemed “hateful” to the enemies of this country.
What message, then, instead, should a university president be conveying? He should say something along the following lines. The mission of this university is to get the proverbial one-millionth of an inch closer to the Truth, with a capital T. In order to adhere as closely as possible to that goal, we need diversity: not of race or sex or sexual preference or age or any of the other usual desiderata. Instead, we need a diversity of ideas. It does not matter one whit from whom comes the next intellectual breakthrough. But if we all deduce from the same set of principles, this is less likely. So, let all shades of opinion be heard on campus. Everyone, try to listen to opposing views. If you do not so much as know what they are, you cannot refute them; you can only shut them down, which is the earmark of a street mob, not an institution of higher learning such as ours.
If you want to be a true scholar, worthy of belonging to the academic community, you do not have to be receptive to all opinions; you do not have to accord them any intellectual respect. But you have to, at the very least, know what they are. You cannot achieve this goal if you call them hate speech because you disagree with them and try to get them canceled.
Are there any sort of speech acts that ought to be banned from campus, indeed from our entire society? Yes, there is one. College presidents, thus, should not be absolutists on free speech. The exception? Threats of physical violence. “If you don’t shut up, I will engage in violence against you.” Or, “If you don’t give me your money, I will shoot you.”
Apart from threats of this sort, our university will become a bastion of free speech. If you do not relish this sort of intellectual community, I invite you to enroll elsewhere.
Support for Israel will be seen as “hate speech” by those who favor the Hamas cause. Similarly, support for Hamas will be seen as “hate speech” by those who favor the Israeli position. To ban “hate speech” in ordinary contexts is, of course, not to ban all speech. But in the present context, it comes close, too close for comfort.
This sort of message is all the more important since, typically, the manner in which prohibitions against “hate speech” on campus is and has been conducted is to shut down conservative and libertarian students, faculty, and guest speakers. If there are any occasions on which this cudgel has been employed to the detriment of feminists, communists, socialists, etc., even when their comments verge on actual threats, they must be few indeed.
The Kalven Report rules out the banning of “hate speech”: “cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.”
Walter Edward Block (born August 21, 1941) is an American Austrian School economist and anarcho-capitalist theorist. He currently holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans and is a senior fellow of the non-profit think-tank Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.