The great dictators of the world have long understood the essential link between thought and language.
From Augustus to Stalin, those who would wield total political power have first sought to exercise control over speech, and thus indirectly the thoughts of the people.
To that end, would-be totalitarians have always defined speech which they found politically unacceptable as morally unacceptable. If you can paint your political adversaries as morally repugnant and therefore beyond the pale of civility, you can dehumanize them and delegitimize their views.
Leftists see the value of such an approach tactically, but it also perfectly aligns with their Marxist-tainted worldview wherein there are no reasonable differences among well-meaning people, only allies or enemies of the cause.
Lest you think me engaging in some hyperventilating hyperbole, consider two cases currently before the American people, one of national import and scope, the other localized, but both instructive and dangerous.
Nationally of course you have Hillary Clinton and the Democrat party refusing to acknowledge the legitimate and decisive electoral victory of Donald Trump.
Note the motivation of this recent campaign against Trump and the electors pledged to put him in office. It’s not just that Democrats disagree with Donald Trump’s stance on trade or immigration or foreign relations. It’s that he — and therefore his supporters — are morally unacceptable (“deplorable”) and therefore unworthy of rational discourse.
And just as Trump electors were targeted for harassment and intimidation nationally, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison a group of conservative students are experiencing a similar and terrifying persecution.
On November 16, the University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) hosted an event on campus featuring a speech by the conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro planned to speak on micro aggressions, safe spaces and free speech in campus culture.
Some students, however, were determined to ensure Mr. Shapiro’s message did not reach an audience on the UW campus. YAF leadership had printed and placed roughly 100 posters around campus in the weeks leading up to the event; to their dismay they found their posters torn down almost immediately.
The night of the event, Mr. Shapiro was disrupted shortly after beginning his remarks. A group of protestors began shouting him down calling him “Nazi.” Next a throng of protesters crashed the stage, blocking the audiences’ view and chanting “safety!”
The ironies pile up to the point that the whole affair seems a parody of self-righteous campus leftism. Mr. Shapiro, a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke, labeled a Nazi by thugs using classic brown-shirt tactics.
But it’s what happened in the weeks after Mr. Shapiro’s event that is truly chilling. YAF leaders on campus have been subject to a sustained and ugly smear campaign, finding themselves labeled “white supremacists” on social media. Soon a petition was circulating by campus enemies of YAF asking administrators to:
“… put [YAF leadership] through intensive diversity training and have the charter revoked so Y.A.F. is no longer a campus organization that can create a hostile environment.”
And what had YAF and Mr. Shapiro done to deserve such treatment? According to the petition, the speaker had in the past “den[ied] the realities of systematic and institutional violences against” a long list of peoples, the sum of which could be read as “everyone except straight, white men.”
No citations or quotations of Mr. Shapiro’s writings were given as examples of these alleged thought crimes, of course.
The University administration is taking the accusations against YAF seriously. According to YAF chapter chairwoman Kara Bell, administration officials have assured her that the University would take no formal action against the group… at least until the students return from winter break.
Not exactly reassuring coming from a school that offers a course titled “The Problem of Whiteness.” When I asked Ms. Bell how she viewed the whole affair she laughed, “Just a day in the life of a conservative on campus: go to class, take a test, get called a white supremacist, you know.”
Speakers shouted down in public; proponents of the First Amendment branded a hate group; punitive action — including re-education training — proposed and considered for holders of unacceptable political views.
Stalin is long dead. But he is surely smiling from his Russian grave at the work of his fellow travelers in the heart of America.