The Contradiction at the Heart of Speech Limitations Sought by Campus Progressives

Campus Progressives are becoming increasingly open about their opposition to unfettered free speech.  As a minimum, they seem to want restrictions on (and thus punishments for) speech they feel disparages ethnic minorities, homosexuals, various flavors of trans-gendered people, etc.  If pressed, many might extend these restrictions to other speech they don't like, e.g. climate skepticism or advocating for the Second Amendment.

What often confuses outsiders about these calls for speech restrictions is that they are generally asymmetrical -- eg it is OK to criticize Christians but not to criticize Muslims.  You can impugn the motives of rich white males but not of blacks or Hispanics.  Critics of these limitations will say, "aha, you are a hypocrite" but in fact Progressives are quite open about this asymmetry.  They argue from a framework where everything comes back to the powerful vs. the powerless.  In this framework, it is OK for the powerless to criticize the powerful, but the reverse is not allowed -- they call it "punching down".  Thus the need for asymmetric speech limitations to protect the powerless from the powerful.

But this is where we get to a massive contradiction.   Because whoever is in a position to enforce speech limitations is always going to be the person with power.  By definition.   The powerless don't write and succesfully enforce speech codes, or else if they do, we now have to call them powerful.  And historically, people in power always use speech limitations to protect their own power.  That is why the First Amendment exists, to protect minorities of any sort from the power of the majority.  If historically disenfranchised people suddenly start making speech codes stick that protect them from criticism, it only means that the in-group and out-group tags have been shifted and the new in-group is acting just like all the other in-groups have in the past.  That is why we don't rely on assurances of good behavior by people in power, we try to circumscribe them with Constitutional limitations.


  1. slocum:

    But, of course, the campus progressives would argue A) that the powerless aren't writing speech codes; instead, well-meaning progressives with power are doing so on their behalf, and/or B) that power on campus isn't the *real* power in society anyway, so those controlling speech on campus are still an 'oppressed' minority overall.

  2. Mark:

    Right on, but the other dynamic at play is one of big brother/little brother. The oppressed minorities forge an alliance with the big brother govertnment/administration against the majority bully. Kind of like in Tom and Jerry.

  3. ErikTheRed:

    But your logic and reasoning contradicts muh feels!

  4. Tonestaple:

    I suppose they could say such things, but that implies that they are aware of the existence of the world outside of their college campus, and I really don't think they are.