“We have but one rule - that every student must be a gentleman.”
— Robert E. Lee
A Hit List of Conservative Students

A Hit List of Conservative Students

Picture 1 .png

By Will Tanner ‘21,

In this screenshot of a W&L twitter group from May 2019, the "tolerance" of the far-left is on full display. W&L is supposed to be a place where things like the speaking tradition, gentlemanly behavior, and liberal values like free speech are respected. Not a place where one's first impulse upon reading a different perspective is to create a hit list. And certainly not a place where people tolerate such immature and potentially violent behavior, much less applaud it with a "well done."

The screenshot originated in a Twitter group composed primarily of about 100 of our friends on the left at W&L. Evidently, it has at least two potentially violent radicals. And therein lies the problem.

The creation of a hit list is something that should, at the very least, merit concern. Perhaps even condemnation. Not applause. Imagine what would have happened if conservative students created a hit list of their progressive peers. Even as a joke. We all know that the resulting action would have been swift and devastating. And rightly so, threatening violence as a response to someone airing a dissenting opinion is completely unacceptable behavior, especially for a campus that prides itself on the speaking tradition and community trust.

But to me, the hit list of conservative students is far more problematic outside of the W&L context. It shows the disturbing transformation of the American left from liberal to illiberal. In my opinion, that shift and the restriction of free speech that it represents is far more frightening than one measly hit list.

Note: The original definition of liberal, which I will use for the remainder of this article, is "favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms." Illiberal is the converse of that; it means "opposed to liberal principles; restricting freedom of thought or behavior." From: https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/liberal

Both the right and left in America have illiberal impulses. The right has a propensity to restrain freedom of behavior, for example. However, that illiberal impulse of the right has declined dramatically in recent years due to the rise of libertarianism. 

Unfortunately, the same shift has not happened on the left, as shown from the continual desire of the more radical leftists to restrain freedom of speech and thought. Hit lists of conservative students to try to intimidate them into silence. Antifa attacks on conservative students and speakers around the nation. Widespread slandering of Republican lawmakers for presenting opinions with which the left disagrees. Those actions are all symptoms of a transition from liberal to illiberal.

A critical part of the experiment that is America is our toleration and respect for free speech. One of the most vital pieces of a liberal democracy or republic is a toleration of free speech. Free speech allows the sharing of ideas in the "marketplace" of public opinion so that only the best become rooted in the public consciousness. It's capitalism applied to ideas. But it only works if both sides agree on the premise that we should be a liberal republic. Ideas can't be shared freely and guided by the invisible hand if thugs threaten to kill you for disagreeing with them.

A deep-seated reluctance to engage in political violence has been fast disappearing as America has transitioned from liberal to illiberal. Fortunately, the barbarity of the far-right has long been documented and looked down upon and correctly recognized as criminal. However, the violent nature of the far-left has not been. We remember Hitler's Brownshirts, but not Mao's Red Guard. In other words, some tend to call out the American right for its illiberal tendencies but to ignore the illiberal tendencies of the left. 

That dichotomy has long bothered me. My first article for the Spectator, "A Double Standard on Violence" was about President Dudley calling out the KKK but not Antifa. Little has changed in the interim of that article and this one. In fact, given the creation of a hit list of the Spectator staff, it probably has gotten worse. The W&L community needs to unite and change that. 

Instead of only seeing through partisan-tinted glasses, we should call out illiberal behavior wherever it appears. Whether it's the intolerant members of the right restricting freedom of action or the illiberal members of the left attempting to restrict freedom of thought and expression, we need to call it out. If we desire the free, liberal society that the Founding Fathers intended to create, then there is no alternative.

In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek presents the thesis that socialism in any form will eventually lead to totalitarianism. His examples are not only National Socialism and Bolshevism, two quite obviously totalitarian states, but also socialist, post-World War II England. Unsurprisingly, in all three instances, the socialists gradually restricted freedom of thought, behavior, and economic opportunity in their attempts to dramatically change society. 

I think that if Hayek were writing today, he would mention the socialists in America when describing the illiberal shift caused by socialism. How else could you explain the ferocious attempts to discredit or intimidate anyone who might not toe the party line of the far left? In the world of those illiberal radicals, anyone who disagrees with AOC's Green New Deal wants to destroy the environment. Trump voters are "deplorables" or fascists. Conservatives at Berkeley need to be intimidated by masked Antifa thugs. And writers for a conservative magazine at a small school in Virginia are put on a hit list for having the audacity to express a differing perspective. 

That shift away from free speech and towards a totalitarian system of suppression of ideas is dangerous and frightening. Or at least it should be alarming to anyone who values the First Amendment. We shouldn't tolerate illiberal impulses in society, however small.

Related Links:

Conservative student attacked at UC Berkeley: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/02/21/conservative_student_assaulted_on_uc_berkeley_campus_told_he_is_encouraging_violence.html   

More attacks against conservative students: https://www.thecollegefix.com/four-times-conservative-students-physically-attacked-school-year/

The Road to Serfdom: https://mises.org/library/road-serfdom-0

A Troubling Trend: The Assault on Free Speech in Higher Education

A Troubling Trend: The Assault on Free Speech in Higher Education