A Wayne State University English Professor, Steven Shaviro, was suspended (with pay) for writing a Facebook post stating that it would be better to kill “bigots” rather than “to shout them down.” The “professor,” who has taught courses in film, apparently referred to what recently happened at Stanford University Law School to Judge Kyle Duncan of the Fifth Circuit Court, a Trump appointee, who faced the vitriol and abuse of rabid law student protestors, such that he couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Protestors screamed at him from the moment he arrived on campus and throughout his efforts to speak, with one even yelling: “We hope your daughters get raped.” This response was not enough for Professor Shaviro.
Shaviro wrote: “So here is what I think about free speech on campus. Although I do not advocate violating federal and state criminal codes, I think it is far more admirable to kill a racist, homophobic, or transphobic speaker than it is to shout them down.” In other words, some speech merits its speaker a death sentence. Such speech is so deplorable that the murder of its speaker is deemed “admirable.” That is, killing a human being is deemed morally preferable to allowing speech that one doesn’t condone.
Of course, Shaviro effectively contradicted himself in the space of one sentence, stating that while he doesn’t “advocate” violating the law, he nevertheless would find its violation “admirable” in the case of the murder of so-called bigoted speakers. How finding something admirable does not constitute advocacy only Shaviro can say. But this is where the Left has finally arrived; speakers who violate leftist standards for speech deserve death.
We should not imagine that Shaviro’s view represents an exception; it is now common among the leftist establishment. For example, Katie Hobbs’s press secretary recently resigned after advocating shooting “transphobes” in a tweet—on the heels of a transgender shooter killing six people in Nashville, TN.
Shaviro implied that a speaker’s audience is qualified and authorized to determine whether a speaker is “racist, homophobic, or transphobic,” and thus deserves the death penalty. Shaviro would combine judge, jury, and executioner in one person or group, in the name of obliterating speakers found to be objectionable—that is, as punishment for something that is not a crime in the first place, with a “punishment” which itself is a capital offense.
Further, like so many of his ilk, Shaviro confuses the right of expression with a compulsion to attend to and act upon that expression, as if the only choice when faced with speech one deplores is to protest (or to kill the speaker), rather than merely ignoring it:
In short, every time protestors shout down a racist or transphobic speaker, they
are indulging their own moral sense of validity at the expense of actually
strengthening the very bigots against whom they are protesting.
Leaving aside, for the moment, the question of whether Shaviro’s statement itself should be protected under the First Amendment, it must be noted that such attitudes as his follow directly from a monumental piece of Leftist “theory,” namely Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 essay, “Repressive Tolerance”—as well as from postmodern notions about speech as equivalent to action.
In “Repressive Tolerance,” Marcuse argued for the intolerance that leftists currently demonstrate against expression of which they disapprove—that is, all expression other than their own. Marcuse argued that “tolerance” for expression was originally born in opposition to existing powers. Thus, real tolerance should not be “impartial” but rather should favor only oppositional (i.e., leftist) expression.
Tolerance, as it was practiced in 1965, Marcuse asserted, was of two kinds:
(1) the passive toleration of entrenched and established attitudes and ideas even if their damaging effect on man and nature is evident; and (2) the active, official tolerance granted to the Right as well as to the Left, to movements of aggression as well as to movements of peace, to the party of hate as well as to that of humanity. I call this non-partisan tolerance “abstract” or “pure” inasmuch as it refrains from taking sides--but in doing so it actually protects the already established machinery of discrimination (85).
That is, the expression of the “the Right” supports “aggression,” “hate,” and “the machinery of discrimination,” while that of “the Left” supports “peace” and “humanity.” This claim should surely strike us as ironic in 2023—just as it should have struck readers in 1965. But Marcuse thus saw “pure” or “abstract” tolerance as “ridiculous.”
It would follow then that Marcuse would think that only leftist speech should be tolerated. And that is exactly what he argued. But how did he justify this position? Citing John Stuart Mill, Marcuse argued that tolerance was only ever supposed to be a means for promoting freedom and truth, thus improving the lot of mankind:
Tolerance of free speech is the way of improvement, of progress in liberation, not
because there is no objective truth, and improvement must necessarily be a
compromise between a variety of opinions, but because there is an objective truth
which can be discovered, ascertained only in learning and comprehending that which is and that which can be and ought to be done for the sake of improving the lot of mankind (89).
And what kind of politics did Marcuse see as improving the lot of mankind? Why, leftist politics, of course. How could Marcuse make this claim after the horrific repression and slaughter in the Soviet Union had come to light? His reasoning necessitated exempting the Left from the political crimes of leftism in power.
Instead, Marcuse focused his criticism on the West, and in particular the U.S. After all, it was the social order of the United States that Marcuse was intent on subverting. Why else would the Frankfurt School theorists have emigrated to the U.S., rather than heading east to the Soviet Union—unless, that is, they sought to enjoy the relative freedom and wealth of the U.S., while working mercilessly to tear it to shreds?
Under the supposed “oppression” and “exploitation” of capitalism, where only that which supports oppression is allowed expression, impartial tolerance is itself repressive, Marcuse stated. It is a “false tolerance.” Because real tolerance was always meant to be liberating, and because tolerance should only be granted to “liberating” expressions and deeds, and further because the expression of the Right supports the repressive status quo—“Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left” (109, emphasis mine).
Real tolerance then “must begin with stopping the words and images which feed this consciousness [consciousness that supports ‘the repressive status quo’]” (111). In other words, to have a “liberating tolerance” rather than a “repressive tolerance,” repression of “the Right” is necessary.
Marcuse then openly admitted: “To be sure, this is censorship, even precensorship, but openly directed against the more or less hidden censorship that permeates the free media” (111). And who should be the arbiters of expression? Well, leftists like Marcuse (or Shaviro), of course.
There you have it: censorship and repression of “the Right” are not only allowable but also necessary, because the expression and deeds of “the Right” cannot be tolerated if we are to have real tolerance.
If that accounts for Left’s belief that it has the right, nay, the obligation, to shut down expression and action deemed “regressive” and of “the Right,” the following accounts for the Left’s justification for using violence to do so:
But I believe that there is a “natural right” of resistance for oppressed and
overpowered minorities to use extralegal means if the legal ones have proved to be inadequate (116, emphasis mine).
Enter Steven Shaviro.
The Left’s next move was to use postmodern theoretical justifications for dissolving the boundary between speech and action, asserting that no such distinction can be maintained. Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, the Left collapsed language and the object world into one. As the postmodernist “legal theorist” Stanley Fish argued in his book, The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump, speech is a material act and should be regarded as such:
If speech can be categorized as “symbolic action” … and action can be categorized
as speech, … isn’t the distinction infinitely manipulable? How do you draw the
line, and who should be authorized to draw it? (5, emphasis mine).
The notion that speech is “symbolic action,” and that it can and often becomes “discursive violence,” as some postmodern theorists suggest, is thankfully not legally acknowledged in the U.S., at least not yet. But that never stopped the Left from suggesting and acting as if it is.
When you combine these two notions—that the speech of “the Right” is harmful and that it constitutes a material act—then speech from “the Right” can be deemed to amount to harmful action. Likewise, the Left believes itself authorized “to shout them down,” or, in the case of Shaviro, to kill those who utter it.
A remaining question is whether Shaviro’s own speech is protected by the First Amendment. To be frank, it doesn’t matter at this point. Given that the Left is now the establishment, speech such as Shaviro’s will never be deemed unprotected incitement to violence. But considering the case from a constitutional perspective, we should note that the environment into which Shaviro issued his declaration is volatile and explosive. Consider the fact that the transgender movement has warned the public that it’s “trans rights or else,” with rifles. Under such conditions, Shaviro’s expression could easily be regarded as incitement.
It should be regarded as salutary that Shaviro was put on leave, and that the dean of Stanford’s law school chided the law students who shut down Kyle Duncan’s talk. But until the subversives who have taken over the United States are exposed and driven from power and positions of authority, our freedom of speech, which depends on property in ourselves, will never be safe.