DANIEL VAUGHAN: Leftist speech censorship comes for the Obama administration

May 10, 2019

Frenchman Jacques Mallet du Pan became one of the first political journalists during the French Revolution, writing pieces for the world outside the destruction of revolution-era France. What made him unique was that he was anti-Revolution and wrote articles siding with royalty.

His most striking observation from this time: “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.”

Mallet du Pan was alluding to the Greek myth of Cronus — Saturn, in Roman mythology — eating his own child out of fear, as depicted by the painter Francisco Goya. The myth goes that Saturn received a prophecy that one of his children would overthrow his power, and so he proceeded to eat his children as soon as they were born. (The ancients were pretty graphic in this regard.)

As these things go, one of Saturn’s wives hid a child who later overthrew Saturn, fulfilling the prophecy.

The point Mallet du Pan was making for his readers, who would have known this reference, is that the French revolutionaries were terrified of losing power and everyone was turning on each other. The revolution destroyed itself and its children.

I always think of Mallet du Pan’s observation whenever the social-justice-warrior left starts attacking its own. This week, the person on the “losing side of history” is Jeh Johnson, who oversaw Homeland Security under the Obama administration and enacted many of its immigration policies.

Johnson was scheduled to speak at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law earlier this week, but ultimately withdrew from the event after law professors and students protested Johnson’s invitation. In a letter to school administrators, law professors blasted Johnson’s tenure in the Obama administration, writing:

USC’s choice to invite Secretary Johnson to speak normalizes illegal state violence. Inviting him to speak to the graduating class legitimates what federal courts and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recognized as a fundamental betrayal of core values. Johnson has repeatedly failed to respect legal and moral limits on the use of government-sponsored coercive force, particularly against children, and has demonstrated a morally repugnant willingness to use those who are most vulnerable among us as means to an end.

They went on to call the invitation to Johnson to be a “profound betrayal of the law school’s fundamental values of justice, compassion, and the rule of law.”

It’s ironic to watch the Obama administration get called to the carpet for their immigration policies when, for the last two years, the media has conveniently forgotten them. The Associated Press and others blamed Trump for everything during the years of 2015 and 2016. The Washington Post recognized that the Obama administration did these things, but said everything Obama did was different from what Trump has done.

But that was then, this is now, and now, Obama administration officials are “problematic,” to use the social justice warrior terminology. Joe Patrice over at Above the Law defended the protest and Johnson’s decision to withdraw, saying, “People protest speakers. Sometimes for good reasons… sometimes for bad reasons. The important thing to remember is that these protests aren’t ‘shutting down’ dialogue — they are, in fact, dialogue.”

Patrice is right that discussion is welcomed in America and that the college has the right to restrict who can speak there. But he and the rest of the SJW crowd are wrong when they dispute the notion that they are shutting down dialogue.

They are. More specifically, they are targeting anyone who does not toe the party line.

Notice what the professors said: inviting “Secretary Johnson to speak normalizes illegal state violence.” The next sentence argues that “inviting [Johnston] to speak to the graduating class legitimates” his policies.

These lines make it clear that the law school’s professors are explicitly targeting Johnson’s ideas as being in need of censorship. That is the definition of viewpoint discrimination under the U.S. Constitution.

USC can get away with it in this case, because they are a private university. If a state university openly said they denied a person to speak on account of their viewpoint, the person could argue they were being censored by the government.

But free speech in America is already struggling with the new censorship powers of social media companies. We know that these companies are importing their notions of censorship from college campuses, which once claimed to be bastions of free thought and speech.

I agree with David French. We need these companies and universities to adopt “First Amendment-based speech policies” under which “rules and regulations restricting speech must be viewpoint-neutral.”

We aren’t having conversations over what Jeh Johnson believes, but over whether or not he even has the right to proclaim them from a university lectern. The revolution may be content eating its own, but if you want a society that protects individual rights culturally, and not just legally, it requires rejecting this SJW revolution and supporting robust free speech protections.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.