A crowd of columnists, tweeters, talking heads, and bloggers is already preparing to bore you with cynical proclamations that the Ann Coulter fiasco at the University of Ottawa was a “victory” for Coulter, that it was precisely the “martyrdom” she was looking for, and that it was “exactly what she wanted.” I would ask them to consider one question that is usually overlooked even by defenders of freedom of speech: what about the students’ right to hear Ann Coulter, or any other obnoxious political performance artist whose views they might like to entertain? Did they win too? Did they get exactly what they wanted? If we rebranded freedom to speech as the freedom to hear, as Robin Hanson has proposed, would the real nature of the harm be clearer?
When conservative students connect the dots and figure out that they too can assemble mobs and pull fire alarms—heaven forbid that there should ever be two sides to such undignified situationist power contests; the worst people are guaranteed to win no matter what—will we all greet that development with a dismissive sigh? (Would the Nazi metaphors stay locked in the drawer for very long?) One is tempted to compile a list of upcoming Canadian campus events featuring leftist speakers who have ever expressed a view objectionable to somebody or other. There must surely be about fifty of these a week, even if you don’t count ordinary scheduled classes. Ann Coulter’s safety is yours and mine. To which I feel I can only add: “Duh”.
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