Culture

Berkeley’s Shame

Protesters in Berkeley, Calif., February 1, 2017. (Screengrab via ABC News/YouTube)

Jack Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. both deserved better than the things that are named after them: that dump of an airport, a horrifying street in St. Louis. Bishop Berkeley deserved better, too.

On the University of California’s oldest campus, named for one of the most important philosophers of the 18th century (Schopenhauer thought so, anyway), Breitbart editor and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was invited by a campus political club to make a speech about the events of the day, and this was prevented by riots — not protests, but the violent destruction of property with explosives by a brick-throwing mob that promised further and worse violence if Milo Yiannopoulos were permitted to speak. And so Yiannopoulos was prevented from giving his talk.

Some have remarked that it is ironic that this happened at Berkeley, home of a political tendency that in the 1960s styled itself the Free Speech Movement. It isn’t actually ironic at all: The Free Speech Movement hated free speech, too — the New Left was a lot like the old Left, and so is the New New Left, which has been bingeing on violence since the election of Donald Trump. But the violence did not start in 2016: From the World Trade Organization riots to the would-be Occupy bombers in Cleveland, there is within the American Left an increasingly active element that is not only deeply illiberal — fundamentally opposed to free speech — but also openly violent.

The use of violence in the pursuit of political aims is the very definition of terrorism. And while it probably would be too much to treat these half-baked campus radicals with the seriousness applied to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, the crimes committed in this and related episodes are serious and demand to be treated seriously. Political violence has social implications far beyond those of ordinary crime — we are not talking here about local thugs knocking over a 7-Eleven in Oakland.

The Trump administration is right to consider aggressive measures toward Berkeley until such a time as the authorities are willing and able to maintain civil order on the campus. Despite blindingly obvious evidence of criminality during Wednesday’s riots, only one person — one — was arrested. Lawbreakers should be prosecuted, and if they’re students, expelled. Likewise, a Twitter account representing Occupy Oakland declared that the group’s intention is to make “war” — their word — not only on Kentish political commentators but also on the U.S. government, and though it does them too much credit, the U.S. government should do them the courtesy of taking them at their word. If that means a federal terrorism investigation, so be it (though it would be better if the authorities in California would do their job and take the lead in this matter).

Setting aside the question of political violence, our so-called liberal friends should be asking themselves some uncomfortable questions about their participation in a political movement that feels the need to silence critics and to bully institutions into excluding nonconforming points of view from public forums. Conservatives can and will criticize these shenanigans, but the project of reforming the Left and steering it away from its current totalitarian course will have to be an internal one.

We recall that there was a national hysteria, only a few years ago, over the fact that Sarah Palin’s website published a graphic in which Democratic congressional districts chosen for Republican challenges were marked with crosshairs. President Barack Obama himself felt the need to weigh in on the issue, calling for — this seems quaint — “civility.” Sarah Palin has never done violence to anything other than the occasional moose, but faced with actual political violence, the people who still insist on calling themselves “liberals” are strangely quiet.

Berkeley deserves better. So does America.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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