What To Do About American Nazis On Campus?

American Nazi

There has been a lively debate about free speech on campus of late. It began with Zionism and BDS and has since morphed into racism and fascism. There is every reason to think that, with the increasing popularity of the alt-right among campus Republicans, there is going to be a lot more of “this.” These lovelies, for instance, appeared on campus at Texas A&M. It’s rather hard not to stare. But then, what is one actually supposed to do when one runs up against Nazi propaganda on campus? How is one supposed to react when speakers who represent this world view are invited to speak on campus? What is, in fact, the appropriate response to something that masquerades as free speech, promoting racial supremacy and racial-religious animus? Are there no rules governing “this” on campus discourse? The question is basic, even fundamental. What is this “x”? I am going to suggest that this is not “speech.” This is a “thing,” a physically odious object printed on paper. Barely belonging to the order of “discourse,” it represents no “thesis” about which reasonable people could enter into an argument in order to either agree or disagree. I do not believe it should have a place on campus or enjoy free speech protection.

I can only imagine tearing something like this off the wall after first documenting its actual appearance, and then bringing it directly to the chancellor of the university where I teach. This has everything to do with law and politics. Universities are going to have to figure out how to deal with hate speech on campus, which is very like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. The real harm done by this kind of expression, more like defecation than expression, is done to racial, religious, and sexual minority students whose very identities, not their arguments, are being targeted and put under attack by this kind of excrement. I’m still going to stick with the basic idea that “protected speech” does not extend to speech intended to expel persons and populations out of the public sphere in their capacity as sovereign citizens.Or do Nazis get a free pass on the American campus?

american Nazi2


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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3 Responses to What To Do About American Nazis On Campus?

  1. dmf says:

    I think academia would do well to wrestle with the broader pedagogical implications of:
    of course they won’t…

  2. mghamner says:

    Texas A&M, not A&U. These issues are complicated, but what bothers me in this case, as opposed to Charles Murray’s being invited to Middlebury, is that these Texas jerks call the poster event “The Texan Offensive” and keep their identities hidden. They want to be violent militaristic vigilantes, not bearers of public and controversial free speech.
    And I agree with dmf above; that New Yorker article is compelling and raises a different perspective on free speech rules in that the latter were legislated back when we used to believe in rationality. Now, we see that “rational discourse” is a more constricted, fragmented, and contested beast.

    • zjb says:

      yes, yes, but i’d maybe add that there’s something to positing rational discourse precisely in this way, not just as a contested but also as a constricting form of expression.

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