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?