Usually, we at Harvard are more than happy to see Yale students make fools of themselves on camera. The video that emerged this week of Yale students screaming down one of their professors might make for a good laugh, if its implications were not quite so serious. It’s a scene we’ve seen played out far too often at college campuses in recent years, and it deserves to be called by what it is: a nascent form of fascism.
In case you haven’t heard, Yale has recently endured a firestorm of protest after a lecturer that presides over one of the undergraduate colleges questioned whether concerns about the offensiveness of Halloween costumes had gone too far in impinging on free speech.
In response, hundreds of protesters gathered on the quad, calling for Nicholas and Erika Christakis to be removed from their roles. Nicholas voluntarily came to discuss the matter with them, and soon, a crowd of students enveloped him.
One student is heard saying, “Walk away. He doesn’t deserve to be listened to.” When Nicholas started to explain himself, a student yells, “Be quiet!” and then proceeds to lecture him. When Nicholas calmly and politely says “I disagree,” the protestor explodes, screaming, “Why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down!” Then, finally, “You’re disgusting!”
The problem here isn’t that people disagree with what Nicholas said. The problem is that they are calling for reprisals against Nicholas and Erika simply for saying it. This recent movement of university students to use administrative procedures to punish speech with which they disagree should be called by its rightful name: proto-fascism.
Several days later, students disrupted an event held by the William F. Buckley, Jr. program that was designed to highlight the importance of free speech. According to reports by the Yale Daily News, several attendees were spat on as they left.
Once again, the problem isn’t that you disagree with what the event said (though, if you disagree with an event about the importance of free speech, that might be a cause for concern itself), but that you are using a tactic—spitting—that constitutes battery, and should never be used against someone for expressing beliefs that you disagree with.
I understand that it can sometimes be difficult for college students today to tell the difference between fascist methods and non-fascist methods of advancing their beliefs and agendas. Luckily, I spent my senior thesis studying the rise of fascism in Europe, and am happy to give a few, easy tips about whether the activity you are engaged in adopts fascist tactics or not. To make it even easier, I’ve put it in table form:
|Tactic||Fascist or Not Fascist?||Explanation|
|Blocking people you disagree with on Facebook||Not Fascist||Maybe a bad idea, but you’re not actively transgressing on another person’s right to speech.|
|Calling for people to be fired for expressing their beliefs||Fascist||You are (1) calling for reprisals (2) for people expressing what they believe.|
|Organizing a protest against an editorial you disagree with||Not Fascist||You are condemning a belief you disagree with, but not trying to punish the speaker for saying it.|
|Calling to defund a newspaper for publishing an editorial you disagree with||Fascist||You are (1) calling for reprisals (2) for people expressing themselves.|
|Putting up fliers demeaning people that disagree with you||Not Fascist||Using an ad hominem attack is silly and hurtful, but does not use positions of authority to punish free speech.|
|Spitting on people attending a meeting you disagree with||Fascist||You are (1) committing a crime against someone (2) because they exercised their free speech.|
|Calling for a University to change its seal||Not Fascist||You are not punishing anyone for their beliefs. Not fascist in the slightest!|
|Tearing down fliers that you disagree with||Fascist||You are (1) committing a crime against someone’s property (2) because they exercised their free speech.|
|Condemning people for wearing offensive Halloween costumes on Facebook||Not Fascist||You are expressing indignation at someone else’s choices, but not calling for them to be punished because of their expression.|
|Calling for students to be expelled for wearing offensive Halloween costumes||Fascist||You are (1) calling for reprisals (2) for people expressing themselves (even if in a hurtful, offensive way).|
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point. Ask yourself the question: Am I calling for people to be officially sanctioned because of what they believe, or am I committing a crime against someone because of what they believe? If the answer is yes, you are probably engaging in fascist tactics.
Given the public outcry, it seems that the majority of people, including the majority of progressive liberals, believe that Yale students calling for the resignation of those professors have gone too far in punishing free speech. The problem is that no one is willing to stand up to them. If we are going to begin anywhere, we are going to begin by calling them by their rightful name.
They are fascists.
They are fascists.
They are fascists.
Bill Barlow is a 3L at Harvard Law School.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article used the term “recriminations” instead of “reprisals” when describing what the Yale students at issue were calling for. Because “reprisals” (in the form of official sanction) is more accurate, the words have been interchanged.
Two responses to this piece have been published:
- From Harvard 3L Annaleigh Curtis: In Response to Bill Barlow’s “Fascism at Yale”: Who’s Being Coddled Here?
- From Harvard 1L Brianna Rennix: An Open Letter to Bill Barlow: Your “Fascism at Yale” Article Did Not Make Much Sense