Disrupting “The Marketplace of Ideas”: Then and Now  

Photo by erick hrz aguirre | CC by 2.0

The “better angels of our nature” that Abraham Lincoln talked about have always been in short supply on the American right.  However, that problem sometimes goes into remission, and people forget.

It became hard to forget with the rise of the Tea Party after the election of an African American president; and, from the moment it became clear that Donald Trump had to be taken seriously, it became impossible.  Under Trump, vileness reigns.

In conjunction with developments in ostensibly liberal quarters that have been percolating for years, the Tea Party and then the Trump phenomenon have made “free speech” issues problematic in ways that they have not been since the days when the United States was devastating Vietnam.

Back then, and now again, militants identified with leftwing ideological perspectives would sometimes violate liberal norms by disrupting or preventing public expressions of views they oppose.

The disrupters then were mostly students at elite colleges and universities; and their fields of operation seldom extended beyond the borders of their campuses.  With few exceptions, they were white and from upper-middle or upper class positions.

Some of today’s disrupters are students too.  To the best of my knowledge, they have never been studied systematically except at an anecdotal and impressionistic level.  Therefore, not much is known about them.

It would be fair to say, however, that, before they were…

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