News and images from California last night gave me that sinking feeling once again. Fanatical progressives, immune to logic and reason, have once again rioted and turned violent, rather than respect free speech and democratic rights. The occasion was a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley, which was canceled due to the violence. It wasn't pretty.
I find some of Mr. Yiannopoulos' views to be, frankly, disgusting, and the way in which he expresses them to be morally outrageous. I am, after all, a retired pastor. I have my own standards, and his are far from mine in many respects. Nevertheless, he has as much right to his opinions as I have; and if I have the right to propagate my views by means of speaking and writing about them, he has the same right. It can't be any other way. I'm very unlikely to convert him, and he's just as unlikely to convert me, but that doesn't matter. A right is a right is a right. Once you put restrictions upon a right, it's no longer a right - it's a privilege.
The US constitution contains a 'Bill of Rights', not a 'List of Privileges'. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, also claims certain rights as inherent. They're not optional. They're not dependent upon the whim or political will of governments, nations or alliances. They're basic, fundamental, and foundational to human society.
The Nazi Party in Germany was very efficient at trampling upon the rights of those who disagreed with Hitler's nightmarish philosophy. Mussolini's Fascists did the same in Italy. The Communists in the Soviet Union did the same and more, to an even greater extent, and Mao in China may have outdone even Stalin in the number of his own people that he killed in order to stamp out dissent and promote his fanatical ideology. All of these groups and individuals had one thing in common; they insisted on controlling expression. There was no such thing as 'freedom of speech' unless it was in accord with the philosophies and views of the governing or controlling faction. Any dissent was not tolerated, and was met with, at best, opprobrium and social isolation; often, with imprisonment; and not infrequently with murder.
I wonder if those protesters at UC Berkeley know - or even care - about the historical sewer of intolerance and ideological purity in which they've chosen to take their stand? By their actions, they've demonstrated that they are just as anti-democratic and anti-human-rights as Nazis, or Fascists, or Communists, or Maoists. There can be no justification whatsoever for their actions, no matter how passionately they believe in their cause.
A previous generation of protesters at UC Berkeley was dealt with firmly by then-California governor Ronald Reagan, who had this to say when challenged about his firm methods by UC Berkeley professors and journalists.
Then-Governor Reagan was criticized at the time for what some saw as an unreasonable crackdown; but I think his words put the problem in a nutshell. Laws are passed in the name of, and to protect, the people; and they (usually) incorporate our Bill of Rights and other human rights considerations. As soon as you allow anyone, of any political persuasion, to ignore them in the name of a different philosophy, then the rule of law breaks down - and so does our society.
Laws can be unjust. They can be in breach of human rights. When that happens, it's up to us to point that out, and if necessary to make our point all the more strongly by means of peaceful protest and civil disobedience - measures which have a rich history in these United States. However, to inflict criminal violence and damage upon others and their possessions has no place in that process. It makes the cure worse than the disease. Furthermore, if the 'cure' seeks to take away from others the same human rights that the protesters use as a shield and an excuse for their actions, then it's no cure at all.