In recent months we have had stories, mostly from college campuses, about speaking events being shut down by organized violence, pulling fire alarms and so forth.

As I see it there are two outcomes that can result from my opponents being given a platform to speak:

A) They will make fools of themselves by putting forth weak arguments


B) They will make strong enough arguments for me to change my mind

So why should we fear people being given a platform to express their views?

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    I think this question is unclear and requires more context. Who is "we"? What country? Any online reference about such event? – Alexei Oct 24 '17 at 4:49
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    @Alexei - yes. billions of online references. Even a database of events. Here's a smaller list of famous events from National review – user4012 Oct 24 '17 at 6:55
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    "Billions of online references" means this question is just too broad. The OP needs to narrow down the question significantly before it should be reopened. – Batman Oct 24 '17 at 16:45
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    "Why would somebody want to shut down a speaking event?" Really no possible answer comes to your mind? I can think of many reason right away. What about "I don't like you or your opinion" (somebody wanting to shut down a speaking event), as a starter? – Trilarion Feb 6 '18 at 8:32
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    A) and B) are not the only possible outcomes of an event. What if they put forth weak arguments that get accepted by the public because the public wants to believe the arguments? I would go so far to say that this is the most prominent outcome, independent of concrete political views. A) and B) seem rare. – Thern Feb 6 '18 at 12:11

The context here is that people like Richard Spencer are not allowed to speak at all universities.

The reason some do not want them to speak is that they may be a (physical) threat to a certain part of the population, specifically to Black people, Jews, etc. While the speakers may or may not be violent themselves, Nazis and other far-right speakers attract similarly minded people who will be a threat.

Note also that your point B) is actually a fear. If you give Nazis and others of the far-right prominent opportunities to spread their ideology, it normalizes their ideas and they may convince some - even though their views are abhorrent - and give others already holding similar views the courage to be more open about it. And in the case of the far-right, this isn't about theoretical arguments or "having a different view"; history has shown what can happen if people who call for ethnic cleansing gain momentum.

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    This answer contains massive disinformation. Deplatforming is not only about Spenser and targeted at significantly less dangerous people for most part. Since when is Richard Dawkins or Condi Rice "far right"? – user4012 Oct 24 '17 at 5:41
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    I feel like Richard Spencer is an overused example. Are there other examples (in recent history) of speakers who were deplatformed because their appearance could had attracted a group of violent followers? – Dmitry Rubanovich Feb 7 '18 at 5:58
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    I think the "they spread fear and shouldn't be allowed to speak" is an interesting argument, but not necessarily on point. Bill Maher is protested and he's had events cancelled. People get events cancelled if they say something in bad taste (I don't want to use the Bill Maher example twice - OK, how about Andy Kaufman - he wasn't a threat to anyone but he offended people - he had shows pulled, was voted to be banned from SNL. This question is more subtle and bigger than "they will spread their ideology", but I think you made a partial answer. – userLTK Feb 7 '18 at 8:02

There are four distinct reasons someone wants to shut down a speaking event:

  1. Any sort of social event of a certain political bent is, net net, a win for that political side.

    I have discussed this in a separate answer about the purpose of gay pride parades, there are tangible political benefits - from like minded people having an event. Whether it is a show of strength (hey, i'm not one of only two people like me around, powers that be!), to increasing own morale (hey, there's a ton of us!), to just socializing/networking. A speaking event adds on an informational component - the speaker presumably informs/teaches the audience something.

    By shutting down a speaking event, you deny those whose politics you dislike that set of benefits.

  2. As a reverse, it's an effective political tactic.

    When opponents shut down your events, you get demoralized. Especially when they do it with clear "yah, fine" from The Man (in this case, campus administration).

  3. Some people just feel better about imposing their will on others.

    This was explored in the infamous Stanford prison experiment. You give someone power, and they enjoy exercising that power.

  4. It creates a general chilling effect on one's political opponents.

    If someone on one political side sees that their opponents can shut down a famous celebrity speaker using threats of violence, you can be sure they would shut up and not speak up on campus about their own political views, out of simple self preservation.

Additionally, specific to the topic at hand, the events are being shut down by radical progressives (mostly in USA).

Before delving to specific reasons why on their side, let's dispense with the expected propaganda claiming that "they are opposing nazis". This sort of "deplatforming" has very little to do with "nazis", "alt right", "Trump" or any other excuse. First, because 90%+ of those who are deplatformed aren't by any stretch of imaginatuion "nazis", even if they happen to hold right wing or conservative views (and, increasingly, left wing views in most topics). Second, by virtue of the fact that it started back in early 2000, when 'nazis' were meant as members of Germany's National Socialist German Workers' Party; "alt right" wasn't a thing and Trump was famous for casinos, not politics and was still a Democrat.

So why is it that it's the progressives that is intent of not letting people who they disagree with speak?

It is due to the progressive's ideological inheritance, mostly Gramsci (with a further ago influence from Hegel).

I'll try to expand on this later, but a very good analyzis is in the 2004 book "Gramsci's Politics of Language: Engaging the Bakhtin Circle and the Frankfurt School" by Peter Ives; and its somewhat dense academic writing can be summed up thusly: language is materialistic (in Marxist sense, not physics sense), and therefore, speech and language informs and influences social reality, and therefore he who controls speech, advances towards controlling that reality.

This is in direct opposition to Milton/Locke tradition of free speech.

An somewhat different explanation is offered by left wing professors in the following form: deplatforming is "simply choosing the information that the students get to hear (or not to hear), as is the job of academy". Why it is that they get to decide based on their own political views - and not any sort of academic criteria - is not coherently explained in that article.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Philipp Oct 24 '17 at 6:53
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    "Why it is that they get to decide based on their own political views - and not any sort of academic criteria - is not coherently explained in that article." That's probably because he literally just explained his motives were academic. – Batman Oct 24 '17 at 7:05
  • Parades aren't speaking events. Apples and Oranges. You can't just pull a fire-extinguisher on a parade - it's outside. The disruption of a speaking event is comparatively easy. 2 or 3 people could pull it off, The disruption of a parade requires a lot more effort. – userLTK Feb 7 '18 at 7:58
  • @userLTK - While I agree with your point, I'm not sure what that has to do with my answer. I merely pointed out that any political event - be it parade or speech - has a political benefit for the side organizing it. So, the "why shut down?" answer is "to deny that benefit". This is 100% orthogonal to ease of shutting down, and merely addresses the "why". – user4012 Feb 7 '18 at 14:48
  • Useful answer. Suggest avoiding deflationary usage of the broad term "social reality" as a synonym of "prejudice". Also, the Gramsci link to that Hoover Institution essay is somewhat interesting, but it doesn't describe any singular or novel form of prejudice -- misrepresenting strategic partisan prejudices as civic virtues is an ancient and non-partisan practice, used by bigots of all creeds and classes. – agc Feb 10 '18 at 18:06

As I see it there are two outcomes that can result from my opponents being given a platform to speak:

A) They will make fools of themselves by putting forth weak arguments


B) They will make strong enough arguments for me to change my mind

You missed out C) - They will convince other people to join their cause. (or at least 'normalise' the position).

Furthermore, the argument doesn't have to be 'good' to do so. History is littered with cases of great orators whipping up popular opinion using nothing more than bombast.


In the cases cited by the questioner the silencing is a visceral expression of outrage and. most importantly, a bonding for disaffected youth craving power in an overwhelming and unresponsive world. It is, in short, a tantrum.

In other contexts, such as in state censorship of ideas, the other answers given here will be in play.

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