Originally posted at the UK Telegraph.
Student demands for censorship get a lot of coverage. Spiked Online’s Free Speech University Rankings, now in its third annual edition, argues that there is a “crisis of free speech on campus”.
By analysing the censorious policies and actions that have taken place on British campuses, Spiked concluded that 63.5 per cent of universities actively censor speech and 30.5 per cent stifle speech through excessive regulation. You can barely go a few days without encountering a new op-ed covering censorship on campus.
Maajid Nawaz describes the students demanding censorship as members of the “regressive left”. Milo Yiannopoulos calls them “snowflakes”.
With all of this book-burning and platform-denying madness sweeping up much of the media’s interest in campus culture, the gradual rise of another group of students has gone under-reported. British and American millennials and post-millennials – also known as ‘Gen Z’ – are warming to conservatism.
To understand why this is happening, it is important to consider the vast changes that have taken place in Western student politics over the last fifty years.
Students were once in favour of free speech. In the mid-1960s, students of the University of California, Berkeley undertook a mass-movement for free speech. Under the leadership of Leftist heroes like Jack Weinberg, Bettina Aptheker and Jackie Goldberg, students demanded that the university administration retracted their on-campus ban of political activities. They demanded their freedom of speech. Mario Savio delivered what is generally recognised as the iconic speech of the University of California, Berkeley’s (UCB) free speech movement. Here is the speech’s most powerful section:
“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
Savio’s speech helped push the movement towards success. Berkeley students won their full rights. Students, now liberated from the “machine” of university censorship, were able to create the anti-Vietnam student movement, another famous campus protest.
Nowadays, the student Left are unwilling to honour Savio’s legacy. On the 2nd of February, violent protests at Berkeley shut down a talk by popular conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. Instead of maintaining a liberal and free atmosphere for speech and argument, Berkeley students have become the gears, wheels and levers of the machine that Savio wanted to stop.
In the space of fifty years, Berkeley students have gone from rioting against a university administration that limited their freedom of speech to violently opposing the presence of a speaker they disagree with.
In the modern era, students have often been attracted to the politics of the Left. 1968 saw pivotal student protests around the world. In the United States, students were central to the civil rights movement. In France, students joined forces with millions of striking workers to protest against capitalism.
The conservative philosopher Roger Scruton was in Paris during the 1968 riots and has said that it was whilst witnessing the uprising that he became a conservative.
The violence at Berkeley mirrors the street protests in Paris from 1968. Privileged and excitable students living in one of the most blessed parts of the world went out and created havoc in order to overthrow an opponent that they refused to tolerate. The Parisians, at least, had a deeper political cause – but the Berkeley students carried out the ugliest form of protest. It is the form of protest that says “I don’t like that view, therefore you must not be allowed to express it” and it is causing a lot of students to have their own ‘Scruton moment’.
There have been several responses to campus censorship in the United Kingdom and the United States. One of the most interesting developments has been the rise in demand for conservative thought. In the United States, college tours by speakers popular with conservatives such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro and Christina Hoff Sommers have become huge events. There has been a spike in membership in conservative college clubs including Young Americans for Liberty, which boasts 804 chapters filled with 308,927 members.
In the United Kingdom, free speech societies have been started across the country.
‘Speakeasy’ groups have been founded at the LSE, Leeds, Queen Mary, Cardiff, Oxford, Manchester and at Edinburgh, where I study. In these groups, ‘unacceptable’ conservative thoughts are debated amongst liberally-minded (as all good conservatives are) students.
Moreover, some student unions have voted to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students (NUS).
Analysis from market research firm, The Gild, shows that ‘Gen Z’ is the most conservative generation since 1945. The research reveals that ‘Gen Z’ Britons are more likely to favour conservative spending, dislike tattoos and body-piercings, and oppose marijuana legislation.
The youth and student members of the British Left have given up trying to win arguments on principle, preferring to shut down the views of those they opponents. But ‘Gen Z’ live in the time of mass media where anyone’s political views can be shared worldwide at ease. By pushing a “you can’t say that” attitude, the young Left in the UK and the US are reducing their opportunity to respond to conservative ideas, and, as a result of this, conservatism is on the rise.
Nowadays, the only thing that is stopping a student from accessing a new idea is a censorious gag from a student union or NUS apparatchik. Whilst the student Left have historically campaigned in support of causes that the West’s youth have been favourable towards, such as the anti-war and anti-austerity movements, they are now picking on something that is dear to us: freedom of information.
Students of my generation have grown up in an era of mass-communication. Each year has brought new tools for the flow of ideas, conversation and media. The rapid expansion of affordable technology has been matched by the growth of the social media market. When it is common for students to be able to easily interact with anyone in the world via a portable computer that fits in their pocket, nothing seems more silly to us than cliquey calls for censorship.
That is why young people and students are becoming conservatives – they’re the only people making the case for a freedom that they love.
Charlie Peters is a second-year Philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh and can be found tweeting @CDP1882
Read more at the UK Telegraph.