Debunking Rockhill

Gabriel Rockhill wrote a piece entitled “Free Speech Is Not the Issue”.  This sanctimonious article unfortunately takes a good premise and spoils it through a weak argument that relies upon a false dichotomy.  Much of the (so-called) argument relies upon ad-hominem attacks on a piece run in another publication, with Rockhill labeling the other article as taking a “supposed,” “thoughtless” and “misguided” position, etc.  While no doubt, Rockhill is correct to focus on the question of power, and to say “the right to be a bigot is not the right to have a university promote your bigotry,” his overall argument fails because it presupposes that people can fight for power or free speech, but not both.  They are presumed to be mutually exclusive.  A historical contrast would be Malcolm X, who quite eloquently argued for both.  Even if parity of power were achieved, wouldn’t it collapse if there was no free speech and hence no way to know and understand power?  Rockhill’s argument is short-sighted in this regard.  This is not to say that the other article is comprehensive and beyond criticism, but rather that the two approaches seem rather complementary in a way Rockhill summarily rejects without significant discussion — indeed, the authors of the other article might well agree with much of what he says regarding power and institutions.  The general tenor of his critique seems to be about which side can better lay claim to moral/ethical purity, and better cultivate an image of the “true” defender of liberty, equality, etc.  And that is a very tiresome debate indeed.  It is the essence of left factionalism that is a persistent thorn in the side of left political action (as Malcolm X noted).  It also overlooks the insights of Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? approach.