In Response to “Silencing” Scalia
As a student body that claims to value a diverse and robust learning environment, I am disappointed to learn about efforts to “silence” Justice Antonin Scalia’s lecture earlier this month. You are right to call for greater diversity among “students of color, international students, students with disabilities, radical/non-politically ‘Left’ students, [and] low-income students,” but it is hypocritical and close-minded to actively exclude those who see the world through a difficult political lens than you do. The decision to host Scalia should not be seen as presenting a choice between intellectual engagement and activism, as some have framed it, nor are students presented with a choice between “wimpy liberal notions of decorum and propriety” and drowning out the interests others might have in engaging with Scalia’s speech. Rather, students have been given an opportunity, first, to fully understand, analyze, and engage with a different perspective a commonly cited goal for a liberal arts education and to respond with effective activism to Scalia’s radically conservative agenda. And it is precisely due to the power and influence of radical conservative ideology in our country that an effective response is so urgently needed. Any effort to “silence” or interrupt Scalia feeds right into the conservative prejudice, usually false, but in this case correct, that “Leftists” want to drown out any perspective other than their own. Moreover, crushing Scalia’s voice (and just because he has one of the most powerful voices in the country does not, by the way, lessen the impact of silencing his speech) limits any effort to build an articulate and effective response, such as “hosting critical discussions” or “organizing justice-related events” (which I am fully behind, by the way). This event instead offers an opportunity for those on the left to dissect Scalia’s language, and in doing so, gain a richer understanding of how and why conservative ideology has had such a tremendous impact over the past fifty years. How exactly does Scalia transform immoral ideas into imperatives that sound logical, coherent, and obvious to so many people? What metaphors does he use during this process, what values are they based on, and how do they differ from your own? What metaphors should he be using when discussing freedom, and how would they lead him to different conclusions? Conservative extremists have had so much success in spreading their messages because they are better at controlling language and framing the debate than those on the left. The success of progressivism depends largely on whether progressives will develop a coherent language that makes moral sense to people from a wide variety of different backgrounds, a task that conservative extremists have been tackling for decades (remember that fifty years and hundreds of think-tanks ago, Scalia would have been seen as exactly what he is: an extremist). Scalia’s speech is an opportunity to learn about how conservatives have captured the imagination of so many Americans, which just might teach us progressives something about revitalizing our own movement. I for one wish that I was still around to see it.