I was apprehensive as I flew to Boston on Wednesday. Protests were being organized for the lecture I was to give at Harvard that evening, and the intel made me think that another Middlebury might be in the works. Many of Harvard’s undergraduates are infected by the same virus that’s been going around elsewhere (“There’s no right to free speech for evil people, and we know who’s evil.”) And there were the guys in ski masks to worry about. Surely Antifa and Black Bloc have flourishing chapters in a place like Cambridge.
Getting beaten up wasn’t a concern. At Middlebury, Professor Allison Stanger did get beaten up, badly, as we struggled to get to the car, and that did not go unnoticed by college administrators. Since then, every campus I have visited has made sure that I got lots of police protection. But I did think it was likely that the students would be chanting and wouldn’t stop, fire alarms would be set off, and I wouldn’t be able to speak.
For that to have happened at Harvard would have been a disaster. If a nerdy, inoffensive speaker like me, lecturing on themes from Coming Apart (not a controversial book), could be shouted down at Harvard, we would be faced with a scary new normal. If not even Harvard, with all its resources, would protect free speech against the mob, then why would less exalted institutions be expected to do so? If a small minority of students gets to decide who is allowed to speak even at Harvard, what institution would hold the line?
But happily, my lecture went off without a hitch…