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Charles Murray: Reflections on the Revolution in Middlebury

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Charles Murray writes: A few months ago, AEI’s student group at Middlebury College invited me to speak on the themes in Coming Apart and how they relate to the recent presidential election. Professor Allison Stanger of the Political Science Department agreed to serve as moderator of the Q&A and to ask the first three questions herself.

“Middlebury tried to negotiate such an agreement with the protesters, but, for the first time in my experience, the protesters would not accept any time limits. If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero.”

About a week before the event, plans for protests began to emerge, encouraged by several faculty members. Their logic was that since I am a racist, a white supremacist, a white nationalist, a pseudoscientist whose work has been discredited, a sexist, a eugenicist, and (this is a new one) anti-gay, I did not deserve a platform for my hate speech, and hence it was appropriate to keep me from speaking.

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Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque. Worse yet, the intellectual thugs will take over many campuses.”

Last Wednesday, the day before the lecture was to occur, I got an email from Bill Burger, Vice President for Communications at Middlebury. The size and potential ferocity of the planned protests had escalated. We agreed to meet at the Middlebury Inn an hour before the lecture so that we could go over a contingency plan: In the event that the protesters in the lecture hall did not cease and desist after a reasonable period, Professor Stanger and I would repair to a room near the lecture hall where a video studio had been set up that would enable us to live-stream the lecture and take questions via Twitter.

Here’s how it played out.

The lecture hall was at capacity, somewhere around 400. There were lots of signs with lots of slogans (see the list of allegations above), liberally sprinkled with the f-word. A brave member of the AEI student group, Ivan Valladares, gave an eloquent description of what the group was about. Middlebury’s president, Laurie Patton, gave a statement about the importance of free speech even though she disagrees with much of my work. A second brave member of the AEI club, Alexander Khan, introduced me. All this was accompanied by occasional catcalls and outbursts, but not enough to keep the speakers from getting through their material. Then I went onstage, got halfway through my first sentence, and the uproar began.

“The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed. That cannot be allowed to stand.”

First came a shouted recitation in unison of what I am told is a piece by James Baldwin. I couldn’t follow the words. That took a few minutes. Then came the chanting. The protesters had prepared several couplets that they chanted in rotations—“hey, hey, ho, ho, white supremacy has to go,” and the like. It was very loud, and stayed 414wyx11a2l-_sl250_loud. It’s hard for me estimate, but perhaps half the audience were protesters and half had come to hear the lecture.

[Check out Charles Murray’s controversial book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” at Amazon.com]

It was very loud, and stayed loud. It’s hard for me estimate, but perhaps half the audience were protesters and half had come to hear the lecture.

I stood at the podium. I didn’t make any attempt to speak—no point in it—but I did make eye contact with students. I remember one in particular, from whom I couldn’t look away for a long time. She reminded me of my daughter Anna (Middlebury ’07) — partly physically, but also in her sweet earnestness. She looked at me reproachfully and a little defiantly, her mouth moving in whatever the current chant was. I’m probably projecting, but I imagined her to be a student who wasn’t particularly political but had learned that this guy Murray was truly evil. So she found herself in the unfamiliar position of activist, not really enjoying it, but doing her civic duty.

“In the mid-1990s, I could count on students who had wanted to listen to start yelling at the protesters after a certain point, ‘Sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say.’ That kind of pushback had an effect. It reminded the protesters that they were a minority. I am assured by people at Middlebury that their protesters are a minority as well. But they are a minority that has intimidated the majority.”

The others…. Wow. Some were just having a snarky good time as college undergrads have been known to do, dancing in the aisle to the rhythm of the chants. But many looked like they had come straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies. In some cases, I can only describe their eyes as crazed and their expressions as snarls. Melodramatic, I know. But that’s what they looked like.

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This went on for about twenty minutes. My mindset at that point was to wait them out if it took until midnight (which, I was later to realize, probably wouldn’t have been long enough). But finally Bill Burger came on stage and decided, correctly, that the people who had come to hear the lecture deserved a chance to do so. Professor Stanger and I were led out of the hall to the improvised studio.

[Read the full text here, at AEI | Society and Culture Blog]

I started to give an abbreviated version of my standard Coming Apart lecture, speaking into the camera. Then there was the sound of shouting outside, followed by loud banging on the wall of the building. Professor Stanger and I were equipped with lavalier microphones, which are highly directional. The cameraman-cum-sound-technician indicated that we could continue to speak and the noise from outside would not drown us out. Then a fire alarm went off, which was harder to compete with. And so it went through the lecture and during my back and forth conversation with Professor Stanger—a conversation so interesting that minutes sometimes went by while I debated some point with her and completely forgot about the din. But the din never stopped.

“I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure.”

We finished around 6:45 and prepared to leave the building to attend a campus dinner with a dozen students and some faculty members. Allison, Bill, and I (by this point I saw both of them as dear friends and still do) were accompanied by two large and capable security guards. (As I write, I still don’t have their names. My gratitude to them is profound.) We walked out the door and into the middle of a mob. I have read that they numbered about twenty. It seemed like a lot more than that to me, maybe fifty or so, but I was not in a position to get a good count. I registered that several of them were wearing ski masks. That was disquieting.

What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.

I had expected that they would shout expletives at us but no more. So I was nonplussed when I realized that a big man with a sign was standing right in front of us and wasn’t going to let us pass. I instinctively thought, we’ll go around him. But that wasn’t possible. We’d just get blocked by the others who were joining him. So we walked straight into him, one of our security guys pushed him aside, and that’s the way it went from then on: Allison and Bill each holding one of my elbows, the three of us plowing ahead, the security guys clearing our way, and lots of pushing and shoving from all sides.

I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. … (read more)

Source: AEI | Society and Culture Blog

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