The (college) kids are not alright.
A new poll from the Buckley Institute surveyed students at four-year colleges—and the results are deeply alarming. Young Americans are turning their backs on basic American principles of free speech, tolerance, and due process, in a way that’s so drastic it genuinely endangers the future of our political order. And this disintegration is only accelerating.
The Buckley Institute has conducted this poll for nine years, yet this year, for ths first time ever, more students support shouting down speakers they disagree with than oppose this kind of mob censorship. In another first, a whopping 51 percent of students support speech codes, a drastic shift from last year, when a plurality opposed speech codes.
What’s more, 46 percent of students now believe that “offensive” opinions should get other students reported to the university administration. Oh, and more than 50 percent of students literally believe certain topics should be “banned” from being debated on campus.
There’s also an alarming violent twist to the censoriousness rising among Gen Z college students. A whopping 45 percent of students told pollsters it is justified to use physical violence to prevent people from expressing “hate speech” or making “racially charged comments.” This radical, un-American idea is only becoming more popular: Back in 2017, for example, only 30 percent of students supported this same proposition.
See the pattern yet?
Many young college students don’t respect the basic American ethos that reigned supreme for so long of “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” And rather than addressing this problem, we’re seeing it continue to get worse and worse.
This isn’t sustainable. For a long time, defenders and apologists of campus illiberalism argued that it’s just happening on college campuses and that Berkley and Harvard have always been niche hotbeds of crazy. They’ll grow out of it, basically. But we’ve actually seen the opposite phenomenon play out in recent years. College graduates are taking their illiberal attitudes toward speech and debate with them into the work force and perpetuating them at the highest levels of media, corporate America, and government.
That’s why we see low-level Spotify employees revolting against—and trying to silence—one of the app’s most popular podcasters, Joe Rogan, for daring to talk to people with “dangerous” ideas. It’s why we see Netflix employees complaining about airing “controversial” comedian Dave Chappelle’s special, despite his tremendous popularity. It’s why we see young members of Congress calling ideas they disagree with “policy violence.” And it’s why we see Big Tech companies increasingly acting with total disregard for open debate and due process alike. The college graduates that staff up these institutions have taken the corrosive campus ideology with them into their next stage of life.
It turns out we’re not just talking about dumb, “woke” college kids anymore. We’re talking about a sickness originating on campuses and infecting our entire society. That sickness is illiberalism, “intolerance” in the truest sense: The unwillingness to even coexist with beliefs and ideas that deeply contradict your own.
The rise of that unwillingness is a ticking time bomb that threatens to destroy our political order. America isn’t like Sweden or Norway. We’re not a small country of largely homogeneous people. We are and always have been a big, sprawling, ugly, beautiful melting pot of people from starkly different backgrounds with starkly different values. This only works if we tolerate each other’s differences, no matter how distasteful we find them.
If majorities start to view violence as an acceptable response to beliefs that offends them, that puts a country as divided and diverse as the United States on an inevitable path to civil war. If we want future generations to inherit the America we cherish, we must arrest the rise of this dangerous ideology before it’s too late.
We start at the root of the problem. Civics education is failing in America, with only 22 percent of eighth graders proficient in civics—and it’s getting worse. We need to improve and re-emphasize civics education and teach young people why past generations fought so hard for the things they increasingly take for granted or even revile, like the First Amendment.
And we must reorient our higher education system so that it is actively promoting free speech and open debate, not indoctrinating students against these basic American values. State legislatures can and should defund public colleges and universities that do not respect their students rights and fire and replace administrators who do not promote these values.
It’s no small task. But it’s one we have to embark on. Not to save our college campuses from the excesses of “wokeness” but to preserve our liberal democracy for generations to come.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.