Freedom, Not Just Freedom of Speech


I moved to Oakland for college during some interesting times.

This was a time when leftists were proud of their advocacy of free speech. Across the city limits, Berkeley was even known as the home of the free speech movement and the scent of tear gas. Well, things have certainly turned around. People who want to control other people there have too much power.

Recently, conservative columnist, Ann Coulter was invited by the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation to speak at the university. A previous conservative speaker had provoked a childish violent reaction in the not-too-distant past and so more shenanigans were anticipated. The college tried to reschedule to a safer place but Coulter’s schedule didn’t allow it. To top it off, the conservative groups who invited her were the ones who dis-invited her. As Ms. Coulter said, “I looked over my shoulder and my allies had joined the other team.”

This seemed strange to me. Being a conservative in Berkeley is already as rare as an educated woman in our blessed ally Saudi Arabia, so what made them knuckle under this time?

My answer came as I read an April 12 column by Ann Coulter about President Trump’s bizarre conversion to Neoconservatism. It seems more and more conservatives are learning that to be conservative means to conserve rather than waste.

In that column, she points out how our foreign policy has strengthened enemies worse than the ones we target. Some critical thinking as we visit our memories of past U.S. military adventures will reveal the same sort of truth Coulter suddenly stumbled upon, summed up this way: “Our enemies – both foreign and domestic – would be delighted to see our broken country further weaken itself with pointless wars.”

I wouldn’t doubt that these college conservatives share the common and contradictory belief that we should honor our veterans and abuse them at the same time in an obvious effort to drive up defense (yeah right) industry stocks (go ahead, look at the charts). Ann Coulter’s column would be confusing or offensive to someone trying to take those two positions at the same time.

Freedom is consistent with a strong nation. The waste caused by violations of individual liberty makes us weaker than the perceived benefits of an authoritarian state. Individual freedom is how better ways are discovered and adopted.

Labeling Ann Coulter’s lack of freedom in Berkeley as a free speech issue categorizes it in such a way as to exclude freedoms that don’t have an official designation.

Alongside Interstate 35, there is an old semi trailer with the words, “stop eminent domain abuse.” This would mean there is a point where property rights no longer exist. I imagine the painter of that sign thinks that if a use was deemed agreeable to him (a family farming museum?), the landowner would not be abused when his property was stolen.

In the case of the bakery in Colorado that refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, religious freedom was cited as being violated. The bakery owners’ general self ownership was ignored in favor of the religiousness classification. Activists backing the baker’s religious freedom could then justify aggressions of their own based on other grounds.

We all want a totalitarian state as long as its policies suit us. The drawback to this idea is that freedom, as long as that freedom does not allow limiting the freedom of others, is how society improves. Products, practices, or services that work well are adopted while those that don’t work are dropped.

The conservative students and the leftists (and our society in general) at Berkeley could have benefited from a civil reception of Ann Coulter’s message.

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