WHEN THE Sphere arrived at the GSB for Dinesh D’Souza’s talk last quarter, it took us a while to find the line for Stanford students. In contrast with the 120 or so non-students who crowded one line with their Trump shirts and MAGA caps, we counted only fifteen undergraduates in the other. These acolytes of the right continued to pour in after the doors opened, and as the room filled up, finding seats proved hard even for some members of the Stanford College Republicans. This was just the kind of audience that craved the vitriolic anti-Democrat spiel that made D’Souza a star among the alt-right—not really what you’d expect from a Stanford crowd.
“The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’,” wrote George Orwell in a 1946 essay. On campus, the same may be said of many words in leftist political discourse today. Students rally around terms such as “intersectionality” and “empowerment”, while “toxic” and “problematic” figures are fervently attacked. These words may feel comfortable and intellectual, but in reality they are almost entirely hollow. Seventy-two years ago Orwell decried the emptiness of political language. It is now high time that we scrutinized our own use of buzzwords.
The historical annals are replete with narratives of student heroism. The global uprising of 1968 which challenged capitalism, American imperialism, and contemporary gender and sexual norms was foremost a revolt of students. In France the memory of May 1968 endures as a moment when university students almost created a revolution while, in the States, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) flourished, mobilizing hundreds of thousands at the height of anti-Vietnam protests. But tales of student activist prowess are not limited to the New Left of 1968. The two most prominent revolts against Soviet authority – the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and Prague Spring – very prominently featured students. Even Stanford has an illustrious history of student protest, having played an important role in the movement to divest from Apartheid South Africa in the late 1970s. At their most valiant, students have articulated nuanced and insightful politics, and have led national, and even global, insurrectionary movements.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a welfare scheme in which all adult citizens receive a regular cash payment regardless of employment status. At first glance, it is easy to see why those self-professed bastions of American freedom – libertarians – oppose this measure so vociferously. Right-libertarians see UBI as overly generous to unemployed, able-bodied people (so called “lazy people”), and also as implying redistribution on a large scale, which conservatives see as a radical expansion of the welfare state. But the impression that UBI is exclusively leftist is a misguided one.
In recent years, right-wing student groups and publications have portrayed themselves as the sole bastions of free speech against barbarous hordes of social justice warriors. It is undeniable that there exists a dearth of meaningless discourse on liberal campuses. Yet the right-wing cause of free speech has been dangerous and hypocritical; conservative students have championed the right to polemicize demagogically and thoughtlessly rather than to engage in impactful discussion. Most troublingly, the campus Right across America has enabled and legitimized a terrifying alt-right in their impulsive and self-righteous pursuit of free speech. It is high time for the Left to recapture the cause of free speech.