March 13, 2024 Reading Time: 4 minutes
Rally for Palestine in Cambridge, Massachusetts earlier this month.

Use the wrong pronouns? You will be forthwith kicked out of school. Say “Eskimo” instead of “Inuit”? Woe betide you. Claim there are only two genders? The dean will have very harsh words for you. Oppose Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? You’ve had it. Disapprove of queer studies? You’re a homophobe. Complain about feminist studies? You’re a sexist. Criticize African-American studies departments? You’re a white supremacist.

Advocate “Palestine from the river to the sea,” that is, the end of Israel? Well, that is a highly complicated issue and we at college must be open to all shades of opinion on complex issues. Call for the death of Jews, all Jews, everywhere, not just in Israel? Hey, that’s just free speech! It is all a matter of “context.” We at university stand for the articulation of all shades of opinion (unless of course they are conservative or libertarian).

What is going on here? What is going on here is that the inmates have taken over the asylum. The leaders of major universities such as Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania are clearly biased. Their only standard is a double standard.

What, then, is a more rational analysis of this situation? We start off with the highly debatable point that incitement, paradoxically and surprisingly, should not be prohibited by law according to some commentators.

For instance, states Murray Rothbard:

Should it be illegal …. to ‘incite to riot’? Suppose that Green exhorts a crowd: ‘Go! Burn! Loot! Kill!’ and the mob proceeds to do just that, with Green having nothing further to do with these criminal activities. Since every man is free to adopt or not adopt any course of action he wishes, we cannot say that in some way Green determined the members of the mob to their criminal activities; we cannot make him, because of his exhortation, at all responsible for their crimes. ‘Inciting to riot,’ therefore, is a pure exercise of a man’s right to speak without being thereby implicated in crime. On the other hand, it is obvious that if Green happened to be involved in a plan or conspiracy with others to commit various crimes, and that then Green told them to proceed, he would then be just as implicated in the crimes as are the others — more so, if he were the mastermind who headed the criminal gang. This is a seemingly subtle distinction which in practice is clearcut — there is a world of difference between the head of a criminal gang and a soap-box orator during a riot; the former is not, properly to be charged simply with ‘incitement.’

Those students at our elite universities who are chanting “From the river to the sea…”, (that is, “Death to the Jews”) theme and variation, should not be imprisoned. They have not committed any crime.

It is one thing, however, to extol freedom of speech, and an entirely different claim that anyone may say whatever he wants anywhere. The former is correct, the latter not at all. If someone is on somebody else’s private property, the owner has the right to decide what can and cannot be “expressed” on its premises.

Thus, a university may certainly and properly announce and implement a code of conduct and ethics regarding acceptable speech. If students don’t like it, they can enroll elsewhere. In this case, Ivy League schools certainly have these codes of conduct. But they do not enforce them when Jews are being called to be killed. This decision of theirs is despicable. These administrators are hypocrites.

We do not oppose the free speech rights of such haters, but Ivy League schools are supposed to be the elite learning sites. What does it say of such highly respected places that some of their carefully selected students are bigots who want to replicate the “final solution” of Nazi Germany? This is total, complete, moral bankruptcy.

It is one thing to aver that incitement should be legal. It is quite another that universities should defend it on their campuses, when used against one and only one group. Talk like this about any other community and you’re done, cooked, finished, thrown off campus. So much for the legality of the matter.

An entirely separate question concerns the morality of incitement. It is not at all ethical; it is the very opposite of moral. And ethics and conduct codes, on and off campus, should so indicate, and strongly. After all, if incitement would be legitimate at university because it should be legal, then anything else that should also be legal would have to be allowed in those places (drugs, alcohol, prostitution, gambling, etc.), and this is very much not the case.

Universities, especially the elite, must come back to their senses. The first step to do so is to be run by sensible people. Who? Well, let’s start with the basics: Those who can answer a simple yes or no question on whether calling for the genocide of Jews violate an university’s code of conduct or rules.

Walter Block

Walter E. Block is an Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his Ph.D in economics at Columbia University in 1972, and is the author of more than 700 refereed articles in professional journals, three dozen books, and thousands of op-eds.

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Alan Futerman

Alan Futerman is a PhD student in Political Economy at King’s College London. He holds a BA in Economics from UCEL and a Master’s degree in Finance from Torcuato Di Tella University, both in Argentina. His work has been published in journals such as International Journal of Finance and Economics, Review of Austrian Economics and Journal of Financial Economic Policy, among others. His work has also been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and The Jerusalem Post.

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