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The Danger of a Classical Liberal

By classifying the silencing of conservatives as the quintessential issue surrounding free speech, “neutral” Classical Liberals have, in fact, chosen an ideological side.

Feb 29, 2020

Meet Dave Rubin, political commentator and host of the popular YouTube series, The Rubin Report. He has become an icon for the right-wing movement, playing the part of a level-headed truth-seeker and a staunch advocate for the free marketplace of ideas. Rubin is the star of a number of popular YouTube videos including The Left is No Longer Liberal, Why I Left The Left, Leftists Don’t Value Tolerance, Why I’m no longer a progressive and Leaving the Left. For all intents and purposes, Dave Rubin has found his mojo: The classical liberal and free speech advocate who has grown disaffected with new-age progressivism.
His persona is representative of a common classical liberal mentality: the supposed deterioration of the First Amendment is at the hands of social justice warrior leftists. In many ways, Dave Rubin replicates the philosophy of Christopher Hitchens, a man who gets his inspiration from the likes of John Milton, Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill. According to Hitchens, “It’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to hear, and everytime you silence somebody you make somebody a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something.” To Hitchens, Rubin and many classical liberals, this philosophy holds true even when engaging with blatantly hateful concepts, like those disposed by the likes of the alt-right.
In this extremely broad interpretation of free speech, all marginalized voices should not only be immune to legal restrictions, but also to the social pressures that may implicitly suppress them. The notion of amplifying minority viewpoints is a sentiment I can get behind, but an issue arises when deciding which views are actually oppressed.
According to the self-proclaimed classical liberals I have cited thus far, the primary target for this oppression are conservative pundits and right-wing figureheads. On the list of Dave Rubin’s guests invited to his show are individuals like Lauren Southern, Milo Yiannopoulos and Chris Ray Gun. In each interview cited here, the left is portrayed as being discriminatory and opposed to rational debate and reasonable discussion. Through Rubin’s interviews, it becomes clear that those who may receive criticism through the use of labels such as “racist,” “misogynist” or “transphobe” are the only victims of free expression.
But in the same manner that these figureheads feel “silenced” through criticism of their speech, certain environments that they facilitate enable the same type of silencing of vulnerable groups and identities. For example, in many of Rubin’s videos, he and guests routinely catastrophize about how policies, such as non-discrimination in the workplace, are examples of a massive liberal curtail on the right to freedom of speech. This is said with no regard for how, without these policies, the ability of minority groups to live and work freely in a given environment is limited.
Taking the classical liberal perspective — as mobilized by people like Rubin and Hitchens — is to take a side in an ideological battle. By focusing solely on how right-wingers may not be able to say anything they wish without some form of social repercussions is to ignore the manner in which their freedom to offend may disrupt the freedom of someone else, especially an individual of a marginalized identity. This exact perspective is ironically at odds with a staple of John Stuart Mill’s philosophy, notably the notion that “the right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins.” The classical liberal perspective as it is mobilized here is to put the importance of conservatism first while ignoring virtually everything else.
The danger of this sentiment becomes a bit more clear during interviews with Rubin’s more insidious guests. On Nov. 9, 2017, Dave Rubin interviewed Stefan Molyneux, a far-right advocate that the Southern Poverty Law Center warns “...encouraged thousands of people to adopt his belief in biological determinism, social Darwinism and non-white racial inferiority.” During Molyneux’s Rubin Report interview, Molyneux stated, “If you look at criminality ... young black males — three to four percent of the American population responsible for more than 50 percent of the crimes, it’s horrible, and yet, in general… if you normalize for IQ, everyone who has an IQ of 85 has a similar level of criminality.” These statistics and the pseudoscience along with it have been disproven, but Dave Rubin’s pseudo-neutrality led him to nod along in silent agreement.
By presenting racist pseudo-science as a rational notion worthy of debate, Dave Rubin uses the classical liberal perspective on free speech as an excuse to legitimize and normalize ideas that, if were able to gain mainstream traction, would be existentially dangerous to minorities. White nationalist perspectives are a prime example of ideas that take away freedom and prevent minorities from engaging in their environment, inevitably creating the exact echochamber that the classical liberal perspective was invented to thwart.
For all intents and purposes, the classical liberal perspective ignores a contradictory reality: the fact that the absolute freedom of one individual always has the potential to chip away at the freedom of another group. By classifying the silencing of conservatives as the one and only issue surrounding the topic of free speech, self-proclaimed classical liberals like Dave Rubin and Christopher Hitchens have in fact, chosen an ideological side.
News flash: it’s the wrong one.
Ari Hawkins is Senior Opinion Editor. Email him at
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