Joshua Taggart is an MSc student at UCL and a student affiliate of the Heterodox Academy which promotes free speech and association in academia.
A student-led group called LSE Class War at the London School of Economics has voiced its desire to abolish the LSE Student’s Union’s Hayek Society, arguing that it promotes an ideology which is “harmful to marginalised students”.
Members claim that HayekSoc “promotes free market fundamentalist views which outwardly call for the oppression of working-class people” and that “these kinds of ideas have no place on campus”. Ironic authoritarianism from an anarchist group.
Several things are wrong with this picture. First, it is arguable as to whether Class War is a legitimate representative of the working class. As has been previously pointed out, Class War is a radical group which uses divisive tactics and advocates for positions which most working-class people do not hold. Are most of the working class secretly anarchists who will vandalise citizens’ property and assault police? Doubtful.
Second, it is incredibly unlikely that the Hayek Society at LSE has advocated for the oppression of working-class people. In fact, it is far more likely that its members spend their time discussing the work of F.A. Hayek, a prominent and undoubtedly important Austrian-school economist, rather than devising new schemes to oppress people and take their money.
The final concern is the most pressing: Class War seems to believe that there is no place on the LSE campus for a group which disagrees with it. I cannot speak for the reader, but I myself have gone to university with the expectation of being introduced to new ideas, encouraged to discuss them with my peers and faculty members, and to come to my own conclusions.
Hayek Society has every right to convene peacefully and discuss the pros and cons of different economic theories as its members wish – I can confidently say that no one has ever been forcibly coerced into a discussion of The Road to Serfdom against their will.
Instead, Class War seems hellbent on imposing its own certainty and self-righteous attitude onto others. It is not enough that activists make their own voices heard, as they have a right to do (peacefully) – rather, it is their wish that everyone should applaud and conform to their beliefs about how society should be governed (or not governed at all).
Further still, Class War would prefer that societies which offer people of differing beliefs to gather and test their ideas were not able to do so.
This case is yet another example of the weaponisation of speech and the objection to debate which is characteristic of the Frankfurt School. When words are regarded as hateful and speech becomes considered as violence, any thoughts which do not conform to a vicious and radical minority will be accused of promoting hatred even when there is no hatred to be found.
Austrian economics is not some hateful ideology like white supremacy; it’s a different point of view on one of the most complex topics humans can address, and not only should Hayekians at LSE be allowed to discuss it, but they absolutely must in the context of a university campus.
The telos or purpose of a university is to promote discussion and critical thinking, to engage students in a wide variety of disciplines and to allow individuals to learn valuable skills which can be applied to the rest of their lives. Class War seems to misunderstand this – or perhaps its members are fully aware of it and would rather transform universities into a room in which only they are allowed to speak.
Class War has demonstrated that it does not believe in free speech, nor does it respect the purpose of universities. Instead, it seeks to silence opposing views by branding them as hateful or oppressive, while adopting tactics of its own which are extremely distasteful and contribute to the polarisation of our nation and the toxic divisions which we must desperately overcome.