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Goldberg: Let's hope Bannon never comes back from European tour

A University of Chicago professor has invited Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, to speak at the South Side campus, a move that sparked immediate backlash among the university faculty members and students on Thursday.

After nearly two dozen faculty members signed an open letter to university President Robert Zimmer and Provost Daniel Diermeier objecting to the invitation, this Thursday morning, a group of about a dozen campus student groups and some community members converged upon the steps of the business school to protest Bannon’s planned visit.

"Disinvite," the students chanted. Some held signs stating, "NO NAZIS!"

It was Luigi Zingales, a professor in the Booth School of Business, who is planning an event that tentatively would involve a debate over subjects including “the economic benefits of globalization and immigration,” university officials confirmed in a statement Thursday. Zingales invited Bannon, who has pushed for taking a harder line on trade and restrictions on immigration, to debate an expert in the field with the professor serving as a moderator. No other details about the date and time were immediately available.


Sam Joyce, part of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, was among those who spoke out during the protest. He said he was disappointed but not surprised to learn Bannon had been invited on campus.

"I think this is sort of something the University's been doing for awhile, trying to emphasis their commitment to free expression," said Joyce, 20. "And I think it has reached an extent where it's de-legitimized marginalized groups on campus, and as a result it's sort of working against what they claim to be standing for."

In a letter to incoming freshmen sent in August 2016, University of Chicago Dean of Students John Ellison told them to expect just the kind of events like the one being arranged by Zingales.

"Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own," the letter said.


But some professors and students insist inviting someone like Bannon is not an issue of free speech but rather of giving bigoted rhetoric legitimacy by presenting it as a point of view worthy of debate.

“His presence on campus sends a chilling message not only to students, staff and faculty at the University, but also to the young people who attend the University of Chicago Charter School and Laboratory School and to the primarily black neighbors who surround the university,” the letter reads in part.

“Specifically, when speakers who question the intellect and full humanity of people of color are invited to campus to ‘debate’ their worthiness as citizens and people, the message is clear that the University’s commitment to freedom of expression will come at the expense of those most vulnerable in our community. We, therefore, believe that having Bannon on campus stands in fundamental opposition to the diverse and inclusive community the University professes to want to build.”


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One of the things that motivated my old friend Andrew Breitbart was his righteous indignation at being called a racist. That's a running theme in his book, "Righteous Indignation."

"Andrew Breitbart despised racism," his friend Ben Shapiro told me. "He took pride in rejecting racism and fighting it tooth and nail. He saw it as a form of bullying. Nothing devastated him more personally than being maligned as racist."

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He would also advise conservatives not to be deterred if their opponents on the left unfairly called them racists -- something he rightly believed happened all the time. Indeed, one of the things that got him out of bed in the morning was fighting the media/Democratic narrative that conservatives are all a bunch of racists.

In one famous episode, members of the Congressional Black Caucus walked through a crowd of tea party protesters seeking a provocation. Subsequently, they claimed the attendants screamed the N-word and other epithets at them. The press reported it all as fact. Andrew, noting the sea of cameras and iPhones at the event, offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who could provide proof of the CBC's claims. No one came forward.

That was the Andrew Breitbart I was proud to call my friend.

Last week, just after the sixth anniversary of Andrew's demise, the man who replaced him at Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, launched his blood-and-soil tour of Europe. The climax was a speech to the ultra-right French National Front in which he perverted Andrew's defiant message, preferring to embrace the caricatures Andrew dedicated himself to fighting.

"Let them call you racists," Mr. Bannon told the crowd. "Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor."

He continued: "The tide of history is with us, and it will compel us to victory after victory after victory."

There's something darkly comic about a guy who in the last year was fired from the White House, ousted from his website and defenestrated by the patrons who supported him speaking to a sparse crowd of Vichy nostalgists, claiming that the tide of history is with him.

If Andrew were still around, I bet he'd tell Mr. Bannon to stay in Europe -- and not just because his tendency to wear several shirts at once seems more consistent with European fashion. Mr. Bannon's understanding of conservatism is entirely European.

In a famous -- and famously misunderstood -- essay, "Why I Am Not a Conservative," Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel prize-winning economist and political theorist, wrote: "Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics. Until the rise of socialism, its opposite was liberalism."

What Hayek meant by liberalism is the laissez-faire, limited-government philosophy that defined the best parts of the French and Scottish enlightenments. These classical liberals fought with conservatives of all stripes, arguing for inalienable and universal human rights. They were opposed by theocrats, aristocrats, monarchists and arch-traditionalists who argued for the rule of altar and throne, caste and guild.

"There is nothing corresponding to this conflict in the history of the United States," Hayek observed, "because what in Europe was called 'liberalism' was here the common tradition on which the American polity had been built: thus the defender of the American tradition was a liberal in the European sense."

Conservatism in America has always been deeply traditionalist, sometimes too much so. But at the core of the modern conservative movement has been the effort to protect, defend and conserve the traditions of a liberal revolution, grounded in the best arguments of the enlightenment (slavery notwithstanding).

Mr. Bannon's potted nativist nationalism and racially tinged populism run counter to that project and to the best and highest ideals of conservatism and America itself. He turned Andrew's Breitbart.com into a "platform" (his word) for the alt-right, seeking to inject European swill into the American body politic.

Let Mr. Bannon stay in Europe and hand out torches for the marchers. His un-American shtick has no place here. I'm sure Andrew would agree.

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Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. His new book, "The Suicide of the West," will be released on April 24. His email is goldbergcolumn@gmail.com. Twitter: @JonahNRO

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