Paul Campos is the University of Colorado law professor who, disgracefully, called for Ward Churchill to be fired because of his views (though he later shifted gears to focus on the latecomer charges about plagiarism [most of which were not substantiated] and shoddy footnoting--there is a useful discussion of that topic here). Whatever the constitutional status of "academic freedom" these days (and that is increasingly fuzzy), it is clear as day that, as a First Amendment matter, the state of Colorado can not fire Professor Churchill for holding moral and political views that others (even Professor Campos) find offensive or absurd.
Professor Campos, however, is an equal opportunity proponent of violating the First Amendment rights of academics at state institutions. His newest target is Glenn Reynolds, aka "InstaIgnorance," the University of Tennessee law professor who uses his blog to shill for war, George Bush, and reactionary economic policies. Professor Campos makes the correct observation that Professor Reynolds's contempt for human life rivals (indeed, probably exceeds) Professor Churchill's, though Professor Reynolds is somewhat better disposed, consistent with his moral parochialism, to American lives. As Professor Campos correctly notes:
[J]ust as Reynolds spent years repeating Bush administration propaganda about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, he's now dutifully repeating the administration's claims about supposed Iranian government involvement in Iraq's civil war.
But the crux of Professor Campos's criticism relates to Reynolds's call for "killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists." Professor Campos comments:
[E]ven if Iran were at war with the United States [which it is not], the intentional killing of civilian noncombatants is a war crime, as that term is defined by international treaties America has signed. Furthermore, government-sponsored assassinations of the sort Reynolds is advocating are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the laws of the United States.
How does a law professor, of all people, justify advocating murder? "I think it's perfectly fine to kill people who are working on atomic bombs for countries - like Iran - that have already said that they want to use those bombs against America and its allies, and I think that those who feel otherwise are idiots, and in absolutely no position to strike moral poses," Reynolds says.
Now this kind of statement involves certain time-tested rhetorical techniques. First, make a provocative claim that happens to be false. In fact, no Iranian government official has ever said Iran wants to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. Then use this claim to defend actions, such as murdering civilians, which would remain immoral and illegal even if the claim happened to be true. Finally, condemn those who object to using lies to justify murder as "idiots," who don't understand the need to take strong and ruthless action when defending the fatherland from its enemies.
The use of propaganda to help bring about the murder of people you would like to kill has been especially favored by fascists. Fascism is marked by, among other things, extreme nationalism, contempt for legal restraints on state power, and the worship of violence.
And while it would perhaps be an exaggeration to call people like Reynolds and his fellow law professor Hugh Hewitt (who defended Reynolds' comments) fascists, it isn't an exaggeration to point out that these gentlemen sound very much like fascists when they encourage the American government to murder people.
All this raises several interesting questions. For instance, does academic freedom insulate a law professor from any institutional consequences when he advocates murder? Reynolds and Hewitt, after all, certainly didn't object when University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill's celebration of the murder of American civilians raised serious questions about why the university had chosen to employ and tenure such a person, and led to an investigation of Churchill's academic record.
Indeed, Hewitt and Reynolds both went out of their way to publicize the Churchill affair, as an example of left-wing extremism in our universities.
Why does right-wing extremism in our universities, as represented by such things as law professors calling on the Bush administration to commit murder, get so much less attention?
This would have been a fine place to end, though anyone familiar with Professor Campos's record on the First Amendment rights of state university professors would realize what had to be coming:
Certainly, it's worth asking Reynolds' administrative superiors at the University of Tennessee what limits, if any, the terms and conditions of Reynolds' employment put on his behavior.
But there is no "behavior" at issue here for which it would be appropriate for anyone to make any inquiries with the University of Tennessee: all there is is "speech," speech that is plainly not illegal (it poses no imminent danger of causing illegal conduct; nor is it illegal to express views about military strategy, even views that are predicated on tissues of confusions and false factual assumptions; nor is it illegal for a law professor to express the view that certain existing laws should be violated or repealed). The First Amendment fully protects Reynolds's right to hold morally depraved views and to be an ignorant blowhard, just as it protects Professor Campos's right to note the fascist-undercurrent to Reynolds's rhetoric--indeed, just as it protects Campos's right to be a serial advocate for violating the constitutional rights of state university professors! And part of that protection means that if anyone were to inquire with the University of Tennessee as to what it planned to do about Professor Reynolds's speech, the answer should be, "Absolutely nothing, it is none of our business."
These are not subtle points. Why doesn't Professor Campos seem to understand them?