First, there was the target. Charles Murray is controversial — mainly for his book, “The Bell Curve,” about IQ — but he is one of the most significant social scientists of our age.
He is employed by the prestigious conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, and his books are highly influential and widely reviewed.
His latest, which was to be the topic of his Middlebury talk, is “Coming Apart,” a bestselling account of the struggles of the white working class that illuminated some of the social forces behind the rise of Donald Trump.
No one is bound to accept any of Murray’s ideas, but they are inarguably worth engaging. He exists in a different universe than Milo Yiannopoulis, the alt-right provocateur infamous for saying or doing anything to try to get infamous. That Middlebury protesters can’t tell the difference between the two shows that their endeavor to know or understand nothing outside their comfort zone has been a smashing success.
Second, there was the venue. No one has ever mistaken Middlebury, a small Vermont liberal-arts college founded by Congregationalists, for Berkeley. It doesn’t have a reputation as a hotbed and training ground for rabble rousers, and yet has given us one of the most appalling episodes of anti-speech thuggery in recent memory.
If it can happen at Middlebury, it can happen anywhere (or at least at Swarthmore or Bucknell).
Finally, there was the violence. The students who brought in Charles Murray framed the evening as “an invitation to argue,” and in that spirit asked Professor Allison Stanger, a Democrat in good standing, to serve as Murray’s interlocutor. When chanting students commandeered the lecture hall, Stanger and Murray repaired to another room for a live-streamed discussion.
Protesters found the room and pounded on the windows and pulled fire alarms. When Murray and Stanger exited at the end of the live-stream and headed for their getaway car, protesters assailed them. They shoved and grabbed Stanger, who was shaken up and later went to the hospital, and pounded on the car and tried to obstruct it.
Stanger wrote afterward that she “feared for my life.”And for what offense? Talking to someone who thinks differently than the average Middlebury faculty member or student.