Photo used with Permission from Tigran Simonian
Last Friday, Nigel Farage (possibly the most controversial man in politics not currently living in the White House) spoke to the Hist regarding Brexit and Anglo-Irish relations. The talk and subsequent interactions with a moderator and the audience were interesting, entertaining, and touched upon a number of important issues. It was, however, clear that the talk held a level of importance outside of what was said. The very presence of Farage signalled something important about Trinity college and, could potentially be an important step in the right direction for our campus. Two days previous to their hosting of Farage, the Hist held a chamber debate on the topic of Libertarianism. This debate, however, seemed to take a back seat to discussions of Friday’s coming event. Many present were against his visit, as was seen in the words of the record secretary at the beginning of the evening, the reading of a signed letter disavowing the Hist’s decision, and the walk out of several audience members after the auditor of the Hist confirmed that the invitation extended to Farage would not be rescinded. Many people posted their anger and distaste for the decision taken by the Hist on the event page and some groups attempted to organise protests which ultimately failed to come to any real fruition. There was controversy, there was pressure, but ultimately the talk took place, attracted a considerable crowd, and went ahead virtually without a hitch. It should be pointed out that the Hist as an organisation did their best to minimise the outrage that would be caused by this event. They had made a variety of concessions ahead of inviting Farage. He did not receive the gold medal, there was a moderator on stage with him at all times, and there was a lengthy Q&A afterwards for students to question and challenge his assertions. The Hist were more than accommodating to the concerns of much of the student body while still holding true to the belief that people from all across the political spectrum must be allowed to speak and that it is only through dialogue that we can better understand opposing viewpoints. They did not bring in Farage to praise him, they merely brought him in to listen. The visit was, as I said, a key step in the right direction. Those who would not want this event to take place were not given their way and, if more events such as these take place, a tone has already been set. One that means that you cannot force opposing views (no matter how alien or wrong they may seem) into a dark corner and ignore them. You must instead engage with them in an honest manner. Listen to what your opponents have to say, respond as you see fit and let every individual decide their own views based on everything they have heard. If you genuinely believe that the views of a man like Farage are anywhere from mildly incorrect to bigoted and abhorrent, then you should want him to speak. If he is denied platforms, his movement will just grow in an underground style. It will go unchallenged and be given the appeal of being rebellious. People will be able to say, with justifiable reasons, that the mainstream establishment fears what he and his followers have to say. Farage himself gave a great example of this during his talk when he spoke about the British National Party and of allowing Nick Griffin a platform on Question Time in order to show to the public what a fool he was. Griffin’s ideas grew when left alone but fell apart whenever he was publicly confronted. So if you are against Farage’s views, you should still allow him to express them and then challenge him. State what you think is wrong with his arguments and with the ideas he holds about the world. Organisations also can and should bring in speakers with radically different views to Farage. We should be attempting to get as many voices involved as possible. This is how we produce the best dialogue and debate. The greater the level of intellectual diversity among those we hear and interact with, the more informed our opinions will be. Even if you utterly disagree with what you hear from someone, you should consider their position and rethink your own one. In the end you will end up with a much better understanding of the issue as a whole. We should invite everyone to speak in our universities. From radical communists to libertarians, from the far-left to the far-right, and even the much-maligned centrists. Only through all sides interacting with one another can good ideas rise and bad ideas fall. We live in an era where people seek to demonise those with whom they disagree. It is of extreme importance that universities challenge students to be better than merely people who exclusively listen and read those who parrot their own thoughts back to them. They should encourage students to listen to those whom they most strongly disagree with and to investigate views that are not their own. This will help us to stop treating the other person as a mere enemy, and see the humanity behind those with whom we disagree and consequently, make us more open to consider their views. This whole issue was raised by Farage a couple of times during his talk in Trinity. He also mentioned the fact that he will soon do a tour around many universities in the US and said he would need a lot more security there than the one he had in Trinity. He said that while laughing in his usual style, but his words rang true to all those who have seen the videos of riots which take place on college campuses whenever right-wing speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro are invited to address students at a university. Ireland, like the United States, can have a stifling politically correct climate at times, with many on the left aggressively opposed to those who go against their viewpoints expressing their own opinions. The progress which Farage’s visit made to the debate in Trinity should not be underestimated. It was nothing short of an important event, showing that in this university and this country, perhaps, we can move closer towards an environment where a free and open exchange of ideas is welcomed, and move away from what American college campuses have, at least at this moment in time, become.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Burkean Journal.