The Cowardice of Safe Spaces and PC Culture: Austin Petersen

by Aidan Piombino-Mattis

Austin Petersen opened up the College Republicans’ Truth Week event for 2017 on Monday night, appearing at Penn State despite his intense Senate Primary in Missouri. The Libertarian-cum-Republican candidate spoke on a variety of issues, though the primary focus of the lecture was free speech and safe spaces, and the ideological danger presented by these supposed safety measures. The talk, entitled The Cowardice of Safe Spaces and PC Culture, covered everything from the cultural marxism of the university campus to the rhetoric of neo-nazis and white nationalists.

Petersen explained that it is often hard to take the stance of freedom, expressing that “the danger of defending a freedom is that you have to defend scoundrels…when you’re defending freedom, you’re going to defend people who say awful, horrible things.” Defending the rights of horrible people to speak, unfortunately, often results in the association between liberty advocate and scumbag as ideological companions. Taking the issue further, he remarked that “Words only have the power you bring to them.” Essentially, it is not the people speaking who are violent, it is those who respond with violence. If we treat the hateful people like the tiny, insignificant minority they are, we take away their strength. He also said that “you do not go to a university so you can go to a safe space,” and rightly declared that “free speech is under attack…do Nazis have free speech? Yes, as a matter of fact they do.” The lecture moved on to a question and answer session.

Asked about healthcare reform, Petersen was clear. “The less government is involved in healthcare, the better.” The Senate hopeful referenced the Veteran’s Affairs system as a failure of government run healthcare, and delved into the complexities of the differences between health coverage and health care. He then addressed the opinions of some on the left, regarding the mostly emotional argument that everyone has a right to free healthcare, regardless of the true economic cost. Petersen suggested that “the problem is that our opponents on the left are going to sell us on Utopia…if you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until it’s free.”

Asked about immigration and how he would approach the issue of cultural erosion resulting from economic migration, Austin took a step back to review the inquiry. “You’re asking two questions, there’s a social question and an economic question,” he responded. He went on to explain that everything factors into supply and demand, using the example of Mexican culture flooding the south in recent decades. Aware that the concern of the question was more in line with cultural issues than economic, he remarked that “there will be no more taco trucks on any corners than a community can handle.” Essentially, a community will be exactly as culturally diverse as there is a demand for in the cultural marketplace. He did not see this as a negative, expressing the belief that cultural exchange makes us stronger, an idea contrary to the alt-right rhetoric popularized in the last year. On the responsibility of government to regulate diversity for lesser or for greater, Petersen explained that “it is not the government’s job to subsidize culture, otherwise we should subsidize churches and drag shows.” Going on the offensive against neo-fascist elements, he went so far as to declare that “the reason the Nazis got their asses handed to them is because they were so inbred they were [mentally impaired].”

Briefly discussing economics, Petersen was clear that he is a capitalist. While many people find ways of criticizing the market based system, due to its propensity for people to fall through the cracks, Austin stated that “the free market isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got.” Earlier in the talk, he claimed that personal responsibility is what makes or breaks an individual’s fortune.

On gun rights, Petersen is an absolutist. Regarding the recent tragedy in Las Vegas and the argument that guns give bad people a way to kill easily, he remarked “The second amendment can be difficult to defend without exercising it.” He was very clear about the issues of disarming a populace, and that his interest in gun rights stems more so from a love of life than a love for firearms. He said “I believe that people are ultimately good; not everybody is good, that’s why we’ve got the second amendment; but people are ultimately good.”

Regarding the issue of abortion, Austin considers himself pro-life, though from a secular position rather than from the religious perspective. Addressing the double standard of the scientific community, he inquired “if scientists found a clump of cells on Mars, they would say we’ve found life. Why does that not apply to humans?” Addressing further concerns with science, he posited the question “what is the power of humanity to change [the climate]?” and explained that “I am very skeptical of the ability of politicians to save the planet…if capitalism is the cause, it is also the cure.” By this, he meant that people will pay to clean up the environment more willingly through private enterprise than through taxation.