Modern egalitarianism can be mind-numbing, as two recent incidents—the first in the Southwest, the second in the Midwest—show.

The first, of course, is the shooting spree at Columbine High School. Most of Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s victims were either Christians or athletes. The former were murdered simply because they were Christians. The killers asked one pretty girl if she believed in God; when she answered that she did, they assassinated her. The athletes were selected because they wore a distinctive cap and generally had more privileges at school than the murderers.

Harris and Klebold were an extreme expression of the political correctness which has become central to the average high-school curriculum in recent years. Their actions (and Harris’s website) suggest that they were crusading egalitarians. They were willing to kill anyone who wished to distinguish himself from the herd. The fact that they were even willing to kill a black who was bent on improving himself indicates that they may have taken note of the fact that blacks as a group now have special privileges.

If the events at Columbine High School represented an extreme acceptance of egalitarianism, the actions of college student Benjamin Nathaniel Smith in Illinois and Indiana over the Fourth of July weekend may have represented its extreme rejection. He killed a Christian Korean, a Christian black, and wounded nine other men, at least one of them a Christian. Six of those whom he injured were Orthodox Jews.

Like Klebold and Harris, he killed Christians; also like them, he demanded the right to speak his mind, however immoral his utterings may be considered. When campus autiioritics attempted to upbraid him for handing out his pamphlets, he continually chattered about the First Amendment in a manner similar to that of the Fifth Amendment communists of the late 40’s and early 50’s.

In high school, he was quieter, even read philosophy. But prior to graduation, he proclaimed himself a Muslim and inscribed in a yearbook the words uttered by Lincoln’s assassin: Sic semper tyrannis. After he entered college, however, he began to dwell upon the double standards inherent in contemporary civil-rights legal practices. He became inflamed. He met Matthew Hale, head of the World Church of the Creator, an anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-non-white religion. Hale was a law-school graduate who had been denied the right to practice law in Illinois because of his racist beliefs. Smith’s promotional zeal won him the title of “1998 Creator of the Year.”

After being forced to quit the Champaign-Urbana campus of the University of Illinois because of charges that he had beaten his girlfriend. Smith entered the Bloomington campus in 1998. There, he deliberately put himself in harm’s way. Switching his major from computer science to criminal justice, he entered a field of study known for its extreme liberal orientation on that campus.

Then came that fateful Friday in July. That day, Matt Hale’s latest attempt to become a lawyer had been rebuffed. At the hearing. Smith had testified that, without Hale’s advice, he would have been in jail. The ruling could well have been the final straw in his slender hold on sanity. After Smith’s suicide. Hale received a letter announcing that Smith had left the Church of the Creator in April 1999 “because I am unable and unwilling to follow a legal resolution of Values.” When his ex-girlfriend realized who the shooter was, she said that “this is his Independence day from the government, from everything.”

(Incidentally, Hale’s rejection by the bar because of his beliefs was not something that was rigged just to fit a racist like him. Back in the McCarthy era, an applicant was repeatedly denied admission to the bar because he held that the Declaration of Independence granted the right of revolution.)

Egalitarianism has been the inspiration for political murder since the French Revolution. It would be tempting to conclude that Harris and Klebold had accepted an abstract proposition which Smith in turn rejected. But in a more fundamental way, they both embraced the same notion. If the two teenagers hated Christians for not accepting their strange habits as merely another alternative lifestyle and despised the athletes because the latter enjoyed a more privileged lifestyle. Smith thought it outrageous, in a land which prided itself on equal consideration, that Matt Hale’s petition to become a lawyer was not regarded the same way as that of a conservative Republican. Smith probably would have sneered at anyone who tried to say that freedom of speech cannot exist long without reciprocity, and that those who exercise that right without granting it to others drag down American society more than any welfare queen ever did. For their part, Klebold and Harris would have considered as “trite” anyone who tried to tell them that freedom of speech includes the freedom to disapprove—even of them. In a sense. Smith was a continuation of the anti-McCarthy movement of the 50’s: He believed that authorities should not make “value judgments” with respect to the unlawful consequences of the ideas of a political dissenter (in other words, they should never reject such an applicant even when they may legally do so). The perpetrators were in different ways victims of the present educational system—but that system did not make them first-degree murderers. Most dissenters still remain within the law.