“A few hysterically censorious kids screaming for a professor’s termination for crimethink do not threaten the foundations of free speech, but Yale lauding them does. Relatively few thugs disrupting a speech and even physically assaulting a professor don’t call into question the culture’s support for free speech, but Middlebury offering weak slaps on the wrist and shrugs for that violent behavior does. A violent mob in Berkeley does not undermine the legitimacy of free speech doctrine — a mob is a mob — but Berkeley’s timorousness or indifference in the face of violent censorship does. Students furious at a professor disagreeing with them don’t call into question the nation’s commitment to freedom, but state officials refusing to guarantee a professor’s safety do. In short: the regrettable behavior of officials who have failed to stand up to disruption of speech are the people most responsible for legitimizing further disruptions of speech, whoever commits them.”
——Lawyer/blogger/ free speech champion Ken White, writing about efforts on both the Left and the Right to interfere with or punish speech and opinions they don’t approve of.
Well and truly said, Ken.
“But we can, and should, do better. Commitment to free speech as an American value — as an element of American exceptionalism — has always required tolerating evil and injustice and idiocy. We don’t refrain from disrupting speech because the speakers deserve it, or because we’ve been treated fairly by the speakers or their allies. We refrain from disruption — and ought to punish those who disrupt — because free speech is the necessary prerequisite of a society based on individual rights and freedoms. It’s the right that’s the gateway to all other rights. Shrugging and abandoning it as a value is an abandonment of our commitment to all rights.”
Why is this so hard to teach in colleges? Perhaps because the faculties and administrators prefer that their students never learn it.