Smothering Speech

  • All ideas need testing in open debate, or they become mere prejudices
- The New York Times

Mar 9, 2017-

How to begin an editorial about a violent free-speech debacle at Middlebury College in Vermont? Maybe with some words from John Stuart Mill. “Truth would lose something by their silence,” Mill wrote, even if their views go against the entire world, and the entire world is right. Persuasive words. But not last Thursday in an auditorium at Middlebury, where a student recited that very quotation in introducing the notorious social scientist Charles Murray. Moments later caterwauling erupted, and the event collapsed into a night of turned backs, shouted chants, pounding fists and one wrenched neck. 

In the years since he drew ridicule for promoting widely discredited race-based theories, Mr. Murray has been a frequent speaker on college campuses, and the target of protests. Now, he says, Middlebury may prove an “inflection point”—where colleges yield the lectern to intolerant liberals, hastening a bastion of free thought toward its demise.

Mr. Murray is an academic with an argument to make and maybe it is flawed. But Middlebury students had no chance to challenge him. True ideas need testing by false ones, lest they become mere prejudices and thoughtless slogans. Free speech is a sacred right, and it needs protecting, now more than ever. Middlebury’s president did this admirably, in defending Mr. Murray’s invitation and delivering a public apology that Middlebury’s agitators should have delivered themselves.

Published: 09-03-2017 09:05

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