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The free speech myth


I get tired writing about this, but it’s one of the most pervasive myths in American life. The myth is that something called “free speech” is a sacred social and legal value in American life, so much so that pretty much every other consideration should give way to it, no matter what the cost.

That basically nobody believes this is illustrated by the outrage de jour about the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn all failing to condemn genocide with sufficient vigor, or more specifically, to make clear that anyone at their institutions calling for the extermination of all Jews in Israel/Palestine would be violating the codes governing student, faculty, and staff behavior at these places.

Two things strike me as worth noting about this.

First, I’m not aware of anyone at these places who has actually said all the Jews in Israel/Palestine should be exterminated, so these “calls for genocide” remain purely hypothetical. Rather, this is the sort of typical reductio ad absurdum/parade of horribles/slippery slope argument beloved of college sophomores in late night dorm room arguments, and the silly-clever inhabitants of op-ed pages, social media, etc.

Second, the EXACT SAME PEOPLE who have spent the last several years shrieking about how “every point of view” should be entertained at these EXACT SAME INSTITUTIONS, because of the unspeakably sacred value of Free Speech ™ and Intellectual Diversity ™ are now outraged beyond words — not literally, unfortunately — at the idea that the presidents of these places might show the slightest hesitation in making it perfectly clear that certain ideas are not only something that should not be expressed inside these Temples of Free Speech Absolutism, but instead are quasi-crimes, that should lead to the immediate discipline/expulsion/firing of anyone who should express them.

To be perfectly clear, I think that any person who expresses the view that all the Jews in Israel/Palestine should be murdered, to the extent such persons actually exist on university campuses outside the fevered imaginations of the guardians of Ivy League rectitude, should be subject to severe administrative sanction, depending of course on the time, place, and manner in which this view was expressed, and after appropriate due process.

But then I’ve never subscribed to the view that universities should be “open to all views,” because that view is itself absurd, idiotic, and inimical to the central purpose and function of universities.

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