“This is a surreal time for freedom of speech.”
He is a First Amendment activist / he likes his freedom robust / he refuses to leave censorial speech codes alone / and he is making a real difference in safeguarding free speech in America (see, e.g., here). True, there can be an irksome quality about him, or at least so think some college administrators who cabin liberty in “free speech zones” (oh, the Orwellian irony of the phrase!). There is an air of Tom Paine about him, if only in his willingness to speak boldly and perceptively about our contemporary crisis in free speech, a crisis fostered as much by close-minded liberals as by ideologically driven conservatives. And if you miss those wonderfully irreverent Christopher Hitchins broadsides, then take heed: here is someone with a dollop of the same brazen DNA. Even so, he is civil / he speaks softly / he listens to other voices / he welcomes a hearty give-and-take / and he puts his views to the test in the marketplace of ideas (see, e.g., his last book).
The man of whom I speak: Greg Lukianoff.
His broadside: Freedom from Speech (61 pp.) (paperback: $5.39 / Kindle: $4.79)
His publisher: Encounter Books.
This timely broadside is as American as blue jeans . . . and yet its message struggles to survive in a nation where governmental intolerance and groupthink orthodoxy too often rule over the minds and voices and campaigns of those who would have their messages heard. If you want a turgid academic read, avoid this work. So, too, if you want everything from the obvious to the obfuscated documented by a long string of fancy footnotes dotted with case names and the like. And if you yearn for a work that merrily balances away individual freedom of speech in the name of some professorial parlor norm, Lukianoff’s pamphlet will not be your cup of tea. Just common sense and plain speech are served up in this pamphlet in defense of free speech.
Why the title?
Before answering that question, it is important to note that Lukianoff”s concerns are not confined to the First Amendment. Hardly. What troubles this Stanford Law School educated activist are threats to the culture of free speech in America and abroad. “People all over the globe,” he argues, “are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right.” That focus brings us back to the title. Censorship due to hypersensitivity, Lukianoff argues, “is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.”
While some might reasonably take issue with the author’s criticisms of private actors punishing others for offensive speech (e.g. offensive types such as Donald Sterling, the Duck Dynasty guys, Don Imus, and Howard Stern), I nonetheless think Lukianoff makes a telling point when he highlights the growing trend, particularly on college campuses, towards various forms of what he labels a “sensitivity-based censorship.” On that score he adds: “The idea that we can truly tackle hard issues while remaining universally inoffensive — an impossible pipe dream even if it were desirable — seems to be growing increasingly popular.”
Education in censorship? Read More