The New York Times should defend free speech—after all, it’s the country’s best newspaper—but I was still surprised to see today’s editorial, “Smothering speech at Middlebury“, as the Times also has a leftward slant. And it’s a good defense of free speech, though that defense starts, oddly, by saying that the “shutting down” of Charles Murray’s talk at Middlebury College in Vermont—he later gave it livestreamed from a private room —is bad because it feeds into the Right’s narrative of the easily-offended Left:
Now, [Murray] says, Middlebury may prove an “inflection point” — where colleges yield the lectern to intolerant liberals, hastening a bastion of free thought toward its demise.
It’s an outcome that many on the right seem to be aching for. Though speakers of all ideologies regularly appear at colleges without incident, a few widely publicized disruptions feed a narrative of leftist enclaves of millennial snowflakes refusing to abide ideas they disagree with. From the president to Fox News, right-wing voices wail, through their megaphones, about how put upon they are, like soccer players collapsing to the turf and writhing in pretend agony.
That seems more than a bit gratuitous. We don’t need to defend free speech because if we didn’t it would just would empower the Right. We need to defend it because it’s a cornerstone of American democracy—indeed, something essential for all democracy. If you think the truth will out, a basis for Enlightenment philosophy, then you give it a chance to “out.”
After that slap at the Right, though, the Times mounts a ringing defense.
A letter like the one sent by Middlebury alumni assailing Mr. Murray does not help. “The principle” — of free speech — “does not apply, due to not only the nature, but also the quality, of Dr. Murray’s scholarship.”
Hey, hey, ho, ho — heck no. The principle does not distinguish between great minds and mediocrities. Mr. Murray is an academic with an argument to make about class in America — from his 2012 book “Coming Apart” — and maybe it is flawed. But Middlebury students had no chance to challenge him on any of his views. Thought and persuasion, questions and answers, were eclipsed by intimidation.
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, Laurie Patton, did this admirably, in defending Mr. Murray’s invitation and delivering a public apology to him that Middlebury’s thoughtless agitators should have delivered themselves.
I’m wondering whether Middlebury will discipline any of the disrupters or those who are identified as having mobbed Murray and his host at the College. I’m betting against it, but I think the surest way to stop the censorship of college mobs is for the students to realize that they’ll pay a price for their actions.