“My Fellow Liberals Have Largely Abandoned Free Speech”

(p. A15) ‘Professor, why are you so conservative about free speech?” Several students have asked me versions of this question recently, which speaks volumes about universities right now. I’m a liberal and a Democrat: I’m pro-choice, pro-ObamaCare and vehemently anti-Trump. But I’m also a strong supporter of free speech, which marks me as a right-winger on campus.

That’s because my fellow liberals have largely abandoned free speech to conservatives. Turn on Fox News, and you’ll see “cancel culture” decried in bright lights. But in the liberal press—and most of all in the liberal academy—free speech has become a rhetorical third rail. Sure, we’ll invoke it when Republican state lawmakers try to ban critical race theory. But in our own house, free speech is seen increasingly as a tool of repression rather than liberation.

. . .

I get it. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the free-speech winds are blowing these days. It’s prudent to keep your big mouth shut. But that’s anathema to a liberal university, which requires debating differences fully and openly.

. . .

When speech can be suppressed, the people with the least power are likely to lose the most. That’s why every great tribune of social justice in American history—including Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. —was also a zealous advocate for free speech. Without it, they couldn’t critique the indignities and oppression that they suffered.

For the full commentary, see:

Jonathan Zimmerman. “When Will Liberals Reclaim Free Speech?.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, April 8, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 7, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

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