A Silencing Minority

Monday, May 11, 2015

At RealClear Politics is a review, by Hoover Institute fellow Peter Berkowitz, of The Silencing: How The Left Is Killing Free Speech, by Kirsten Powers. Powers is a rare bird, according to Berkowitz, supporting left-wing causes as she does, while recognizing the value of freedom of speech.

The crude political calculation that in a liberal democracy one's side will not always control the levers of government power should be enough to persuade citizens of all stripes that the proper response to contrary opinion is not government regulation but joining issue. More sophisticated considerations -- that the encounter with opposing points of view exposes unexamined assumptions and errors, enlarges the moral imagination, and in America gives civic expression to the founding belief in the dignity of the individual -- should be, along with the crude political calculation, rigorously taught at universities.
And yet, such calculations, however crude, seem beyond -- or unimportant to -- many on the left, including the current President and the journalists who are supposed to be covering his term. Powers reminds us of Obama's early attacks on Fox News as a "legitimate" news outlet, and documents why he is so easily getting away with such a short-sighted attitude and the despotic actions that arise from it:
... "Campuses across the United States have become ground zero for silencing free speech," she writes. She immerses readers in the gory details about the institutional mechanisms and Orwellian ideas that universities have crafted to police speech. These include the promulgation of speech codes intended to outlaw the expression of opinion that students or faculty find hurtful; the restriction of unfettered speech to small, carefully demarcated "free speech zones"; the demand for "trigger warnings" on courses, syllabi, and reading materials that might conceivably be emotionally disturbing; encouragement of the idea that "micro-aggressions" -- what earlier generations referred to as irritations and annoyances -- are both pervasive and debilitating; the shouting down and disinviting of distinguished lecturers who offend campus orthodoxy; and the redefinition of moral and political disagreement as a form of "violence."
This new book sounds like the treasure trove of the kind of information the press should have been providing for years, and a clarion call. I am intrigued. I welcome anyone reading this book, or who is already familiar with Powers's other work to comment.

-- CAV

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