College: Where Free Speech Goes to Die

Though his book is about colleges and universities, Lukianoff takes on high schools as well. Most students will leave high school, he argues, never having learned the philosophical arguments for free speech that undergird the First Amendment, or studied how political freedom is founded on the right to speak freely.

Thanks to unconstitutional university speech codes, students are losing their intellectual edge.

The value of the university once lay in its providing a nurturing space for what English poet and essayist Matthew Arnold called “the free play of the mind upon all subjects,” which would foster the “instinct prompting [the mind] to try to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespective of practice, politics, and everything of the kind.”

Critical to these enterprises is the notion of academic freedom––the ability to study, teach, and talk about subjects, no matter how controversial, without fear of retribution or censorship. For only by discussing openly a wide range of subjects can the liberally educated mind “make the best prevail,” as Arnold put it, and turn “a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically.”

Those days are long gone in American universities today, as Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty, a dismal catalogue of campus censorship and enforced conformity, documents. On American campuses, “differences of opinion are not viewed as opportunities to learn or to think through ideas,” Lukianoff writes. “Dissent is regarded as a nuisance at best, and sometimes as an outright threat.” His lively book is at once a relentless exposure of the intellectual intolerance institutionalized in higher education, and a passionate defense of the value of free thought and expression.


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