‘Intellectual comfort’ and the Struggle for Free Speech

The fight for free speech is growing ever more urgent, argues Greg Lukianoff in Freedom from Speech, his new Encounter Broadside. Lukianoff, the President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and a frequent contributor to Minding the Campus, suggests that the trend of censoring “offensive” content exists on a stage broader than college campus. Indeed, he suggests that Western societies are increasingly looking to police speech and thought.

Lukianoff points to recent developments in Europe and India, where regulators have attempted to rid the media of impolitic speech, as well as in the United States, where outraged citizens have tried to banish disagreeable celebrities from the public sphere. He blames our newfound ability to find and live only with those with whom we agree. Our  “rising desire for intellectual comfort,” he believes, leads us to reject opinions we find unsettling. He warns that this trend undermines the liberal tradition, which requires serious debate and disagreement, and that it might stymie advances in science and culture.

Though he emphasizes the colleges are not the only–or worse–violators of free speech, he argues that American higher education certainly encourages the trends towards censorship. To that end he cites numerous case studies that Minding the Campus has covered, such as free speech zones, “disinvitation season,” and trigger warnings. His warning about the impact of higher-ed’s retreat from free is stark. “When you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended,” he suggests, “eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.”


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