It is hard to believe that anyone, let alone a professor, would argue against free speech. The freedom to say what you want, even if everyone else finds it disagreeable is an inherent part of American culture. It is what allows us to challenge religion, the government, and outside forces. It is also what allows us to express ourselves and live our lives in the manner we wish.
Who would want to curtail such freedom? Ulrich Baer, a professor, argues that free speech should be controlled because it might hurt some people’s feelings. It is a thing to behold:
At one of the premieres of his landmark Holocaust documentary, “Shoah” (1985), the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann was challenged by a member of the audience, a woman who identified herself as a Holocaust survivor. Lanzmann listened politely as the woman recounted her harrowing personal account of the Holocaust to make the point that the film failed to fully represent the recollections of survivors. When she finished, Lanzmann waited a bit, and then said, “Madame, you are an experience, but not an argument.”
This exchange, conveyed to me by the Russian literature scholar Victor Erlich some years ago, has stayed with me, and it has taken on renewed significance as the struggles on American campuses to negotiate issues of free speech have intensified — most recently in protests at Auburn University against a visit by the white nationalist Richard Spencer.
The two instances have nothing in common. The latter is a situation in which a group of people wish to prevent a controversial speaker from sharing his opinions while the former is a situation in which a one person challenged another person’s presentation of historical events.
Free speech is a zero sum proposition. You either have it or you do not. The moment that someone can stop you from saying anything, you lose that freedom. Continue reading