How Liberal Universities Could Liberate Speech

Drew Faust, the President of Harvard, is concerned about the plight of free speech on college campuses and hers in particular.  She says all the right words about the importance of free speech to a university. But her suggestions about how to secure it are vague  and anodyne. For instance, Faust exhorts  those at the university to be “generous listeners.”  For a college President, that is a bit like a preacher exhorting his congregation to oppose sin.

It is easy to be a generous listener when you are listening to people who agree you with you.  But the ideological and partisan homogeneity of Harvard makes generous listening to sharply dissenting views harder, because it is easier to regard them as irrational or evil when none of your friends and colleagues share them. The problem is a structural and institutional one and cannot be solved by sermons.

Thus, if Faust were serious about free speech and free inquiry on campus she would announce some initiatives to make sure that conservative and libertarian voices punctured the campus bubble. A school as wealthy as Harvard could announce a speaker series to bring in a serious conservative or libertarian scholar once a week to speak to the entire university on an issue of public policy or political philosophy.

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Coming Out of the Bubble

bubble dreams

Those who live in a bubble had best admit it, and apparently I do.

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Divine Rights and Human Rights

Woman meditating in yoga position on the top of mountains

The eminent political theorist Harvey Mansfield once wrote that the “religious question” is the crucial one for the modern age, because it concerns the ultimate repository of authority and control. Is it human or is it divine?

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Dark Times, the Declaration, and the Despotic Executive

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

It’s been a year since my last little piece on the Declaration of Independence, and what a year it’s been.

On the Right of our political spectrum, one could sum up its events and eventfulness in one word: Trump. A party has been captured by an outsider, the disaffection of millions of its rank-and-file revealed. At the national level, the Grand Old Party is not so grand or even particularly coherent, and some fear it might not last as a party. Something similar can be said of the party of the Left. Substitute “Clinton” and “Sanders” and comparable deep fissures emerge, although perhaps with less likelihood of disintegration.

What light, in terms of principles and manner of thinking about politics, might this context shed?

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The Association of American Law Schools Needs More Political Diversity


In the week that a new organization, Heterodox Academy, was established to press for more ideological diversity in academic life, the learned association in my own profession showed how much it is needed. The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) sent around a notice of its prospective annual meeting, highlighting its most prominent speakers. Of the thirteen announced, none is associated predominantly with the Republican party, but eleven are associated with the Democratic Party. Many are prominent liberals. None is a conservative or libertarian.

Five are judges, including Stephen Breyer, all appointed by Democrats. Another is the incoming Senate leader of the Democrats. Three others contributed predominantly to Democrats. One for whom no contributions could be found held a fund raiser for President Obama. Another worked for the Democratic side of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Clinton.

It is true that Michael Bloomberg is also speaking. He has been at various points a Democratic and a Republican and is now an independent. Perhaps the AALS thought that a single person could create diversity through his many political avatars! But seriously, Bloomberg, who has crusaded for gun control and limitations on permissible ounces in a sugary soda, does not resemble a conservative or libertarian. He ran as a Republican in 2001 for Mayor of New York City because it was the nomination he could acquire.

Now my point is not to disparage the highlighted speakers. They are all eminent men and women.

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Friday Roundup, March 21st

The current Liberty Law Talk is with Nicholas Johnson on his new book Negroes and the Gun. Paul Rahe pens a compelling review essay in our Books section this week on Mark Blitz's Divine Law and Political Philosophy in Plato’s Laws: [Blitz] thinks Plato’s Laws may be a better guide to the manner in which reason and revelation can to good effect interact (at least where revelation takes the form of law) than the various works dedicated to that subject by Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, and the leading figures of the 18th century Enlightenment. David Henderson and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel: The Inevitability of a…

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The Law According to Harvey Mansfield

Andrew Ferguson’s current feature essay in The Weekly StandardThe ‘Science’ of Same-Sex Marriage” considers the unique brief filed by Leon Kass and Harvey Mansfield in the Proposition 8 case that is now before the Court. Also discussed by Nelson Lund, the brief’s counsel of record, in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, the Kass-Mansfield brief does not engage in direct advocacy on behalf of the California law that bans same sex marriage in that state. Rather, the brief purports only to demonstrate that social science claims made in support of a radical departure from the principles of Western marriage law are quite inconclusive and are contrary to statements put forward by researchers and organizations like the American Psychological Association. 

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Tributes to James Q. Wilson

Numerous fond, appreciative tributes to the late James Q. Wilson over the past days include fine reflections by Michael Barone (link no longer available), Heather Higgins, Yuval Levin (linking to Wilson’s collected articles for The Public Interest and National Affairs (link no longer available)), Harvey Mansfield, John Podhoretz (linking to Wilson’s fifty-plus pieces for Commentary), Steven Teles, and George Will.  R. Shep Melnick’s splendid review of the great man’s later essays, published awhile ago in the Claremont Review of Books, appears here.