Historian Niall Ferguson: Biggest Threat to Free Speech is the Left

"If the criterion for censorship is that nobody’s feelings can be hurt, we are finished as a free society."

In Sunday's Boston Globe editorial pages, historian Niall Ferguson points out that "[w]ith every passing week, those who predicted the tyranny of President Trump look sillier." On the contrary, we can expect the threat of tyranny to come from the left, and that is already happening.

"With few exceptions, American conservatives respect the Constitution," Ferguson begins. "The modern American left, by contrast, thirsts to get rid of one of the most fundamental protections that the Constitution enshrines: free speech. If you want to see where that freedom is currently under attack in the United States, accompany me to some institutions where you might expect free expression to be revered."

Ferguson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who happens to be married to anti-Islam fighter Ayaan Hirsi Ali, lists prominent examples of recent leftist assaults on the free speech of conservative speakers: the violent demonstration at UC Berkeley which resulted in the cancelation of a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos; the students at Vermont's Middlebury College who shouted down  sociologist Charles Murray and assaulted his faculty host; protests shutting down appearances by Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna and Ann Coulter at Berkeley.

Ferguson goes on to list examples of Progressives themselves being targeted by bullying students and faculty even for non-PC positions: Evergreen State College biology professor Bret Weinstein, who was confronted by a group of about 50 students outside his classroom, shouting accusations of “supporting white supremacy” and refusing to listen to his counter-arguments; and atheist Richard Dawkins, whose discussion of his new book on a public radio station in Berkeley was cancelled because he had dared to be critical of Islam.

Ferguson goes on to confirm that freedom of expression is "an unchanging absolute and, as a free speech absolutist, I am here (a) to defend to the death your right to publish such drivel and (b) to explain to as many people as possible why it is so dangerous."

"Freedom is rarely killed off by people chanting 'Down with Freedom!'” he writes. "It is killed off by people claiming that the greater good/the general will/the community/the proletariat requires “examination of the parameters” (or some such cant phrase) of individual liberty. If the criterion for censorship is that nobody’s feelings can be hurt, we are finished as a free society."

"Mark my words, while I can still publish them with impunity," he concludes. "The real tyrants, when they come, will be for diversity (except of opinion) and against hate speech (except their own)."

Issues