James Kirchick Calls for the Complete Abolition of Speech Codes

“If the problem with campus speech codes is the selectivity with which universities penalize various forms of bigotry,” wrote James Kirchick recently in The New York Times, “the solution is not to expand the university’s power to punish expression. It’s to abolish speech codes entirely.”

Kirchick was writing about widespread outrage at the deeply nuanced and deeply hypocritical defense of speech offered by the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania at a congressional hearing about antisemitic and anti-Zionist campus reactions to the October 7, 2023, Hamas attacks on Israel.

Although Kirchick, the author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington and The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, is an ardent defender of Israel, he is also a self-described free-speech absolutist who is disgusted by calls to restrict expression, whether on or off-campus. He says that instead of clamping down on speech, we should be arguing more openly and publicly, even when it’s deeply uncomfortable, as it was when he raised novelist Alice Walker’s antisemitic views during a literary conference at which they were both speaking.

We talk about how identity politics has overwhelmed the left’s traditional defense of free speech, why so many younger journalists seem lukewarm at best to the First Amendment, and how to muster the courage to speak up for first principles in uncomfortable and hostile situations.

Previous appearances on The Reason Interview:

How Homophobia Warped the Cold War, June 1, 2022

The Very Idea of Europe Is Finished, April 23, 2017