The Practicality of Free Speech Absolutism

“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 nuanced and 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.

Reason‘s Nick Gillespie spoke to Kirchick 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.

Articles mentioned:

“What Happens Where Free Speech Is Unprotected,” by James Kirchick

“Calling Out An Antisemite,” by James Kirchick

  • Video Editor: Adam Czarnecki
  • Audio Production: Ian Keyser