Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Mansfield on free speech and the university

It is impossible in a brief blog post to do justice to this characteristically Mansfieldian rumination on free speech and the university. His review of Donald Alexander Downs’s Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus is, as usual, chock-full of pithy paradoxes.

Here’s a taste:

Downs notes that the difference between free speech and academic freedom is that the latter, unlike the former, relates to truth. A society can have free speech, pace the ACLU, if it does not challenge its own basic presuppositions, like those in the Declaration of Independence. But a university must, in pursuit of truth, hold those presuppositions open to inquiry. To carry out such inquiry, a university would seem to have greater need of diversity than a society. A university would not want to foreclose questions that a society might consider settled.


Conservatism is therefore closer to the mission of the university than liberalism is. Liberals, insofar as they are progressives, believe that it is possible to eliminate prejudice from society. When prejudice is gone, truth prevails, and there is no need to reconsider the errors of the past. Progress is irrevocable, and inquiry shrinks to whatever questions remain unsettled. Conservatives, believing that it is not possible to eliminate prejudice, are more tolerant than liberals; they expect society to be, and remain, a mixture of truth and untruth.

Read the whole thing.
   

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