Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Literature, Poetry, and Books

Courage is a Virtue

Much ink has already been spilled over Yale University Press's descision not to publish the now famous Danish Cartoons.  In the latest commentary on the affiar, James Kirchick notes that Yale's decision grew from fear of violence:

I believe deeply in the principles of the First Amendment and academic freedom," said Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and a member of Yale's governing board, in which capacity he advised the Press not to publish the cartoons. "But in this instance Yale Press was confronted with a clear threat of violence and loss of life."

Zakaria's comment raises a question that ought to be addressed head on.  It seems to me that Zakaria gets it backward.  In normal circumstances, a responsible member of Yale's board ought to make safety a central concern.  But protecting the free press is precisly the kind of thing for which it is worth taking risks.

When this controversy started, one commentator at National Review (I cannot recall who it was) pointed out that, as a general rule, in polite society one ought not to mock another's religion, and one should shun those who do.  Similarly, newspapers ought not to publish such cartoons, as a rule. The trouble with this controversy, is that it creates the case that is the exception to the general rule.  When the right to mock someone's belief is the issue, the right thing to do changes.  In this case, in other words, courage meets prudence.

(It might be this piece by Andrew Stuttaford that I am recalling. Stuttaford also gives some background into the origns of the controversy. The cartoons were done deliberately, to prove a point about free speech, and not simply to anger Muslims).

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