20 Years of Political Correctness: Q/A with Jonathan Rauch

The great advantage of a society that embraces robust and often-angry debate, "is not that it does not make mistakes," says Jonathan Rauch, "it's that it catches mistakes very, very quickly." For Rauch, such dialogue is at the heart of what he calls the "liberal science" of producing and refining knowledge.

A National Magazine Award-winning journalist and author, Rauch's path-breaking study of politicial corrrectness, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, has just been released in a 20th-anniversary edition by the Cato Institute. The new version includes an introduction by George Will and a powerful afterword by Rauch about how calls for censorship and regulation of speech have changed over the past two decades.

Nick Gillespie sat down with Rauch to discuss why free speech cannot and should not be abridged, even when it causes pain and discomfort. Rauch talks about how the weak defense of Salman Rushdie after receiving Islamic death threats radicalized his views and the inspiration he draws from figures such as Frank Kameny, a pioneering gay rights activist who never called for the censoring of hate speech.

About 6.30 minutes.

Camera by Amanda Winkler and Joshua Swain. Edited by Swain.

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Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What about my right to not have my sensibilities offended or even challenged? Free Speech is only acceptable when everyone agrees with it.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Oh piss off.

    My only censored comment on the BBC was about how you don't have the right to not be offended and it wasn't the speaker's responsibility to worry about your frail sensibilities.

    Sadly, it was in a thread about the introduction of new words to the English Language or something, so it got tossed as off topic, along with the post it was a reply to.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I thought Karl Popper already was considered central to libertarianism.

  • ||

    Free speech has been one of the pretty much inalienable successes of the Constitution. As in, the First Amendment, of all the amendments, has held up surprisingly well, especially compared to, say, the Fourth or the Ninth. And that's impressive, considering that it's constantly under fire.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Well, it has taken its share of hits, though. McCain-Feingold comes immediately to mind.

  • ||

    Yes campaign and corporate speech are two areas that need work.

  • ||

    I meant commercial speech.

  • np||

    Not just political speech. Obscenity, offensive speech on public airwaves, a coerced ratings system. Also, much vaunted protections against hate speech isn't assured.

    It can be transformed into incitement, or be used to escalate a minor transgression into a felony hate crime. This was recently shown by Ravi's case (trespass + offensive speech = felony bias intimidation) and the Amish feud case (minor assault as forced hair cut + religious speech = felony hate crime)

    Even seditious speech is still criminalized when coupled with interstate commerce.

  • np||

    IP laws as they pertain to speech are also out of whack.

  • ||

    You could even say the protections have gotten stronger over time in many areas.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Like when the NSA tells a company they are taking their data without a warrant and then tells said company if they tell anyone about it they will be prosecuted?

  • Zeb||

    No, not like that. He said many, not every.

    Seriously, is there some prize for being as negative as possible all the time? Yes, lots of things suck. Can't we be happy occasionally that we really do have very well protected rights to free speech and press? Everybody here knows quite well that troubling exceptions exist.

  • Harvard||

    We can be happy our families aren't subject to the cost of the bullet I guess, Something those cheeky Chinese are always bitching about.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    No we can't just sit back and rest on our laurels because those rotten assholes will try, try again.

  • mtrueman||

    I don't think the constitution has ever protected free speech in the work place. We routinely alienate this right when we enter the work place and submit ourselves to dismissal and disciplinary measures whenever the boss decides he doesn't like what his underlings have said.

    The work place is typically the place where we spend our most productive hours and expend our most creative energies. And it's all done without freedom of speech being protected by the constitution or anyone else.

  • optimusratiostultum||

    because your boss does not have to listen to your rants, nor do you have any "right" to inflict yourself upon him.

    In the workplace one is paid to work not talk, therefore if someone is spending their creative energies on watercooler gossip then they oughta be fired.

  • Redmanfms||

    I don't think the constitution has ever protected free speech in the work place.

    No shit. The Constitution is a limitation of the government's actions.

    You can always be counted on to post comically stupid shit.

  • ||

    It seems the most strident calls for censorship, even the criminalizing of speech and of regulating journalists, have all come from the compassionate, tolerant left lately.

    They are like vampires in that none of them will be caught anywhere near a mirror.

  • ||

    And I will add that, in my experience, calls for silencing people that one disagrees with is a good sign that person has no good argument. They dont want their ideas tested because they know they will fail.

  • ||

    It seems the most impassioned calls for hate-speech removal, even the correction of speech and of standardizing journalists, have all come from the vast majority of responsible Americans lately.

    They are like Vladite Romanian-Americans in that none of them will be caught anywhere near a reflective surface.

    The PC FIFY. :)

  • ||

    Why thank you.

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  • Carnival||

    You have no right not to be offended, but you are an asshole if you deliberately rub your privilege in someone else's face.

    It's that simple. The PC police shouldn't censor, and no one should be an ass.

  • triclops||

    Can you please point to instances of rubbing privilege in others faces? Im sure it exists somewhere, and I hear many talking about it all the time. Just kinda reminds me of Bigfoot or ghosts.

  • Harvard||

    You're right, of course. My conversation with my kids after stumbling on a gay rights parade was long overdue anyway.

  • Habeas Dorkus||

    I just want to know when I can yell "nigger" in a crowded theater while holding up a Hustler containing no content of literary or artistic value in one hand and a burning American flag in the other.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Burning a full sized flag, of any description, in a public place without a fire permit should be treated as reckless endangerment. Otherwise, have fun.

  • John Galt||

    Over the years Hustler has become a publication lacking much value of any kind. These days I'm only willing to pay the $12 cover price when my ex-wives or girlfriends are featured inside.

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  • ||

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  • sindeebir||

    My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do......
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  • John Galt||

    I wholeheartedly supported Rushdie. Sorry you and your pals were too big of a bunch of wimps to not naturally know what's right and protected by the Constitution as opposed to what's wrong and political correct.

  • messup||

    Political correctness has a very "collectivist" connotation. In other words, if We The People are all "alike," this mass of raw dough is easily able to be molded into a socio/political ideology supporting a Progressive New Left Activist movement. Political Correctness has been directed at: 1)religion, 2) education, even 3)financial markets, capitalism, and its institutions. Finally it's rampant application in all 4)governance has increased Washington DC Elites hold over all voters in America (Voting rights, anyone?).
    Today, Progressive New Left Activist's are reaping benefits of their more than 50 year effort of incremental socialism which modified, changed, disrupted and defrauded America's political/social processes. Even modified US's constitution, Bill of Rights, "tort" system of precedence laws. As examples, lets look at Obamacare; SCOTUS' "judicial activism." Executive Orders and Presidential "activism" has further brought "political correctness" to a new social "Elitist" level. NAH! Political Correctness is one tool in the tool shed of Progressive New Left Activists to make America their new "collective!"Pray. Amen. Join a Tea Party.

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  • Agreenweed||

    Rushdie deserves the freedom to write whatever he likes. The thing I want to know is how the hell anyone could read enough of that book to find the "insults" to Islam. That book is...as interesting as a rock. A very boring book.

  • Car Scanner||

    I think IP laws as they pertain to speech are also out of whack.

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