In a short yet wide-ranging discussion with some of the folks from the great Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), I talk about my experiences as an undergraduate (1981-1985 at Rutgers University) and graduate student in literature (1988-1993 at Temple and SUNY-Buffalo) when it comes to shifting conceptions of free speech on campuses. The short version: At some point during the 1980s, the idea of the university as a place where you not only could discuss all sorts of crazy shit but were encouraged to argue and disagree and seek uncomfortable truths was replaced by the idea that dialogue was little more than a form of repressive tolerance that maintained a stultifying status quo. The idea of the university as a center for debate was replaced with the idea of the university as an incubator of the nanny state, where orthodoxy and conformity is the order of the day.
Along the way, I spill the beans about some of my intellectual heroes, at least one of whom may surprise regular Reason readers:
The people who are my intellectual heroes are really people like Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek. And the other person, who I had the honor of working with SUNY Buffalo, was Leslie Fiedler, who was a renegade leftwing thinker who had been kind of dispatched from decent society because in the '50s he said what everybody on the left knew to be true, which was that Whittaker Chambers was obviously telling the truth about Alger Hiss — that the Rosenbergs were obviously guilty…. Fiedler wasn't a right winger, he was an anti-communist….
And he paid a price for that in his academic career. And so, I always think, that intellectuals—they need to fight hard for their ideas because ideas — new ideas are never popular. And you know, it's good. It's good to fight for your ideas because you make them better and you win more convincing arguments.
Click above to watch the interview and go here to read the transcript.
A while back, I channeled Fiedler in a discussion of Django Unchained.