Campus Free Speech

Middlebury College Cancels Speech by Polish Politician-Academic

The speech had been cosponsored by three faculty-run programs at the College.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

[UPDATE: Also check out this analysis from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.]

From Seven Days Vermont (Molly Walsh):

Middlebury College officials cancelled a forum Wednesday that would have featured conservative Polish politician and academic Ryszard Legutko, saying they were concerned that they could not guarantee people's safety as protestors organized.

Legutko was to speak on The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, and seems to be a pretty serious scholar:

Ryszard Legutko lived and suffered under communism for decades — and he fought with the Polish anti-communist movement to abolish it. But having now lived for three decades under a liberal democracy, he argues that western democracy has over time crept towards the same goals as communism, albeit without Soviet-style brutality. Both systems, says Legutko, reduce human nature to that of common man, who is led to believe himself liberated from the obligations of the past. Both the communist man and the liberal democratic man refuse to admit that there exists anything of value outside the political systems to which they pledged their loyalty. And both systems refuse to undertake any critical examination of their ideological prejudices.

Mr. Legutko is a Member of the European Parliament.  He has served as the Republic of Poland's Minister of Education, Secretary of State, and Deputy Speaker of the Senate.  As a Member of the European Parliament, he chairs the Parliamentary Group of European Conservatives and Reformists and serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee.  He has been an active participant in recent debates over Brexit in the European Parliament.

Under communist rule, Legutko served as editor of the illegal samizdat publication, Arka. After the collapse of the communist regime, he co-founded the Centre for Political Thought in Kraków. One of Poland's foremost public intellectuals, Mr. Legutko is Professor of Philosophy at Jagiellonian University (Kraków, Poland).  As a specialist in ancient philosophy and political theory, he has translated and written commentaries to Plato's Phaedo (1995), Euthyphro (1998), and Apology(2003). He is the author of several books, including Plato's Critique of Democracy (1990), Toleration (1997), A Treatise on Liberty (2007), An Essay on the Polish Soul (2008), and Socrates (2013).  

He had been invited by the Alexander Hamilton Forum, a faculty-run program, and his talk had been cosponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs. But he drew opposition from faculty and students who argued that his views were "homophobic, racist, xenophobic, [and] misogynistic"; and the College administration canceled the lecture, writing (I quote here the Washington Free Beacon (Alex Griswold)):

In the interest of ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff, and community members, the lecture by Ryszard Legutko scheduled for later today will not take place. This decision was not taken lightly. It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response.

At least some of the organizers of the planned protest against Legutko say they weren't trying to prevent Legutko from talking:

"In light of the recent announcement by the Middlebury College administration to cancel the Legutko event this afternoon, we are reiterating that it was never our intention to shut this event down, nor prevent the speaker from speaking," Taite Shomo wrote.

But the administration did prevent it.

(Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.)

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  1. Of course they were trying to shut it down.

    And highly ironic, as they were demonstrating his thesis for him.

  2. This must the first recorded account of a modern college leftist protest who uttered the sentiment of not wanting to suppress speech.

    I doubt they lost much sleep that it happened, though. They also probably knew full well this was a likely outcome and protested anyhow (as opposed to engage in conversation… that requires a back-and-forth that you just dont have to mess with when you just scream and yell… I mean protest).

  3. Middlebury has not exactly covered itself in glory in previous episodes of speech suppression. It doesn’t seem to be accidental.

  4. Should those who disagree with an upcoming speakers’ arguments simply remain quiet rather than voice their view? I don’t know what exactly was said about this individual by faculty and students other than what is quoted in this piece. If they were expressing their view that the scholar is racist, sexist, homophobic, leftist, rightist, biased, alt-rightest, elitist (whatever), then that seems quite different than saying that if he shows up they are going to show up and harm others.

    If the University is just going to cancel a speaker because some people voice disagreement with the speaker’s views, but want the speaker to to attend, then there will be a chilling effect on speech. The heckler becomes the speaker, and a new player (the university) becomes the heckler. It’s hecklers vetoing hecklers all the way down (something something CHILLED SPEECH)!

    1. “Should those who disagree with an upcoming speakers’ arguments simply remain quiet rather than voice their view?”

      No. However, in this case, the administration is claiming safety issues, so there’s more going on here than indicated.

      I see three possibilities:

      1. The administration perceived (rightly or wrongly) a risk of violent protest.
      2. The administration actually received a threat of violent protest that may or may not have any connection to the known protesters that say they didn’t want to shut the speech down.
      3. Someone in the school administration wanted to shut the speech down due to their own biases and the administration is lying through it’s teeth about the reasons for the cancellation.

      1. I vote for #3. So does FIRE.

  5. An updated version of the linked article reports that Legutko spoke anyhow, albeit in a classroom rather than in a forum.

    1. It looks like the speech was cancelled, but a separate talk to a small seminar did happen. (My assumption is that this was planned like some other visits by academics, especially from far away — someone is invited to give a prominent talk to a broad audience, but to take advantage of their presence, a professor also has him talk to the professor’s class.)

  6. But somehow the Right are the fascists.

    1. “Your speech is violence, our violence is speech.”

      – Leftists.

  7. Hecker’s Veto? Heckler’s veto.

  8. The left seems determined to destroy all vestiges of western civilization. I bet they won’t be pleased by what replaces it.

    1. That’s why they support so ardently things like gay marriage and mass immigration. They’re tools of destroying the West

  9. “A.5. Freedom of Expression

    “Middlebury is a community of learners and as such recognizes and affirms that free intellectual inquiry, debate, and constructive dialogue are vital to Middlebury’s academic mission and must be protected even when the views expressed are unpopular or controversial. Moreover, as the College Faculty Handbook and the Institute’s Policies & Standards Manual (PSM) statements on academic freedom recognize, an institution of higher education’s service of the common good “depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” (Faculty Handbook, Academic Freedom. Adapted from the 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” of the American Association of University Professors.)”

    1. Oops –

      “D.7. Policy on Scheduling Middlebury Space for Events…

      “13. In an exceptional case where the review, after application of risk mitigation strategies, indicates that the activity presents an imminent and credible threat to the physical safety of individuals that cannot be adequately mitigated, the president and the senior administration reserve the right to re-schedule or, if necessary, to cancel an event.”

  10. Both systems, says Legutko, reduce human nature to that of common man, who is led to believe himself liberated from the obligations of the past. Both the communist man and the liberal democratic man refuse to admit that there exists anything of value outside the political systems to which they pledged their loyalty.

    This sounds pretty foolish to me as applied to “liberal democratic man” at least. It strikes me that what he may be objecting to is that “liberal democratic man” does not value the same things he values.


    In his book– “Why I am Intolerant?”– he describes minority groups “homosexuals, Africans, feminists” as “fashionable cultures” and their actions as “tyrannical”, comments which have led to significant criticism.[8] He has also referenced Pride as, “aggressive, anti-Christian and shocking.[9]” as well as an “unnecessary, destructive experiment.” Similarly, he has argued that homophobia is, “a totally fictitious problem, it doesn’t not exist anywhere” and goes on to claim that, “Christians are the group that have been most discriminated against.[10]”

    sounds pretty foolish too.

    Still, no reason to cancel his appearance.

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