Free Minds & Free Markets

Jonathan Haidt on "the Coddling of the American Mind" and How We Should Address It

College students rather than deans are calling for less speech and expression. That should worry us all.

The suppression of free speech on college campuses isn't a new thing, says Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the New York University Stern School of Business and author of The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. In the past, however, it was usually done by professors and administrators rather than students.

Haidt says student-driven speech suppression is a relatively new phenomenon. "It was after the Yale protests that everything really spread, and that was only 13 or 14 months ago," says Haidt, referring to an incident in which students protested potentially offensive Halloween costumes.

For Haidt, students calling for speech codes, trigger warnings, and the like is a reversal of what we had come to expect on college campuses in the wake of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. "The thing people were not expecting was that the students are the ones who are demanding [political correctness] now," he explains. "Before, it was typically the students who were demanding more freedom."

This can have a chilling effect on speech even as it pushes students to opposite ends of the political spectrum. "At schools," says Haidt, "men feel they can't speak and then they go and vote for Trump."

Reason TV's Nick Gillespie sat down with Haidt at the International Students for Liberty Conference to discuss the rise of political correctness and its cultural implications. They also talk about Heterodox Academy, a website that Haidt helped start that discusses the need for viewpoint diversity within the university system.

Produced by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by McDaniel, Joshua Swain, and Todd Krainin. Graphics by Meredith Bragg.

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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Jon Haidt: What Greg was beginning to see was that it's the students themselves who are saying, "You can't say that. Stop her from saying that. We need rules to stop him from saying that," and that's what was new.

Nick Gillespie: Hi I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason TV. Today we're talking with Jon Haidt. He is a social psychologist at the NYU Stern School of Business. Jon, thanks for talking to us.

Jon Haidt: My pleasure, Nick.

Nick Gillespie: You obviously have a fantastic academic reputation which proceeds anything we're doing here, but also along with Greg Lukianoff, the Director of FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights and Education, a couple of years ago you wrote "The Coddling of the American Mind" which really brought a lot of the issues you're interested in to a much broader audience. Let's talk about campus PC and where it comes from, because this is the world we live in, it helped empower Donald Trump, he ran for presidency saying, "I was against PC." Define and quantify how we know that political correctness is getting bigger or worse on college campuses, that speech is actually being shutdown, thought is being shutdown.

Jon Haidt: Right. It's hard to find. This is all so new. There's been, I believe, a kind of a moral revolution, a new moral culture emerging on campus but it really is only in the last two years. If any of your viewers graduated from college in 2013, they probably haven't seen it. There was a culture, we can talk about it in a moment, but it's organized around victims of oppression, it's a vertical metaphor of privileged and oppressor people, and victims. This idea that everything is power. It goes back a long way. Students were always at risk of being told, "Everything is power." No. "Everything is money." No. "Everything is sex." We've had these one dimensional moral cultures for a long time, but they were limited to certain departments on campus at certain schools.

But something began happening in 2014-2015 where we just started hearing all these stories. When Greg and I wrote the article, it was just there were all these amazing shocking stories of students.

Nick Gillespie: What's an example of one?

Jon Haidt: One of the ones we tell in the paper that everybody [knows 00:02:17], Jeannie Suk at Harvard wrote about how in her law school classes, students wouldn't let her ... Students were objecting to her saying "violated," like, "That violated the law," because violation, that could trigger a thought of rape and we can't let a student who's been raped think about rape. While there's a certain logic to that, it also, and this was the point of the article, the more you teach people to think that way, that hearing a trigger will reactive, you're actually hurting them when you do that. We're finding more and more professors saying, "Wait, I'm doing just what I've always done but suddenly the students are freaking out and they're reporting me to the dean."

When we wrote the article it was all just anecdotes, but that was in August of 2015. That was before the big blowup. It was really in the fall of 2015, the Missouri protests, and then especially Yale. Again, it was after the Yale protests that everything really spreads, and that was like 13 or 14 months ago, so we don't have the data ...

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 or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||


  • Cynical Asshole||


    Marketing CEO gives job applicants a "snowflake test." How many of the fuckwits bitching about "offensive Halloween costumes could pass?

  • ||

    'How do you feel about police.'

    Libertarians need not apply.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    This is an excellent interview. I think this Haidt's insights are well thought and fair-minded.

  • Jerryskids||

    I don't think it's an entirely new phenomenon to have students agitating for restrictions on free speech - ask any ROTC or Dow Chemical recruiter who was around in the "Free Speech Movement" days how much free speech the students favored for ROTC or Dow Chemical recruiters.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Diversity and inclusion except if your a white male isn't going to end any better than white males excluding women or minorities. Young white boys growing up don't remember the 50's and they're not going to put up with the villification. I think that is a large part of the push back you see today.

  • AlmightyJB||

    "the left tends to reject nationalism, reject patriotism, reject borders, that this is a losing path. You're not going to win elections, you can't even run a country like that."


  • Sevo||

    I'm waiting for the admission that the Russkis had nothing to do with the fact that your fave hag lost.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The "Judge" is your garden variety GOP aborto-freak.

    (he told Reason that abortion doctors should be tried for murder).

    He is good on the 4th and sucks ass on everything else.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|3.17.17 @ 10:25PM|#
    "The "Judge" is your garden variety GOP aborto-freak."

    turd is your garden-variety ignoramus with daddy issues.
    Fuck off.

  • Sevo||

    If you expect an honest answer, you must not be familiar with turd.

  • Damned||

    The so-called judge is a partisan Republican hack. Touted as a libertarian because he is so ignored that no one will give him his own show no matter how much he sucks up to Drumpf.

  • notJoe||

    And nobody does "disturbing" like you do AdictionMyth, dijal, DanO.

    You sick freak.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    "Freedom isn't free". Perhaps the entitled little shits have to spend a few months in a concentration camp to appreciate the bill of rights.

  • DenverJ||

    We have to destroy the liberty in order to save the liberty.

  • Damned||

    Because that is how those who scream it (Hannity? Ted Nugent? Assboil Limbaugh?) first learned of it.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    He's wrong. Dead wrong. Students of the collectivist ilk in the late 60's were, in fact, pulling the same destructive verminous garbage tantrums occurring now with the same-styled fringe professors with less gray in their beards and pussy hair cleverly plucking the triggering mechanisms of carefully-designed academic groupings with Kantian/Hegelian/Sartre tricks that go back decades.

    History is repeating itself right the fuck in front of our goddamn pupils and in spite of this gentleman's honestly-faulted review... it is NOT fucking new.

    This intellectual disease is Medievalism pinging through a techno veneer.

  • NoVaNick||

    History is repeating itself right the fuck in front of our goddamn pupils and in spite of this gentleman's honestly-faulted review... it is NOT fucking new.

    I was a student at an Ivy that was the epicenter of PC in the early 90s. I think you had some profs then who were encouraging it-likely the Marxist, draft-dodging types, who were mostly in the humanities. Most students ignored them but some were inspired. So now, their former students-middle aged GenXers like me-are the profs today to continue to pass down the social justice nonsense. However, they are faced with a generation of students who has never had to think critically about anything, because now everything is taught to the test, and parents or tutors probably wrote most of their AP History and English papers. Combine this with the echo chamber cult of social media and you have a perfect storm.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    echo chamber cult of social media and you have a perfect storm

    Social media is communication cubed which forms a dust bowl of hellish distraction when its apex is felled on the ax of philosophical debauchery and reality bending madness so prevalent within the matrices of intellectuals pondering contemporary dark alley intersections and diaphanous persuasions and demanding that these results be inculcated into the policies of chains and rivets, monuments and police sirens.

    A spring of minds reverted and unsprung. A fucking echo chamber of cultus deceit mixed into a boiling tumult of wasting gangrenous salivating heathens cannibalizing the very reality of their oxygen.

    How correct art thou, this nova Nickian.

    The objective and reasoned is the dust bunny gathering 'round limping ankles while the vain glory of swift emotion and its velvet waves press upon the writers and scribes like pressing peers jeering and leering none rejecting the bullies of thought turners and creators.

  • Jerryskids||

    Jordan Peterson. There's a guy you need to check out. From The Federalist: "Something ugly is brewing."

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Jordan is a hoary old prophet with a voice creeping into new. But, make no mistake... like virgin stands of timber Jordan has the cry of centuries crawling up his throat.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Gentle bears
    upon your arms
    squeezing you
    and exhausting
    you with joy so
    massive their
    natural power
    so great that we
    fashion bullets
    to stop it.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Someone creative should kidnap you and brew you into a 6-pack and call it Chipper Morning Wood Stout or CMW triple ipa laced with cocaine or some such and the package should shout lines Mondrian with hints of Caspar Friedrich and be sold only on spaceships with gold neon flickering goddamn Fuck Yes! we are goddamn star lovers, bitchez!! floating forever among the long moons...!!

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Your sister on walking street was awesome, xem. She swallowed my thick spurting precepts and forced her thick rear so deeply into my respiration I tapped her ankle to avoid dying.

  • Mr. Dyslexic||

    Hello Vivid Zilch.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Gillespie after decades of illustriousness can't evoke more than thirty comments on a fucking Friday night with a goddamn video even?

    Nick probably doesn't understand that the mandelbrot on his reality is about to go full fractal exulting the spreading cascading escape of voyaging converging gaping yaw and prow of emerging Liberated contemporary emergence Reason never called because its version of 'Libertarianism' has been bought and paid for since the fucking 70's by the goddamn Kochs who have been plying their fake capitalism with governments around the world since the fuckers were born.

    Fuck Cato. Fuck Reason. And FUCK the Kochs for all their misappropriation of Ayn Rand and the Libertarian movement. Maybe Reason has lost its sheen and, perhaps, it should no longer represent the voice of Libertarians.

  • Damned||

    It never did. It basically exists to serve as the bitch of the GOP. They ignore GOP disasters, pump up Democratic ones, and play balance between "both sides"

    A bunch of hacks looking for a meal ticket. A show on FOX, or being booked as an expert on a FOX show.

  • Vapourwear||

    So our lefties say they are too far right and our righties say too far left...

    Sounds like libertarians to me.

  • Libertarian||

    "They ignore GOP disasters"

    You have GOT to be kidding.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I wrestled with my Shiba inu this night and it was good. and he smiled cockily with whited eye.

  • Agile Cyborg||

  • Fatty Bolger||

    But Liberaltrollians need not apply, eh? You sound bitter.

  • Sevo||

    That piece of shit will never get over the hag losing.

  • AlgerHiss||

    Would...did....Gale Boetticher enjoy Reason?

  • Charles Hurst Author||

    What do you expect with the safe space generation

  • Tony||

    Since this has become the single most important issue on the planet for you guys, I want to see actual data about what portion of "the left" endorses anti-free-speech measures and activity. I don't. I don't know anyone who does. I do know that there's five or six youtube videos you're hanging this thesis on AND that you have a specific agenda that is served by promoting this narrative. So no data, no trend. We have literal Nazis in the White House. Make the actual case for why this bullshit matters more than that.

  • MarkLastname||

    "We have literal Nazis in the White House."
    No, no we don't. No more than we had a 'literal communist' in the white house from 2009-2017 (you do recall he was endorsed by the communist party and never disavowed it, right?)

    And here's some data for you:




    Democratic students are much more likely than Republicans or others to favor punishing 'offensive' speech. Progressive students are 3X more likely than conservatives (30% vs. 10%) to believe the 1st amendment is "outdated and can no longer be applied in today's society."

  • Azathoth!!||

    I want to see actual data about what portion of "the left" endorses anti-free-speech measures and activity.

    All of them. Every single one. Suppression of speech and information is a precept of all leftist ideologies. You cannot have any of them without it.


    Because reality does not back up their claims.

    While the left has some tailored rhetoric designed to make it appear as if they support various freedoms, in practice even that rhetoric doesn't hold up under scrutiny--and therefore examination of it MUST be suppressed.

  • cc2||

    The students are objecting to ordinary language about ordinary things because it might remind some deranged person about something unpleasant. It reminds me of the days when Freud was big and people were finding phallic symbols everywhere, because of course there are only so many shapes things can have and some of them are...long.
    Their demands also act to prohibit the discussion of real issues that we need to discuss. Climate change? If you don't agree you are a denier. Social welfare policies (and how much they cost) can't be discussed. Asking what exactly BLM wants, and debating it are forbidden. and so on and on. Speech on most anything is forbidden.

  • mtrueman||

    "As soon as someone can come up with a way of actually training or certifying people so that they can actually get jobs, I think colleges are going to face a big loss of market share."

    What's to stop employers training newly hired workers in the skills the employer requires? If they need employees who can read and write, why rely on the efforts of these educational facilities and the unsatisfactory sort of people who typically work there? There's nothing stopping private actors from taking the responsibility to do their own training of their own employees. Whether this will result in more free speech, I doubt it, given the fact that the corporate world is even more repressive than academia when it comes to free expression.

  • Winthrop||

    More Haidt!
    Libertarianisms greatest modern asset

  • courtneymarie||

    "At schools," says Haidt, "men feel they can't speak and then they go and vote for Trump."

    Ah, yes, but how do women feel?

    In many cases, these young people are just asking that you be more thoughtful and conscientious in your speech, rather than lazily relying on conventions. Consider if what you are saying is what you really mean. Because when you say things like the quote above, it sounds like you think this only affects men, or that only men are participants, in schools and in voting. I assume that's not what you mean. I assume you're not "defining" or "saying, 'This is what is...'

    So it's not 'you can't say that'... Sure, you're free to say that. But I'm also free to call you out when you do.


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