Phi Beta Cons

The Bitter Irony of Civility Rules

The near-constant public justification for speech codes, “civility” rules, overbroad anti-harassment rules and other forms of restrictive campus speech policies is the supposedly benign (or even idealistic) desire to create a ”welcoming” atmosphere of “reasoned discourse.”  Yet even as such rules of good speech are in place in the vast majority of our colleges and universities, Alan Dershowitz (hat tip: Candace), The New Republic’s Paul Berman), and many others are noting a distinct deterioration in the tone and substance of intellectual debate.  It is no longer enough to simply argue that a supporter of Israel is wrong.  Now, he must be threatened or labeled a “Nazi.”  Brave dissidents like Ayaan Hirsi Ali face a campaign of vitriol and thuggery that would cause most of us to beat a frightened retreat from the public square. 
Yet speech codes and vicious campus vitriol are inseparably linked.  It is a short trip from believing that certain ideas are so “offensive” that they should never be uttered to believing that the advocates for those ideas are beneath contempt.  So “civility” rules and vicious rhetoric against campus dissenters spring from the exact same place: an autocratic and unyielding belief that the truth of an issue has been discovered and that any real debate would serve only to obscure that truth.