Phi Beta Cons

Culture

Voltaire Needed in Minnesota

One of the great historical anecdotes in the annals of the West is the memorable statement sometimes attributed to Voltaire, one version of which is: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Administrators of the University of Minnesota urgently need to convey this simple but all-important concept to a student group called the “Anti-War Committee,” endorsed by another group called Students for Justice in Palestine.

Earlier this week, an Israeli academic, Moshe Halbertal, who teaches at NYU and Hebrew University, was shouted down by about two dozen students from the Anti-War Committee as he attempted to give the annual Dewey Lecture in Philosophy and Law to an audience of about 100 students and faculty.  The disruptions occurred in the lecture hall itself in the face of the speaker and also outside the lecture hall as the lecture commenced.

As Dale Carpenter recounts in a Washington Post blog, these thuggish students did not even bother to find out if they actually disagree with the dovish Halbertal. When he was finally able to deliver it, his lecture was about the need to protect noncombatants in instances of asymmetrical warfare, that is, when a large, organized military force has to be deployed against death-dealing insurgencies (as happens in Israel and “Palestine”), even if this protection puts at risk the lives of the soldiers in the dominant force. 

Doubly ironically, the loud-mouthed, disruptive students later complained on social media that their free speech rights were abridged when a few of them were arrested.  Some adults need to step forward to teach them that free speech is reciprocal. Your own right to it is protected by your willingness to honor another’s. Otherwise, the right does not exist. 

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