A New York Times op-ed argues for a new understanding of free speech that takes into account the experiences of the more marginalized in society.
Ulrich Baer, the author and a New York University professor, writes Monday in favor of students who protest talks on campuses from more conservative voices like political scientist Charles Murray and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. These students, unlike “liberal free-speech advocates,” understand that a more complex definition of free speech is needed, Baer argues.
“Universities invited speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good,” Baer writes.
This broader understanding of free speech must take into account the public good and take care not to demean the experiences of others, according to Baer.
“The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community,” Baer argues.
Baer also suggests drawing “parameters” around public speech to make sure that those who are reportedly alienated, like transgenders and illegal immigrants, can have a voice as well. Baer does not make clear who should draw these boundaries.
“We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing,” Baer adds.
Baer ends his op-ed by arguing that freedom of speech is “not an unchanging absolute” and that the nation’s democracy is in danger if people do not update the boundaries surrounding free speech.
“When its proponents forget that it requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters, and instead invoke a pure model of free speech that have never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present,” the op-ed ends.
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