How should free speech activists respond to the challenge of identity politics? It no longer seems sufficient to cite the First Amendment, quote JS Mill, or cry academic freedom in trying to thwart assaults on free expression. There was a powerful illustration of this problem recently when protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter gatecrashed an event at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and prevented the invited guest from the American Civil Liberties Union from speaking, chanting ‘the revolution will not uphold the Constitution’ and ‘liberalism is white supremacy’.
Is it time for civil libertarians to adjust their priorities, to ensure that people with ‘protected characteristics’ are given ‘particular respect’, and their views given a veto on what they deem as hate speech? Are those who argue for free speech – no ifs, no buts – too often providing the privileged with a licence to talk over the marginalised, even to incite bigotry? Or is identity politics the new tool of censorship and, if so, how should we respond?
Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, Populism and the European Culture Wars; previous books include: What’s Happened to the University? and Invitation To Terror and On Tolerance
US journalist and commentator; editor in chief, Reason.com and Reason TV, the online and video platforms of Reason magazine
chief executive, Index on Censorship
writer and television producer; founding chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission
director, New Schools Network; associate editor, The Spectator; editor, Spectator Life