Students protesting
Michael Q. McShane

In an earlier post I argued that Dr. Charles Murray’s assault at Middlebury College might mark a turning point in the battle for free speech on college campus. As if on cue, two leading American intellectuals published an open letter supporting free speech and encouraging other academics to sign it.

Robert George and Cornel West provide a great example of the kinds of open intellectual exchange that should happen on college campuses. For over a decade the two have team-taught a course at Princeton that examines important works of political philosophy and offers students a chance to see these works from George’s right-leaning and West’s left-leaning perspective.  (If you want some indication of how this might look, check out this video of George and West talking about the purpose of a liberal education at AEI last fall.)

The letter, now signed by hundreds of scholars, is worth reading in full, but I do want to highlight two paragraphs that I found especially compelling:

None of us is infallible. Whether you are a person of the left, the right, or the center, there are reasonable people of goodwill who do not share your fundamental convictions. This does not mean that all opinions are equally valid or that all speakers are equally worth listening to. It certainly does not mean that there is no truth to be discovered. Nor does it mean that you are necessarily wrong. But they are not necessarily wrong either. So someone who has not fallen into the idolatry of worshiping his or her own opinions and loving them above truth itself will want to listen to people who see things differently in order to learn what considerations—evidence, reasons, arguments—led them to a place different from where one happens, at least for now, to find oneself.

All of us should be willing—even eager—to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments. The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage—especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held—even our most cherished and identity-forming—beliefs.

A good lesson for all of us.

About the Author

Michael McShane
Mike McShane is the Director of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.