Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought

Overview

Thou shalt not hurt others with words. That commandment looks harmless, even admirable. But it is neither. As Jonathan Rauch states in this groundbreaking book, "This moral principle is deadly - inherently deadly, not incidentally so - to intellectual freedom and to the productive and peaceful pursuit of knowledge." Americans are used to thinking of liberal society as standing on two pillars: the economic system of capitalism and the political system of democracy. But a third pillar of liberalism, although little...
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Overview

Thou shalt not hurt others with words. That commandment looks harmless, even admirable. But it is neither. As Jonathan Rauch states in this groundbreaking book, "This moral principle is deadly - inherently deadly, not incidentally so - to intellectual freedom and to the productive and peaceful pursuit of knowledge." Americans are used to thinking of liberal society as standing on two pillars: the economic system of capitalism and the political system of democracy. But a third pillar of liberalism, although little heralded and often poorly understood, is just as important: the system for producing knowledge. "Liberal science," as Rauch calls it, performs the crucial task of developing knowledge by choosing between conflicting views. In Kindly Inquisitors, Rauch explores how that system works and why it has now become the object of a more powerful ideological attack than at any time since the great battles between science and religion. Moving beyond the First Amendment, Kindly Inquisitors defends the morality, rather than the legality, of an intellectual regime that relies on unfettered and often hurtful criticism. After explaining the rules that make science work, Rauch identifies three major threats. The first and oldest is from fundamentalists - people who believe that truth is obvious and so need not be questioned. Newer and more troubling are the intellectual egalitarians, who hold that everyone's beliefs deserve equal respect. And most problematic of all are the humanitarians, who decry "verbal violence" and demand that no one give offense. Rauch traces the attacks on free thought from Plato's Republic to Iran's death decree against Salman Rushdie, and then to America's campuses and newsrooms. He provides an impassioned rebuttal to the moral claims of all who would regulate criticism on the grounds of compassion. Attempts to protect people's feelings, though appealing on the surface, lead to the control of knowledge by central authorities. "The new sensitiv

Tracing attacks on free speech from Plato's Republic to America's campuses and newsrooms, Jonathan Rauch provides an engaging and provocative attack on those who would limit thought by restricting free speech. "Restates the core of our freedom, and demonstrates how great, and disregarded, the peril to it has become."--Chicago Tribune

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Identifies a third pillar of liberal society, alongside capitalism and democracy: the "liberal science" of developing knowledge by choosing between conflicting views. Then warns against attacks on the institution--by fundamentalists; by intellectual egalitarians claiming that everyone's opinion has equal weight; and by humanitarians who don't want anyone to say anything bad about anyone. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A compelling defense of free speech against its new enemies, who range from the mosques of Iran to the groves of American academe. In place of Justice Holmes's old standard of truth competing in "the marketplace of ideas," Rauch (The Outnation, 1992—not reviewed; contributing editor to National Journal) substitutes a new one: that of "liberal science." Formulated by skeptical epistemologists like Hume and Locke in reaction to the authoritarian regulation of knowledge advocated by Plato, liberal science sorts through the hurly-burly of conflicting claims of truth, marginalizing those that cannot pass scrutiny while accepting that even today's accepted truth may need to be revised tomorrow. But after years of nurturing the spirit of intellectual freedom and the pursuit of knowledge, this principle recently has been shaken, with the defining moment being Western governments' weak-kneed reaction to the 1989 death threat made by the Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie. Rauch divides challengers to free speech into three camps: "fundamentalists," who believe truth is obvious and not to be questioned; "egalitarians," who think that the beliefs of all sincere people deserve equal respect; and "humanitarians," who hold that one must never offend. But whether they are Moslems enraged at negative portrayals of Islam, creationists pressing to have their theory taught along with evolution, or minorities imposing university codes against "hate speech," all these groups wish to revive the Inquisition notion that "people who hold wrong and hurtful opinions should be punished for the good of society." Rauch's strength here lies in his relentless insistence that liberal science,though hurtful at times, is the best means of advancing knowledge and avoiding "herdthink." Rauch, Jewish and gay, calls not just for toleration but for "the hard self-discipline which requires us to live with offense." A powerful salvo in the war over political correctness—and a ringing reaffirmation of the principles of free thought as conceived by Locke, John Stuart Mill, and others.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226705767
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1995
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 187
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a contributing editor of the Atlantic and National Journal, and the author of six books, including Government's End and Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 New Threats to Free Thought 1
2 The Rise of Liberal Science 31
3 The Politics of Liberal Science 57
4 The Fundamentalist Threat 89
5 The Humanitarian Threat 111
6 Et Expecto Resurrectionem 155
Notes 165
Index 173
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