Saving Free Speech

Can intellectual humility and listening with empathy open closed minds and preserve honest debate?

This summer—just as saying something controversial (or not saying something mandatory) got numerous charitable leaders excoriated, several academic leaders dumped, a host of editors and writers ousted, and articles and books cancelled by angry mobs—something interesting happened. Symmetrical open letters were published by separate groups of center-left thinkers and center-right thinkers, both of them warning that free speech, personal expression, and democratic functioning are being seriously threatened right now. The center-right declaration, called the Philadelphia Statement, was published in Newsweek on August 11, and signed by people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Charles Chaput, Robbie George, Niall Ferguson, and Christina Hoff Sommers. The center-left letter is set for October publication in Harper’s, and was released on line in July, with endorsements ranging from Noam Chomsky, Anne Applebaum, and Jonathan Haidt to Wynton Marsalis and J. K. Rowling. Following are condensations from each statement:

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