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Free Speech: A Response to Ryan Born

I am not in the habit of reading the editorial page of The Daily Princetonian, and moreover, I am normally inclined to forbear rather than publicly single out an undergraduate for criticism. Nevertheless, an ad hominem reference to me in the Sept. 26 edition came to my attention, and the circumstances in this case are special. In his column, Ryan Born takes umbrage at what he supposes is the vagueness of the term “free speech,” and he goes on to dismiss it as a rhetorical weapon. He then incorrectly imputes sinister motives to others in their defense of freedom of speech. The lengthy screed groans on, column after column, making a series of increasingly bizarre assertions, including the particularly egregious claim that what he calls “the arguments of hate” were “laid to rest at Dachau.” A great many good people were murdered at Dachau. Does Born approve of those murders? Does he approve of the suppression of ideas or religious beliefs held by the people who were murdered at Dachau? Is he simply making a reckless allusion to mass murder and genocide for effect? In any one of these cases, he is within his First Amendment rights to express his appalling point of view, and in each of these possible interpretations of his intent, the rest of us have a moral obligation to condemn what he has said. Shame on him! 

There is a great deal else that is wrong in the Tuesday editorial. In the print edition the copy editor’s plea for reason is engulfed in a lahar of heated rhetoric. Given Born's cynical view that free speech is “merely a pragmatic aid,” it is perhaps not a surprise that the only other ad hominem reference in Born’s piece is an approving quotation of the ruthless killer Leon Trotsky. Born’s most innovative attempt to impugn free speech is his own eldritch abuse of that right. But rights are rights, and Born has shamefully exercised his right to be wrong. 


John Londregan is a professor of politics and international affairs at the University. He can be reached at