In other words, it is easy to claim the cause of free speech when you have no real commitment to it. Individuals like Spencer and Jongen are seeking legitimacy from institutions such as universities that pride themselves on taking all views seriously, but their goal isn’t to contribute to open ways of thinking that promote free inquiry. Rather, their hope is to establish oppressive systems of culture and government that exclude the most vulnerable from participation in public life. How can we respond to their interest in speaking — and honor our genuine commitment to free speech — without helping them advance their causes, which are fundamentally opposed to freedom?
It’s clear that we shouldn’t follow Bard’s lead and treat a leader of a far-right party as just another individual with whom to have a polite academic conversation. But that doesn’t mean people like Spencer and Jongen shouldn’t be allowed to speak at all: In fact, I supported Spencer’s right to speak here at my campus and declined to sign a faculty petition opposing his visit. But the right to speak is distinct from a right to polite debate and a legitimizing academic reception.