In the United States, the police will protect everyone (including a communist) in his right to speak freely. True enough, local passions in certain sections of our nation still restrict freedom of speech on certain topics, but the fact remains that there is less of this interference today than ever before in our history. So far as I know, every good and bad economic and political and social idea known to man is being advocated by someone today in every state of our union—publicly and under police protection.
Of course, there have always been economic consequences attached to speaking one’s mind. But surely that is good rather than bad; for presumably, no one would exercise his freedom to speak on controversial issues unless he wanted something to happen. And only a childish mind could dream of a situation in which the consequences would invariably be favorable to the speaker and never unfavorable. For example, I have always spoken freely and publicly against governmental intervention in our economy. That attitude is, of course, supported by only a small minority today. Thus I was hardly surprised at the reaction a few years ago when I was searching for my first teaching job. The top administrators of several of our most famous universities stated quite clearly that they did not want me as an instructor of economics in their classrooms; they honestly believe that I am too one-sided and narrow in my viewpoints. Several other schools, however, were quite willing to expose their students to my viewpoints. I accepted the best offer for my services, and eventually became Professor of Economics and Head of the Department in an excellent liberal arts college.
That’s the way it should be—each person speaking freely, and being grateful indeed that potential employers have the freedom to hire, or not to hire, on the basis of an applicant’s announced philosophy or, for that matter, for any other reason.
I note with considerable alarm, however, that many of my teaching colleagues have a different idea of freedom of speech. Under the vague heading of “academic freedom,” they insist on the right to say anything they please, but complain that their freedom of speech is being interfered with when the economic consequences of their speaking are unfavorable rather than favorable. Such a person neither understands nor wants freedom of speech; he merely wants a special privilege that will protect him against the economic actions of persons who disagree with what he says. This is a fatal step away from freedom.
The Supreme Test
The supreme test of an educated person is his willingness to sacrifice for an abstract ideal.