Before Parliament in 1644, John Milton said, “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never allies out and sees her adversary.”
Over at City Journal’s Minding the Campus, John Leo reports that Ronald D. Liebowitz, president of Middlebury College, is taking Milton’s words to heart. In his commencement address he discussed the “value of discomfort,” stating: “If the wariness about discomfort is stronger than the desire to hear different viewpoints because engaging difference is uncomfortable, then the quest for diversity is hollow.”
Exposure to alien and uncomfortable views is at the heart of intellectual discourse and salient to the purpose of the university. Many views now mainstream were once held by only a small minority. If such ideas had been permanently silenced, they might never have come to prominence. Likewise, views that were once accepted as all but fact have lost their eminence when challenged by views better conceived and better argued. As John Stuart Mill famously pointed out in On Liberty, human beings are neither infallible nor all-knowing, and thus if an offensive minority opinion contains only as little as a kernel of the truth, that truth will be lost if the opinion is silenced.
President Liebowitz is arguing against “fugitive and cloistered virtue” at Middlebury College, and saying that minority opinions will not be silenced—and we at FIRE wish more would follow his lead.