Transcript, “The Incubator of the Nanny State” with Nick Gillespie

Nick Gillespie:

And in our best moments, we create a framework by which people who disagree can argue, and then each of them learns more from that.  And that’s what society is all about, and one would hope that that’s what the university is all about.  I’m Nick Gillespie.  I’m editor-in-chief of and reason.come, and I’m the coauthor with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents, How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America


When I was in college — I went to Rutgers from 1981 to 1985 — one of the things that was fascinating about that period was that actually, I think, there was still the remnant of free speech and the passion for free speech, especially on campuses of universities and colleges because they were seen precisely as the sort of place where you should experiment with all kind of expression and all kinds of thought.  And everything should be allowed.  For that very reason, it was the marketplace of ideas, and people were supposed to debate and argue things. 


It really did go from a place where you could talk about a lot of different things to a place where it became very difficult to have casual conversations or open-ended conversations about the right way to think about politics, the right way to think about literature or about science and all of that kind of stuff.  And I’m not exactly sure what happened.  I mean there is definitely a sense among my graduate professors who trace — who went to school in the ‘60s.


They were much more open-minded.  They were as ardently leftwing, generally, as a group, as the people who came after them of the next generation of academics.  But they were much more interested in the kind of free speech movement inspired academic discourse — and using the classroom, not as a place to push or to shove political ideas down people’s throats, but rather to have conversation.  And it seems to me that it was the people after that who had fully imbibed the kind of sense that dialogue was some form of repress of tolerance. 


I mean that they had drawn out of a kind of ‘60s experience that if you allow for open debate, you’re actually kind of allowing the status quo to kind of continue.  And they felt that, you know, that needed to be stopped because the minute that you started kind of engaging in dialogue, you were giving up the game.  And I’m not sure exactly why that happened, but it did seem to be what was going on.  Intellectuals always do better when they are — when they’re in a difficult situation or where they have to fight for their ideas.  


The people who are my intellectual heroes are really people like Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek.  And the other person who I had the honor of working with SUNY Buffalo was Leslie Fiedler who was a renegade leftwing thinker who had been kind of dispatched from decent society because in the ‘50s he said what everybody on the left knew to be true, which was that Whittaker Chambers was obviously telling the truth about Alger Hiss — that the Rosenbergs were obviously guilty.  And Fiedler was not — he wasn’t a right winger, he wasn’t anti-communist, but he was saying, come on, you know, this is — to deny any of this is to turn in our credibility. 


And he paid a price for that in his academic career.  And so, I always thin, that intellectuals – they need to fight hard for their ideas because ideas — new ideas are never popular.  And you know, it’s good.  It’s good to fight for your ideas because you make them better and you win more convincing arguments.  It’s with no small degree of sadness that I say Fire is more important now than ever because there is always an attempt to squelch unpopular speech or smart speech, or you know, to hammer down that nail that sticks up a little bit more than the others — than ever before on college campuses. 


It’s to the eternal shame, I think, of higher education in America that it no longer celebrates itself as a place where anything can happen, anything can be discussed, anything can be taught.  And instead, it’s all about a kind of rigid and grim enforcement of the status quo or of superior knowledge that extends to how people should live and how people should think.  And as a result, I think Fire plays and exceptional and unique role in really pushing back against the — you know, in a lot of ways, the incubator of the nanny state in all other aspects of our lives. 


Duration:  5 minutes