Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee: The Case of Erik Loomis
By David Henderson
Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber has commented below, ending with: “I would be grateful if you could change the original post to reflect these facts.” I won’t change it, but I will alert readers to his comment. I have three comments on his comment. The third is the most important:
1. He’s right that my comment did not fit Crooked Timber’s guidelines.
2. Contrary to what Mr. Farrell implies, I never charged Crooked Timber with censorship, ideological or otherwise. In fact, I took care to say, in the post below, that I was not charging Crooked Timber with violating my freedom of speech, which is what censorship is. I did charge Crooked Timber with refusing to take Yes for an answer. And I still stand by that charge.
3. I notice that Mr. Farrell did not respond to my most serious charge against Crooked Timber: that they systematically left out Professor Loomis’s most-vile comments. This omission probably gained many signatures for their statement but cost Crooked Timber some credibility.
Last point: Mr. Farrell makes the serious charge of racism against one of our frequent commenters, Steve Sailer. While I am not a big fan of Mr. Sailer, as those of you who have followed our debates on immigration won’t be surprised to read, I do think the charge of racism is inaccurate and unfair. Although I’m not a regular reader of Crooked Timber, I also doubt that, as Mr. Farrell writes, “Racist comments and commenters are banned.” I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be hard to find commenters on Crooked Timber attacking “rich white males,” for instance. Whenever you wonder if a comment is racist, there’s an easy check: try substituting another race in the comment and see how it reads.
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers.
Occasionally I depart from straight economic topics to discuss bigger other important issues. One of the exceptions I make is to discuss freedom of speech and academic freedom, both of which I hold dear. That’s what I want to do here: discuss the case of a history professor named Erik Loomis.
I came late to the party. This morning I read a post by a friend on Facebook, who expressed her support for his academic freedom and linked to a post on Crooked Timber that discussed the issue. Here’s the only part of what Loomis had said that Crooked Timber quoted:
I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.
Wayne LaPierre, for those who don’t know, is the CEO of the National Rifle Association.
Crooked Timber claimed that Loomis is a “gifted young scholar” who has “become the target of a witch hunt.” Crooked Timber also claimed that his untenured position at the University of Rhode Island is in jeopardy. In their words, he “is vulnerable.” If URI were a private university, the only issue would be academic freedom. The fact that it’s a government university brings in the other issue of freedom of speech.
“The guy lives near Connecticut,” I thought, “he was understandably angry about the Connecticut murders, and he vented on Twitter.” But I didn’t know anything about Loomis besides what Crooked Timber told me. Crooked Timber asked people to endorse their statement. But it was too much of a package deal. So I went on as a commenter and wrote:
I can’t fully support the statement because there’s too much in there that I can’t confirm easily. I don’t know whether Professor Loomis is a “gifted” scholar or not. Nor is it relevant. We need to defend the academic freedom of every one, not just the gifted. So I support the main purpose of this statement, which is to defend his academic freedom.
I also support the freedom of Wayne LaPierre to speak and lobby for his views.
I would think if their true goal was to support Loomis’s academic freedom, Crooked Timber would take “yes” for an answer. But they didn’t. My comment wasn’t published. So I wrote it again. Same result: not published.
There are only two things in my statement that I could imagine Crooked Timber taking issue with: (1) my uncertainty about how gifted Loomis is, and (2) my support of Wayne LaPierre’s freedom to speak and lobby. Even if it’s (1), would that be enough for them not to publish my statement? I don’t think so. So the best I can figure is that it’s (2).
Thus the title of this post. Crooked Timber is willing to publish a statement defending Loomis’s freedom of speech but not LaPierre’s. I’m not saying that Crooked Timber violated my freedom of speech by not publishing my comment. My freedom of speech guarantees that no one can use force against me for speaking or to prevent me from speaking; it doesn’t mean that someone is compelled to provide a forum for my speech.
It turns out, by the way, that Crooked Timber also misled by omission. Everyone knows that the expression “head on a stick” is a metaphor, and that is how Crooked Timber defended Loomis. But see here for some of his truly vile comments. Crooked Timber quoted none of these.
Also, the other person, besides the people at Crooked Timber, who is unwilling to defend freedom of speech is . . . Erik Loomis. When given a chance to clarify his views on LaPierre, he wrote, “Dear rightwingers, to be clear, I don’t want to see Wayne LaPierre dead. I want to see him in prison for the rest of his life.”
And what would he want LaPierre in prison for? For murder? No. It would be for speaking out in favor of, and lobbying for, people’s right to own guns. So, again, “freedom of speech for me, but not for thee.”
One last note: I think it’s important for an academic not to attack those whose views he disagrees with. Reading how vile the comments of this “gifted young scholar” were, I did start thinking that, at a minimum, some people at URI should occasionally monitor his class or question his students to find out whether he brings anywhere close to that amount of venom to discussions with students who disagree with him.