Can We Still Speak Freely?

February 22, 2023

With Douglas Murray at the University of Virginia

Common Sense Society (CSS) hosted a lecture this February 21 in UVA featuring the British intellectual and well-known author Douglas Murray. Murray, an associate editor of The Spectator, is also the bestselling author of numerous books, including The Madness of Crowds and The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. Known for his incisive wit and sharp commentary, Murray shows the dangers of tearing down our heroes and condemning the past whole-sale. 

What did we discuss?

The New York State Council voted to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson from its premises a few years ago, with one of the councilmembers claiming that “Thomas Jefferson doesn’t represent our values.” This absurd statement demonstrates what’s wrong with our society’s approach to our history today: an unthinking rejection of our history and our heroes. 

This rejection leads not just to self-hatred but to historical ignorance and a sanctimoniousness that rejects any opposing views without even making an attempt to engage with them. Douglas Murray eloquently exposes much that is wrong in this reflexive judgmentalism of the past, including in the so-called “anti-racist movement.” Murray shows how Ibram X. Kendi, for example, completely dismisses Thomas Jefferson for not having made the “anti-racist declaration”—which was written by Kendi centuries after Thomas Jefferson was born. 

Murray also discusses free speech today, and how we must accept freedom of speech or else cede power to a technocratic elite that arrogantly thinks it knows how to run our lives better than we do. 

What did we conclude? 

Murray shows that a presentism which results in a knee-jerk condemnation of the past is intellectually dishonest and is simply meant to serve short-sighted political purposes. Taking this approach, as Murray says, “leaves you with no heroes—and left with no heroes, you have no one to guide you.” 

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