Free Speech

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If you fancy yourself an old-fashioned philosophe who cherishes free speech, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the gold standard. Yet on North American college campuses from Berkeley to McMaster, protesters' silencing of controversial speakers has been legitimized by the idea that speech can itself be a form of violence. This is wrong-headed and dangerous, argues Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. "In a democracy, the state is supposed to hold a monopoly on violence," says she. "If speech is violence, the state could extend its monopoly to control expression as well." It is a clever and timely observation, for those on the left as well as the right.