When I was a student at Dartmouth, I did all I could to avoid the classes of Susan Brison, a philosophy professor who also taught in the women's and gender studies department. In a department as small as philosophy, that was a hard thing to do, especially if you were a major (as I was). But Brison was known for wearing her leftist political agenda on her sleeve, something that I could not (and still can't) stand.
If you want to get a sense of where her head is politically and intellectually, look no further than this post that she authored at the Huffington Post titled, "An Open Letter from Black Women to SlutWalk Organizers." Last time I checked, Brison was not black, yet she felt compelled to "endorse and post this letter in solidarity with -- and with the permission of -- the original signers."
If only her white guilt could have ended there. Her latest offense comes to us in a more local publication--the pages of Dartmouth's daily newspaper. There we learn that she celebrated Martin Luther King Jr day on campus by delivering a talk called, "Hate Speech and American Exceptionalism."
Here is a little gem from that talk:
“Free speech is not a special right,” Brison said. “There is no sound philosophical basis for giving such a right a priority when it comes in conflict with other values, such as the right to equality.”
What makes this statement particularly outrageous is that Brison is purportedly a scholar of legal theory. But never mind the bill of rights, the first amendment, the founders, and all that stuff, why can't we just be more like Europeans already in our approach to free speech?
“In the U.S., the First Amendment is so central to our self-conception that it is taken as a defining feature of our national identity,” she said.
Other countries do not view free speech in the same way we do, according to Brison. France and Germany instituted laws prohibiting Holocaust denial and included certain restrictions on discrimination, while South Africa prohibited hate speech after the Apartheid, she said.
When these laws were first created, the American scholars helping to draft them had a “missionary zeal,” she said. However, other countries were resistant to adopting what she referred to as American “free speech absolutism.”
Brison attributed this to the differing histories of individual nations. While European nations were faced with the immediate history of the Holocaust and South Africa with apartheid, the framers of the American Constitution were concerned with preserving as much personal liberty as possible, according to Brison.
This approach has held over time but should be reconsidered, she said.
“There are ample grounds for adopting free speech skepticism,” she said. “To hold that there is a right to free speech is not, however, to hold that it is absolute.”
Sigh. Brison is a philosophy professor so you'd think that she would be able to carry her chain of reasoning through to its logical conclusion and address what would happen if our judiciary decided to "reconsider" the first amendment as it is currently conceived.
Does she, for instance, seriously believe that Martin Luther King Jr, the very person whom she is ostensibly celebrating by delivering these remarks, would have made any kind of dent in history if free speech were not as fiercely protected as it is in this country? Of course he wouldn't have. His political activism was defined by free speech--speech that needed to be protected given the tense political and racial climate that he was operating in.