There is No Right Not to Be Offended By Ideas

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“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

George Orwell

British comedian John Cleese has usually, but not entirely, been on the political left, but his stand against the attempted thought control that goes by the name of political correctness elicits my admiration.  We cannot have a democracy if “crybullies” can exercise a heckler’s veto over ideas presented in the public square.  Leftists, with honorable exceptions like Mr. Cleese, no longer believe in the power of persuasion and reasoned argument.  Instead their tactics are shouting down adversaries, banning them from social media, and, frighteningly, mob violence.  We have seen where this all leads time and again in history.


One of my favorite scenes from the musical 1776 is in the above video where Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island introduces Benjamin Franklin to his insult cards.  In the musical Hopkins is portrayed as a lovable drunken rogue, but a font of common sense when big issues are afoot.  When his vote is decisive on debating independence his comment is to the point:  “I’ve never seen, heard, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yes, I’m for debating anything!”

The actual Stephen Hopkins bore little resemblance to his portrayal in 1776.  Born on March 7, 1707, in Providence, Rhode Island, he was the oldest man in Congress in 1776, except for Ben Franklin.  From a prominent Rhode Island family he early developed an insatiable thirst for knowledge, reading voraciously, and training himself in surveying and astronomy.  He became a Justice of the Peace at 23, embarking upon a career in Rhode Island politics.  He swiftly became a justice on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas while serving as Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Deputies.  He made his fortune through an iron foundry and his activities as a merchant.

In 1747 he was appointed as a Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and in 1751 became Chief Justice.  In 1755 he was elected governor of the colony, and would serve 9 of the next 15 years in that office.  In 1773 he freed his slaves, and in 1774 he sponsored a bill in the Rhode Island legislature forbidding the importation of slaves into Rhode Island  With the coming of the Revolution he served in Congress until ill-health forced him to retire in September 1776.

Regarded as one of the most learned men in the colonies he served as the first chancellor of the College of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, now Brown University.  He died in 1785, universally mourned in Rhode Island.

On second consideration perhaps there is a bit of resemblance between the depiction of Hopkins in 1776 and this observation from John Adams:

Governor Hopkins of Rhode Island, above seventy Years of Age kept us all alive. Upon Business his Experience and judgment were very Usefull. But when the Business of the Evening was over, he kept Us in Conversation till Eleven and sometimes twelve O Clock. His Custom was to drink nothing all day nor till Eight O Clock, in the Evening, and then his Beveredge was Jamaica Spirit and Water. It gave him Wit, Humour, Anecdotes, Science and Learning. He had read Greek, Roman and British History: and was familiar with English Poetry particularly Pope, Tompson and Milton. And the flow of his Soul made all his reading our own, and seemed to bring to recollection in all of Us all We had ever read. I could neither eat nor drink in those days. The other Gentlemen were very temperate. Hopkins never drank to excess, but all he drank was immediately not only converted into Wit, Sense, Knowledge and good humour, but inspired Us all with similar qualities.

When the Left attempts to ban ideas from discussion they betray the best of this country which was, in Lincoln’s ringing phrase, “conceived in liberty.”

More to explorer

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  1. Here’s a thesis: ‘crybully’ behavior has its origins in the following phenomenon: the Democratic Party and the portside generally have turned into a collecting pool of narcissists supplemented by people whose command of their roiling emotions is quite poor. See:

    A generation ago, authority figures might have told such people to stick a cork in it and they’d learn to deal or face the music. Now you have people in the student affairs apparat and among the worst elements on the faculty giving them encouragement while the rest of the higher education apparat and the court system rolls over.

  2. I plan to open a Twitter account; copy and paste Sarah Jeong’s cogent tweets; search and replace “White” with “black.” Then, I’ll email the package with a resume to NYT and tell them they HAVE to hire me.

    Kurt Schlichet, “. . . the left adopt explicit racism as a core value. You have seen the attacks on our right to speak freely. You have seen the attacks on our right to worship freely. You have seen the attacks on our right to keep and bear arms. Do you imagine that once we give up our right to speak, to worship, and to protect ourselves and our liberty, that the racist Sarah Jeongs of the world, should they take power, will somehow suddenly stop hating us and be cool?”

  3. How does freedom of speech hurt other people unless other people have a pestilence or infection in their personality. Man is given a sovereign personhood by God. What man does with his sovereign personhood from God from day one is his personality. Personality is our destiny in eternity, for man to accomplish himself. Better to suffer purgatory here on earth than in eternity. And follow Jesus Christ crucified.

  4. The notion of “Repressive tolerance” is not new. It goes back at least to Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 essay of that name and similar ideas were expressed by Felix Dzerzhinsky at the time of the Russian Revolution.

    Marcuse argues that tolerance which enlarges the range of freedom is an end in itself but it has always been partisan and intolerant toward the protagonists of the repressive status quo. For him, the issue is only the degree and extent of this intolerance.

    “The uncertainty of chance in this distinction does not cancel the historical objectivity, but it necessitates freedom of thought and expression as preconditions of finding the way to freedom–it necessitates tolerance. However, this tolerance cannot be indiscriminate and equal with respect to the contents of expression, neither in word nor in deed; it cannot protect false words and wrong deeds which demonstrate that they contradict and counteract the’ possibilities of liberation. Such indiscriminate tolerance is justified in harmless debates, in conversation, in academic discussion; it is indispensable in the scientific enterprise, in private religion. But society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake: here, certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed, certain behaviour cannot be permitted without making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude.”

  5. Art Deco

    My point is that the belief in placing limits on free speech has a long tradition on the Left. It is not some recent phenomenon, nor is it confined to the Hard Left.

    Marcuse’s Repressive Tolerance was one of three papers that composed A Critique of Pure Tolerance, published in 1965.

    In the same book, Wolff argued that “The application of the theory of pluralism always favours the groups in existence against those in formation.”

    Indeed it is really a development of Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance, “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

    Rawls, too, believes that suppression may, in some cases, be justified: “While an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger.”

    There is a real question here to be engaged unless, of course, on takes Carl Schmitt’s view of politics: “every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms itself into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friends and enemy.” The political rests on a fundamental contingency and basic conflict; hence, it cannot adopt a priori rules of procedure, since any rule – even an ostensibly fair one, such as free speech – merely represents the victory of one political faction over another and is the temporarily stabilised result of past conflicts.

  6. Michael Patterson-Seymour, if you fancy this has a damn thing to do with Herbert Marcuse’s word games, I’m vending bridges. The MEd.’s in charge of the student affairs apparat would have only a vague idea who he was. On a typical campus, You have a campus with 11,000 students and 1,200 employees and you’ll find maybe 10 people in the sociology department who’ve read Marcuse and give a rip about him.

  7. Absolutely. A fundamental freedom.
    Which does not for one second negate our duties under Christ as to charity and holiness.

    There is absolutely no way that calling another person in a public forum “Low IQ” is not sinful. Protected speech under the first amendment? Sure. A sin which offends Christ and cannot be defended? Yes, in all cases.

  8. I’m unclear as to where and when the Church has said that when Christ Himself said that, it suggested permissiveness on this matter with the children of God. Of course, there is the additional matter that Christ spoke of what He knew as true. IQ tests however, enjoy great privacy.

  9. To be offended by other people’s ideas, not actions, is absurd. Civil government deals with civil rights. To inflict censorship on bad ideas must only be done by a better idea and so forth, to upgrade our citizenship and our civilization. To inflict censorship on another person’s sovereign personhood crosses the line into blasphemy, usurping the authority of “their Creator”.

  10. People tend to forget the Christ that uttered the woe lines in Scripture in Luke 11. They also overlook the cleansing of the Temple. According to Catholic Bible studies that I have taken, the part of the book of Revelation about the Whore of Babylon and the scroll with the seven seals is mostly about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The end of Jerusalem was particularly gruesome. Some believe that the scroll with the seven seals is a covenant lawsuit brought by God against the Jewish nation for their faithlessness to the covenants, the seals being the covenant curses. Also, at the beginning of the book of Revelation the letters to the seven Churches contain rebukes against the Churches.
    From what I’ve read ancient blood covenants usually started with the slaughter of an animal, the person swearing the covenant stood in a pool of the animal’s blood while making the oath where the oath-taker said that if they violated the covenant that let what happened to the animal be done to them. Moses sprinkled blood on the altar and on the people when they swore a solemn blood covenant that included the promise not to build idols. Building the Golden Calf broke this solemn blood covenant. Based on what I’ve read about blood covenants, God was within His rights to hold the entire people to being subject to the death penalty for this offense.

  11. Don have you ever done a series on the founding fathers? I would find it interesting and you could even make it into a book.

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