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Letter: Some acts of expression can be harmful

To the Editor:

Something is missing from the attempt by Professors Ross Cheit, David Josephson, Glenn Loury, Kenneth Miller ’70 P’02 and Luther Spoehr to identify what is missing from the statement about the current debate over free expression by President Christina Paxson P’19, Provost Richard Locke P’17 and Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.

Nowhere in “Free expression matters” do its authors address the fact that some acts of expression — physical threats and intimidation, explicit support for oppressive and even genocidal organizations — can and do cause real psychological and physical harm. Eugenics and related discourses of racial superiority and inferiority aren’t just disgusting ideas or theories: They are sets of beliefs that have historically been — and are still today — intrinsic to regimes that destroy the lives of ethnic minorities.

There will necessarily be debate about whether a particular act of expression has such consequences. But the idea that “free expression” can never be harmful in ways that justify decisive and even militant actions to stop it is a liberal illusion.

William Keach

Professor of English


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