By Ethan Hicks ‘26
On Tuesday, March 21, Professor Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, and Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU, sat down to discuss the history and modern state of free speech in America in their joint talk “Civil Liberties: On Campus and Beyond.” An engaged audience of students, faculty, and community members filled Lewis Auditorium to join George and Strossen for their fireside style chat hosted by Princetonians for Free Speech and Princeton Open Campus Coalition.
George offered a detailed and colorful history of Free Speech in America. He discussed why the Framers did not initially find a Bill of Rights necessary to the Constitution, because they believed the Constitution's limited enumerated powers protected citizens from encroachments upon their rights, and he suggested that the large size and extensive powers of the modern national government deviate from the Framers’ intentions. George further examined how the national government’s robust system of checks and balances protects freedom of speech, and the philosophical importance of diverse opinions in free democratic societies and institutions such as the United States and the Princeton academic community.
Strossen built upon many of George’s philosophical and historical arguments by drawing on her experience at the ACLU. Strossen focused on how the Fourteenth Amendment expanded the protections of the First Amendment to protect citizens from violations of their First Amendment rights by state and local governments. She further examined how legal action enforcing the First Amendment was not fully embraced until the 20th century despite its origin over 150 years earlier.
Strossen expanded the conversation about the modern state of free speech by claiming that meaningful free speech will not exist until private organizations such as social media platforms are no longer permitted to restrict speech. She claimed that at present, “you have no constitutional recourse against powerful social media platforms that are discriminating against or de-platforming certain ideas… you have no First Amendment recourse against so-called cancel culture.” Many audience members found her passionate rhetoric to be a call to action.
In the spirit of Strossen’s message, several of the questions posed by the audience asked George and Strossen about how freedom of expression can be improved in private and public institutions. The speakers suggested a variety of changes including the expansion of groups such as the Academic Freedom Alliance and stronger adherence to free speech ideals such as the Chicago Principles.
Ethan Hicks is a freshman at Princeton from Perry, Ohio
By Khoa Sands ‘26
The idea of decline has always held a certain allure to historians and politicians alike. The high prophet of this declinism was Oswald Spengler, whose 1918 book The Decline of the West has become a motivating treatise for the American New Right. For these modern-day doomsayers, the United States is predestined to ruin, beset by internal crises of spiritedness and domestic politics as well as external threats of rising challengers to the US-led world order. These concerns are not unfounded – a revanchist China will be the largest geopolitical crisis of the twenty-first century and any casual observer of American politics can attest to the sorry state of domestic politics in America today.
Matthew Wilson, Daily Princetonian
Excerpt: As I write this essay, the despicable poison of Jew-hatred has taken a firm hold at so many college campuses, Princeton included. Here at Princeton, activists proudly chant “Intifada” and demand the complete eradication of the world’s only Jewish state; elsewhere, from Cornell, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania to Ohio State and Cooper Union, frightening (and sometimes violent and illegal) exhibitions of anti-Jewish attitudes abound.
For the most part, university responses to these shameful displays have been tepid and restrained. these same universities, despite being so reticent to speak out now, have a prolonged public history of weighing in on a wide array of hotly contested and politically controversial topics. At Princeton, for instance, recent years have seen official statements issued deploring Supreme Court rulings on abortion and affirmative action, condemning a jury verdict, and attacking a professor for his political views. On Hamas’s terrorist attacks? No official statements.