Posted on March 18, 2008

Editorial: Rights and Wrong

Daily Press (Newport News), March 17, 2008

The most obscene thing that has taken place on the campus of the College of William and Mary wasn’t—despite what overwrought critics claimed—the recent Sex Workers’ Art Show.

No, it was the appearance last week of Jared Taylor. He was invited by students involved with a conservative campus publication that has indulged some pretty retrograde behavior (notably, publicizing the name of a woman who said she had been raped, along with speculative details of her sexual history).

Taylor’s speech was billed as “anti-diversity,” but that mild label hardly does justice to his message, for Taylor is an unabashed racist and white supremacist, praised by the Ku Klux Klan.

He famously argued, after Hurricane Katrina, that “when blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western Civilization—any kind of civilization—disappears.”

But in the end, while Taylor might be a blot on his own alma mater (Yale), he could do no harm to Thomas Jefferson‘s. For if there’s one place that must hew to the principle that ideas, even revolting ideas, can’t hurt, that open exchange can’t be limited to ideas we agree with, it’s the state where the Bill of Rights was born, the town where the underpinnings of this great experiment in democracy were first debated—with more heat than Taylor could spark.

Free speech didn’t look so pretty to some when it was about pornography and prostitution. It’s even uglier when it advocates bigotry. But in the end, society is better off for allowing people like Taylor their right to speak, even if it makes you queasy.

Taylor’s speech also reminded us why it is so necessary that the Board of Visitors is committed to another of the college’s principles: making the student body more diverse, economically and racially, and making higher education available to people who don’t look like the group Taylor thinks are the only ones entitled to be in America: whites. Attaining diversity will take special effort and attention; it will not happen spontaneously so long as there are people like Taylor and his fellow travelers, whose notions of what this country should be about are small and ugly.