A Thought on Milton and Free Expression

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world; we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by that which is contrary.

Those who find the idea of safe spaces appealing ought to consider Milton’s electrifying prose. There is nothing inherently wrong (nor, for that matter, anything praiseworthy) with wanting to taking a holiday from the race that is the free marketplace of ideas. But there is something quite wrong with imposing this hiatus – for one hopes it is impossible to be sheltered from it totally – upon others: which is exactly what safe spaces on university campuses do.

It is at places of learning that the race ought to be at its fiercest and most competitive. For the relationship between thought and expression is, as Orwell knew, a dialectical one. The imposition on one silences the other.

(As nice as that comes together, it’s not at all true. Those with the least energetic minds are often all too eager to express what they’ve got.)


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