Can We Still Speak Freely? Author Douglas Murray Explores Free Speech and Jefferson’s Legacy

Douglas Murray

by Landon Epperson

On February 21st, on behalf of the Jefferson Council and Common Sense Society, British political commentator and author Douglas Murray paid an amiable visit to Grounds—a proper tour of the Lawn and a Gus Burger from the White Spot served as our great American welcome. Murray visited UVA to discuss a pertinent issue in academic institutions across the United States, freedom of speech.

“What is a public intellectual?” Murray’s speech revolved around this question and the lack of such figures in our modern society. In his words, a public intellectual is someone who makes an assertion and is willing to defend it in public debate. His successive question asked, “What is the opposite of such a person?” Murray believes these people are the ones rampant in many institutions. He provided two examples: Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility,” and Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist.”

In their respective books, both make claims that are not bound by any research or statistics. In her book, “Nice Racism,” DiAngelo states that “white people are no less racist today than they were 200 years ago.” The absurdity of this statement isn’t what Murray took issue with; the problem is there is no discourse about its validity. DiAngelo has no pressure to defend her claims—to do so would be so rudimentary that it is futile. Kendi’s book goes even further with this, leading Murray to his next point about the legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

“Until the last ten years, I’ve always heard of Jefferson as a revered Founding Father of America. Now it seems everything about the man is being tarnished and forgotten.” Those were his thoughts on the increasingly infamous founder of UVA. However, this vilification of history causes two major problems which Murray expounded on.

1.) A lack of heroes to look up to causes a lack of guidance in our society

2.) Uncertainty about the past breeds uncertainty about how to move forward

Much of this stems from a fundamental lack of effort to explore viewpoints outside of what is considered “mainstream.” In reality, many of the opinions that institutions subjugate are not the majority consensus. Murray likened this to a sheepdog herding a flock of sheep who are easily swayed in one direction. The “sheep” of our society holds these opinions without much thought of their own accord; when asked to defend it, their perceived moral superiority acts as an exemption. For instance, to say “Thomas Jefferson was a generational philosopher and politician” is rendered unimportant by his ownership of slaves. “I don’t need to defend myself, he was a racist.” That statement is enough to end all discourse regarding Jefferson and other prominent turned controversial figures.

At its most fundamental level, Murray mentioned two ways to handle free speech in a pluralistic society. Either present a strict guideline on correct and incorrect speech or let all voices speak as long as there is room for so-called “public intellectuals” to debate them. In an age where many remain apolitical to save their job propositions, careers, and relationships, Murray ended by saying, “If we could all take just that little step forward in resisting the subjugation from our institutions, it would result in a massive leap for maintaining the integrity of civil discourse.”

This column has been republished with permission from The Jefferson Independent.

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1 year ago

Landon provided an excellent synopsis of Douglas Murray’s talk. It is encouraging to see eloquent young writers bring some sanity back to editorial commentary on the Grounds.

The Jefferson Independent is providing a rational conservative alternative to the extreme leftist drivel produced by the Editorial page of the Cavalier Daily.

1 year ago

“Fools multiply when wise men are silent”-Nelson Mandela. Or silenced and discarded by various and purposeful ways.

And in the case of institutions such as UVA, prospective students are chosen on the basis of skin color while in the case of faculty, political ideology. And then once on Grounds they are graded and awarded on the basis of appreciation for skin color and not the pursuit of truth. Funny how I do not recall in my gross anatomy cadaver dissection any brain cells associated with skin color of any kind.

Fools a plenty on Grounds now at UVA. As an alumnus what a disgraceful and shameful current state of affairs under a leadership composed of abject morons and idiots. Just has to be said.

1 year ago

I enjoy his analyses of so many issues in America today. I agree with him, Jefferson was a hero in his time, and all that he did, thought, wrote, and said still held as such by so many. Sinfully, I fear UVA is not an organization that is doing its part to uphold and promulgate that legacy. It is also truly horrifying that his glorious Monticello is now a place that derides him instead of heralding him.

Last edited 1 year ago by MG50
Jean-Marie Daleo
Jean-Marie Daleo
1 year ago

If you haven’t already read this, please check out “The Decline and Fall of the University” by Garrett Sheldon printed in the Opinion section of The Epoch Times, February 15-21, 2023. Our beloved Virginia is featured. Breaks my heart knowing what Jefferson envisioned, what I experienced, and what Virginia has become.