Yesterday, Yale did not cave to pressure from certain parts of the student body and Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke on campus. As with many controversial speakers, mostly consisting of folks not on the political Left, a number of campus groups tried to force Yale to cancel her speech because they expressed themselves offended by her. Among politically correct colleges, there has been a growing trend towards enforcing a right not to be offended, though this enforcement tends to be asymmetric -- Muslims apparently have a right not to be offended, but Christians do not. Women have it but men do not. Greenpeace has it but Exxon does not.
People of prominence who offend us or with whom we violently disagree should not be the least but the most welcome speakers on campus. I will demonstrate this by using the most extreme of all possible examples: An imaginary speaking tour by Adolph Hitler, say in December of 1938. Could there be a more distasteful person, the leader of Nazi Germany just weeks after the Reichskristallnacht? But I think he would have been the most valuable speaker I could possibly imagine.
If he were honest, which Hitler likely couldn't have stopped himself from being, what valuable insights we could have gained. The West made numerous mistakes in the late thirties and even into the forties because it just could not believe the full extent of Hitler's objectives and hatreds**. Perhaps we would have understood sooner and better exactly what we were dealing with.
Even if he were dishonest, and tried to "convert" the office without discussing specific plans, that would still be fascinating. What arguments did he use? Could we get insights into why he struck a chord among the German people? Would his rhetoric be compelling to American audiences? I despise the guy and almost everything he stood for but I would have loved to have him on campus as a speaker.
I will tell one of my favorite stories about the rise of Hitler. You have heard the story of Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics. Supposedly this was a slap in the face to Hitler, to have a black man winning medals. But one of the last events of the games was a four man relay race. The US was certainly going to win. But one of the US runners was Jewish and the US pulled the runner from the race and substituted Owens. The US didn't want to embarrass Hitler by making him hand a medal to a Jew. This sounds odd to put it this way, but one of the problems we had in really taking the worst of the Holocaust seriously as it was happening is that we were not able to see that Hitler's anti-semitism was so much more dangerous than the ubiquitous and run-of-the-mill anti-semitism that obtained all over Britain and America. We should always have a policy of letting even the most extreme people talk as much as they like. We might learn that they have a point and adjust our thinking on something, or we might learn that they are even batshit crazier than we thought. Either outcome is useful.