© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Politically Speaking: National Review's French on bolstering free speech on college campuses

David French
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies are pleased to welcome the National Review’s David French to the program.

French was in St. Louis on Wednesday for a Washington University lecture about free speech on college campuses. It’s a topic that’s become more pronounced in recent months, especially after Donald Trump’s election as president.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, French is a senior writer for the National Review. He’s a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and co-authored the best-selling book Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can’t Ignore. Last year, French considered running for president after Trump won the Republican nomination – but ultimately decided against such a move.

French’s speech at Washington University focuses on what he sees as a corrosive atmosphere on college campuses when it comes to free speech. Before he gained notoriety for his work with National Review, French spent a number of years litigating free speech issues on college campuses.

He points to examples where speakers from all sides of the political spectrum have been shouted down – or protested. There have been disruptive protests against conservatives like Ben Shapiro and liberals like Claire Guthrie Gastañaga of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Here's what French had to say during the show:

  • “We’re right in the middle of a wave of campus censorship” that French fears curbs the access of students to varied viewpoints on many issues. He argues that limited access to opposing opinions leads to people embracing only certain views and “dumbs us down … It makes you prone to believe stupid things.”

  • While arguing for campus free speech, French is concerned about “shout-downs’’ and violent efforts to discourage or oppose certain types of speakers on campuses. In the long run, the aggressors often lose out, he said. “The message often gets lost in the method.”

  • He contends that the nation is suffering from “a cultural collapse in the belief that there is value in hearing dissenting opinions.” As a result, French argues that “we have a pop culture that is divided and laden with conspiracy theories and spewing venom.”

  • French is sharply critical of President Donald Trump, and says the president “has absolutely no business’’ telling athletes or anybody else that they must stand for the National Anthem “or be fired’’ from their jobs. French says Trump’s comments are “completely inappropriate and a repudiation of our Constitution.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow David French on Twitter: @DavidAFrench

Music: “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.