About The Eternally Radical Idea Substack
Welcome to The Eternally Radical Idea Substack. I’m a First Amendment attorney with a particular interest in the intersection between free speech and social psychology, and I’m also the president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, better known as FIRE.
I’ve published several books on free speech, including “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate” (2012) and “Freedom From Speech” (2014). In 2018, I co-authored “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation For Failure” with Jonathan Haidt, which expanded on our 2015 article in The Atlantic.
I’ve also produced two documentaries: “Can We Take a Joke?” (2015), which explores the collision between comedy, censorship, and outrage culture, and “Mighty Ira: A Civil Liberties Story” (2020), an award-winning documentary about the life and career of ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser.
The Eternally Radical Idea
Throughout history and in every generation people have risen up to suppress speech. That’s what makes freedom of speech an “eternally radical idea.” I elaborate on this in my announcement post, but here I’d like to tell you a bit about what to expect from this Substack.
It will be my primary platform for new writing about free speech, academic freedom, and big FIRE cases. I’ll also explore forms of censorship including Cancel Culture. In my upcoming book co-authored with Rikki Schlott, “The Canceling of the American Mind: Cancel Culture Undermines Trust and Threatens Us All—But There is a Solution,” we define Cancel Culture as:
the uptick beginning around 2014, and accelerating in 2017 and after, of campaigns to get people fired, disinvited, deplatformed, or otherwise punished for speech that is—or would be—protected by First Amendment standards and the climate of fear and conformity that has resulted from this uptick.
In “Canceling,” we set out to prove that:
Cancel Culture is a real threat to both free speech and academic freedom — on a historic scale.
Cancel Culture should be seen as part of a strategy that is used by left, right, and center to “win arguments without winning arguments.”
Thanks in no small part to social media, this lazy ad hominem way of arguing is everywhere today. It has no hope of bringing us anywhere closer to the truth, and it usually pulls us further away while wasting copious amounts of time and cognitive energy.
We can defeat Cancel Culture in higher education, in K-12 schools, and in corporate America. It’s crucial that we do so in order to refocus on arguing toward truth by actually addressing each other's arguments and chipping away at falsity.
In the book, Rikki and I get into the weeds about the specific mechanisms of Cancel Culture, including what we call “The Perfect Rhetorical Fortress” (PRF) used by the political left and “The Efficient Rhetorical Fortress” (ERF) used by the political right. These opportunistic and unhelpful tactics may aid their users in “winning” arguments or scoring points against their opponents, but they get us, as a society, no closer to arriving at truth.
We highlight the problems Cancel Culture presents to specific industries such as journalism, academia, science and medicine, comedy, and more, and we attempt to raise the alarm about the threat that it poses to social cohesion and trust in expertise.
I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering “Canceling” and engaging with its ideas in the comments section on my future Substack posts.
How to support my work
I intend for my Substack to remain free to all readers. However, I know that some readers enjoy having the opportunity to show their appreciation for an author’s time and effort by making a financial contribution. In acknowledgment of that, I ask that if you’ve found anything you’ve read here valuable that you please make a tax-deductible donation to FIRE in support of the important work being done by my colleagues.
FIRE staff work tirelessly, day in and day out, to defend the speech of all Americans regardless of their opinions. We’re building a movement, and we’d love to welcome you aboard!