Berliners aren’t talking about the Mets today.
Nor are they hashing out last night’s Republican debate.
Germans are in the thick of a big, gut-wrenching discussion — whether to allow “Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler’s twisted autobiographical tome, to go on sale again in their country after a 70-year ban. (The government-held copyright expires this year.)
If ever there were a defensible argument for a book being plucked from the shelves of stores — of German stores — it would be “Mein Kampf.” But here in America, such thinking is generally considered anathema to our classical liberal traditions, not to mention the First Amendment. At least it used to be. (Books have been banned in the United States, but pushback has always prevailed.)
It was jarring, then, to read the results of a free speech survey published this week by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale University revealing that almost three-quarters of U.S. college students surveyed — 72% — support disciplinary action for students and faculty members who use “offensive” language. Almost a third of those surveyed — 32% — couldn’t identify the First Amendment, and 21% think it needs “updating.”
Most surprising to me were student attitudes about “trigger warnings,” literal warnings in textbooks that material that might be considered offensive or disturbing is coming. Sixty-three percent of American college students now favor trigger warnings in textbooks, according the survey.
What kind of warning should precede “Mein Kampf”?
I had a chance meeting in Reykjavik last month with a leader of Iceland’s fastest-growing political party, the Pirate Party. Besides having the best name of any political party anywhere, Iceland’s Pirates are pushing a radical, futuristic idea: When the Internet can be made both anonymous and secure, they argue, the people themselves should be trusted to write, read and vote on legislative referendums, largely cutting out legislatures.
Can you imagine trusting the public — actual people — to make educated decisions? If we could strip college students from the pool, it might actually be worth considering.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.