Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, 1995 - Political Science - 187 pages
2 Reviews
Thou shalt not hurt others with words. That commandment looks harmless, even admirable. But it is neither. As Jonathan Rauch states in this groundbreaking book, "This moral principle is deadly - inherently deadly, not incidentally so - to intellectual freedom and to the productive and peaceful pursuit of knowledge." Americans are used to thinking of liberal society as standing on two pillars: the economic system of capitalism and the political system of democracy. But a third pillar of liberalism, although little heralded and often poorly understood, is just as important: the system for producing knowledge. "Liberal science, " as Rauch calls it, performs the crucial task of developing knowledge by choosing between conflicting views. In Kindly Inquisitors, Rauch explores how that system works and why it has now become the object of a more powerful ideological attack than at any time since the great battles between science and religion. Moving beyond the First Amendment, Kindly Inquisitors defends the morality, rather than the legality, of an intellectual regime that relies on unfettered and often hurtful criticism. After explaining the rules that make science work, Rauch identifies three major threats. The first and oldest is from fundamentalists - people who believe that truth is obvious and so need not be questioned. Newer and more troubling are the intellectual egalitarians, who hold that everyone's beliefs deserve equal respect. And most problematic of all are the humanitarians, who decry "verbal violence" and demand that no one give offense. Rauch traces the attacks on free thought from Plato's Republic to Iran's death decree against Salman Rushdie, and then to America's campuses and newsrooms. He provides an impassioned rebuttal to the moral claims of all who would regulate criticism on the grounds of compassion. Attempts to protect people's feelings, though appealing on the surface, lead to the control of knowledge by central authorities. "The new sensitiv

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - MartinBodek - LibraryThing

A very smart friend told me to read this book. When very smart friends do that, I listen. I was rewarded for my obeisance. The book actually contained revelations to scores of questions I had on the ... Read full review

KINDLY INQUISITORS: The New Attacks on Free Thought

User Review  - Kirkus

A compelling defense of free speech against its new enemies, who range from the mosques of Iran to the groves of American academe. In place of Justice Holmes's old standard of truth competing in ``the ... Read full review

Other editions - View all

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (1995)

Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a contributing editor of the Atlantic and National Journal, and the author of six books, including Government's End and Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America.

Bibliographic information