Reading and Thinking

The crisis of free speech in America: Recent events at Stanford Law School

The following comments are by a Stanford Law School graduate


1) Conor Friedersdorf, “What Stanford Law’s DEI Dean Got Wrong; Tirien Steinbach’s approach to a recent free-speech conflict on campus disempowered students,” The Atlantic, March 15, 2023 (5:25 PM ET);

2) “Free speech: Yale law students are lost. They are the new Stalinists. And if they are lost, we may all be lost,”
The Eighteenth Century Club, March 16, 2022;

What is going on? The events at Yale and Stanford Law Schools should be a warning of flashing red lights and sirens for all those who are concerned about the practice of democracy in the United States, and elsewhere.

Where has this intolerance of free speech come from? What is causing many of the best and the brightest of our students at top elite institutions to turn away from one of the cornerstones of democracy?

We had better find out, and take corrective action soon before “the new Stalinists” take over the the intellectual “superstructure”, as Karl Marx would put it.

Have these students read Marx, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich Hayek? Have they read Thomas Paine, or Voltaire? Have they studied the Enlightenment in Europe and the philosophical underpinnings of democracy?

Have they studied the history of socialism and communism since 1848? Or spent time in a country where there is no free speech? What are their views on free speech in Iran, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia?

Something is fundamentally wrong. Those who believe in democracy and know a little history need to pay attention and to start taking corrective action.

Stanford Law School has been the home of great constitutional law teachers and scholars. I had the privilege of studying Constitutional Law with Gerald Gunther, who grew up as a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany. I remember Gunther recounting at a small informal lunch his experience in his small town on Krystallnacht, November 9-10, 1938.

Stanford also has hosted outstanding visiting professors, like Leon Lipson from Yale Law School, a preeminent expert on Soviet Law. I recall taking Lipson’s seminar on Soviet Law, and studying the Soviet show trials of 1936-1938. Lipson knew all about free speech in the Constitution and practice of the Soviet Union.

Mauro Cappelletti, another Stanford Law Professor (and concurrently professor of Comparative Law at the European University Institute in Florence) was the leading expert in Comparative Constitutional Law in the world. I recall taking his class in Comparative Law, and the critical role assigned to freedom of speech in modern civil law constitutions and legal systems.

Stanford Law School has a proud tradition of supporting freedom of speech.

Given the gravity of the situation represented by recent events at Stanford and Yale Law Schools, Stanford Law School should consider establishing an endowed chair for the teaching of Freedom of Speech Law, and establish a Freedom of Speech Program which would bring together scholars who could also address the subject from comparative and historical perspectives. Such a program could serve as a focal point for the study and teaching of the subject throughout the university.

Identity Politics Race

Thomas Chatterton Williams on race and issues of racial identy

For keen insights into the issues of race, racial identity, and identity politics, see,

1) Conor Friedersdorf, “Unraveling Race: Thomas Chatterton Williams wants to discard traditional racial categories, The Atlantin, November 5, 2019.

2) Christianna Silva, “Thomas Chatterton Williams On Debate, Criticism And The Letter In ‘Harper’s Magazine’,” All Things Considered, NPR, July 11, 2020 (5:14 PM ET).

Spirit of Voltaire