Sunday, April 10, 2005

Eisenhower on Free Speech

Speaking at Dartmouth's Commencement exercises in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower had this to say about openness to ideas you disagree with:
Don't join the book-burners.

Don't think you're going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

How will we defeat communism unless we know what it is, what it teaches, and why does it have such an appeal for men, why are so many people swearing allegiance to it? It's almost a religion, albeit one of the nether regions.

And we have got to fight it with something better, not try to conceal the thinking of our own people. They are part of America. And even if they think ideas that are contrary to ours, their right to say them, their right to record them, and their right to have them at places where they're accessible to others is unquestioned, or it's not America.
Some of today's Dartmouth faculty should follow his advice.

A recording of the speech, in MP3 format, is available on the Class of 1953 website.

5 comments:

Kale said...

It's an excellent speech. If I recall correctly, much of it was fairly off-the-cuff, a result of what he heard from some trustees that were sitting up on the platform. It was considered the first time that Eisenhower publicly stood up to McCarthy.

For more details on the speech, see Charles Widmayer's John Sloan Dickey: A Chronicle of His Presidency of Dartmouth College.

Anonymous said...

Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

Decent, like printing libelous, sexual newsletters about undergraduate coeds? I'm not sure if "decency... should be the only censorship", but if it is, I think the Zetemouth doesn't pass.

TO said...

What's your point?

The Zetemouth was retrieved from a dumpster, not checked out at the library. The derecognition of a fraternity for raunchy communications among its members is not the same thing as "censorship." It's not as if Zete was fighting for the right to distribute the Zetemouth at Collis.

Anonymous said...

If you encounter a work you feel to be indecent, you can:

a) punish the author in such a manner that he can never publish such indecent work again.

b) just don't read it.

Given that he opens with "Don't join the book burners"--which of the above forms of censorship do you think "should be the only censorship", according to Ike?

Anonymous said...

"Just don't read it" isn't censorship, it's the marketplace of ideas. Which is great. I'm not saying that Zete should necessarily have been censored... just pointing out that Ike might have.