Friday, April 27, 2007

"Engage" is a British website set up by a group of Left-thinking intellectuals for the purpose of exposing antisemitic strains in Leftist media and intellectual circles, as well as resisting boycotting attempts of Israel.

Posted on "Engage" today is this short speech by Anthony Julius ("T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form") a British solicitor who who combines knowledge of the law as well as literary analytical competence when he tries to make sense of events and trends. I am always impressed when a person can dissect a subject which is raw with emotions and laden with historical symbolism in such a cool, commensensical and decent way. This is just an excerpt, in which he explains the right of Freedom of Speech. He makes an interesting point about this right losing its meaning if severed from its moiety: the ability to communicate, to address:

Freedom of speech If we reflect upon the three terms in the title of this section of today’s proceedings, “political engagement, academic integrity, and freedom of expression,” there is a temptation I think, to regard freedom of expression as, so to speak, the instrumental item of the three. "Academic integrity" is plainly an object, an end in itself, and so is "political engagement." But freedom of expression seems merely to be the means by which we might practice our academic integrity, or the way in which we might practice our political engagement.

There is some truth in thinking about freedom of expression in this way, but it seems to me that to do so creates the risk that we simply, so to speak, leave it at that, and we don’t go on to recognize that freedom of expression has its own substantive value. This would be a grievous error, because freedom of expression is indeed an end in itself. It has its telos, as it were. And this is the case, it seems to me, for two reasons.

The first reason is that by speaking or writing, we discover who we are. (It is a common experience for people who write that it’s only when we write down what we think, that we discover what it is that we think). Expression is a principal form of self-realization. To limit or deny self-expression is thus an attack at the root of what it is to be human.

The second reason is that freedom of expression must incorporate freedom of address. Freedom of expression for an individual on a desert island is hopeless, destructive, pointless, except for the most narcissistic of souls. It is not sufficient for my freedom of expression for me simply to be free to speak. What matters to me is that people should be free to listen. I should have a sense of dialogue, or at least the possibility of dialogue. Boycotts exist in order to put a barrier in front of the speaker. He can speak but he cannot address. He cannot communicate. And this is a form of
exclusion, isolation, it is a kind of casting out. And to speak in this language, of course, is to approach the question of anti-Semitism.


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