The CSLD’s Disinvited Dinner is an effort to re-offer a podium to individuals whose First Amendment rights have been abridged elsewhere. In other words, this is an exercise in applied First Amendment theory. While we may disagree with the content of our speakers’ talks, that is no matter. With this dinner we celebrate and affirm First Amendment principles, the importance and meaning of academic freedom, and the search for Truth.I like the idea of the University of Wisconsin distinguishing itself by showing a commitment to intellectual diversity and to the values that underlie the First Amendment. That doesn't mean students and others who don't like what Murray has to say must refrain from staging their own events, only that they shouldn't use their own speech and action to obstruct the people who do want to hear him. The "applied exercise" in First Amendment theory isn't just about Murray having a podium. (Give him a podium, and a lectern too.) It's also about the people who choose to "celebrate" by sitting politely through dinner in a somewhat posh club and the people who don't want to do that or can't attend an event that is "$50 by invitation only" (whatever that means).
The keynote speaker at our first annual Disinvited Dinner will be Dr. Charles Murray, the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, whose 1994 New York Times bestseller The Bell Curve (1994) sparked heated controversy for its analysis of the role of IQ in shaping America’s class structure. Dr. Murray’s other books include What It Means to Be a Libertarian (1997), Human Accomplishment (2003), In Our Hands (2006), Real Education (2008), and the New York Times bestseller Coming Apart (2012).
Dr. Murray has the honor of being disinvited from Azusa University in 2014, and Virginia Tech in 2016. More recently a mob of leftist activists drove him from the stage at Middlebury College and put a political science professor in the hospital in so doing. Although our invitation to Dr. Murray long preceded this ugly event, it nevertheless underscores the principle we are pursuing. During our dinner, Dr. Murray will deliver a talk called "Coming Apart: Trump’s Transformation of the Right."
For those who do attend, is it really possible to celebrate the First Amendment and not also the speaker? It seems to me that by attending an event in such an elegant setting, where only one person is speaking, you are inherently honoring the individual, unless you violate the social norms of an sedate dinner. You can find out about the person's ideas by reading his books and articles or by looking at on-line video of his speaking. We're not living in a time when we must see someone in in the flesh to know what he has to say. Of all the people you might take the trouble to go out and hear speak in person, should you prioritize those who've been hooted out of other places? I think the honest answer is: Yes, but only if I also want to give support to his ideas. And what about people who just don't get invited anywhere, like those Westboro Church folks or out-and-proud Nazis? They won't get an invitation to the Disinvited Dinner, but if they did, can you imagine sitting through a dinner where they were going to speak and thinking of yourself as merely celebrating the idea of the First Amendment?
For those who don't attend and who might want to oppose Charles Murray, I have 3 recommendations: 1. Educate yourself about what he actually has said so you don't hurt your own cause by saying and doing ignorant things or waste your time by fighting things you're not even against, 2. Don't help your opponent by committing or threatening acts of violence that make him seem like a sympathetic victim or a cool rebel, and 3. Don't lower yourself by looking like a mob. Use words. Good words. If you can't think of any, reread point #2 and consider doing nothing.