To the Editor:
Michael Novak’s stand against “intellectual muggers” [“Race and Truth,” December 1976] is courageous and perceptive, and all too rare in the intellectual and academic community, which usually ignores the victim’s cries because it “doesn’t want to get involved.”
In matters of race, there is simply no such thing as free discussion. There are obligatory pieties, suppressed questions, and cancerous duplicities—within as well as between individuals. Thought controllers have become so much a fact of life as to be not only unopposed but almost unmentioned, despite the variety and eminence of their victims. James Coleman, Daniel P. Moynihan, and Stanley M. Elkins are just the tip of the iceberg. For all the unbridled abuse they have suffered, these scholars are far less victimized than those who have quietly filed away their own research findings when the results might rouse the furies, who have prudently withheld invitations to speakers who might create a campus “security problem,” who have stifled the instinct to protest against personnel policies which gall their deepest convictions and sensibilities.
Mr. Novak asks whether a truthful discussion of race is impossible, and attempts to vindicate various substantive findings against the smear tactics that have been used to attack them. This is all right in itself, but the case for freedom does not rest on whether this scholar’s analysis is better than that scholar’s analysis. The more basic question is whether an open discussion is possible. It people can be silenced because some cultural Gauleiters decide that they are wrong intellectually or dangerous politically, that is more important, and more deadly, to democratic freedoms than any question of the scholarly qualities of their work. The merits or prominence of the victims only highlight the power and the arrogance of the thought controllers. But the real damage is to freedom itself, which is to say, to all of us. We all have a stake in the basic freedoms and basic decencies, without which all our other work means nothing.
If Mr. Novak’s stand remains an isolated act of individual heroism, seconded only by quiet murmurs of approval among friends, then we will have allowed the intellectual hoodlums to win by default.
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences