14

There is No Right Not to Be Offended By Ideas

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

George Orwell

British comedian John Cleese has usually, but not entirely, been on the political left, but his stand against the attempted thought control that goes by the name of political correctness elicits my admiration.  We cannot have a democracy if “crybullies” can exercise a heckler’s veto over ideas presented in the public square.  Leftists, with honorable exceptions like Mr. Cleese, no longer believe in the power of persuasion and reasoned argument.  Instead their tactics are shouting down adversaries, banning them from social media, and, frighteningly, mob violence.  We have seen where this all leads time and again in history.

 

One of my favorite scenes from the musical 1776 is in the above video where Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island introduces Benjamin Franklin to his insult cards.  In the musical Hopkins is portrayed as a lovable drunken rogue, but a font of common sense when big issues are afoot.  When his vote is decisive on debating independence his comment is to the point:  “I’ve never seen, heard, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yes, I’m for debating anything!”

The actual Stephen Hopkins bore little resemblance to his portrayal in 1776.  Born on March 7, 1707, in Providence, Rhode Island, he was the oldest man in Congress in 1776, except for Ben Franklin.  From a prominent Rhode Island family he early developed an insatiable thirst for knowledge, reading voraciously, and training himself in surveying and astronomy.  He became a Justice of the Peace at 23, embarking upon a career in Rhode Island politics.  He swiftly became a justice on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas while serving as Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Deputies.  He made his fortune through an iron foundry and his activities as a merchant.

In 1747 he was appointed as a Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and in 1751 became Chief Justice.  In 1755 he was elected governor of the colony, and would serve 9 of the next 15 years in that office.  In 1773 he freed his slaves, and in 1774 he sponsored a bill in the Rhode Island legislature forbidding the importation of slaves into Rhode Island  With the coming of the Revolution he served in Congress until ill-health forced him to retire in September 1776.

Regarded as one of the most learned men in the colonies he served as the first chancellor of the College of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, now Brown University.  He died in 1785, universally mourned in Rhode Island.

On second consideration perhaps there is a bit of resemblance between the depiction of Hopkins in 1776 and this observation from John Adams:

Governor Hopkins of Rhode Island, above seventy Years of Age kept us all alive. Upon Business his Experience and judgment were very Usefull. But when the Business of the Evening was over, he kept Us in Conversation till Eleven and sometimes twelve O Clock. His Custom was to drink nothing all day nor till Eight O Clock, in the Evening, and then his Beveredge was Jamaica Spirit and Water. It gave him Wit, Humour, Anecdotes, Science and Learning. He had read Greek, Roman and British History: and was familiar with English Poetry particularly Pope, Tompson and Milton. And the flow of his Soul made all his reading our own, and seemed to bring to recollection in all of Us all We had ever read. I could neither eat nor drink in those days. The other Gentlemen were very temperate. Hopkins never drank to excess, but all he drank was immediately not only converted into Wit, Sense, Knowledge and good humour, but inspired Us all with similar qualities.

When the Left attempts to ban ideas from discussion they betray the best of this country which was, in Lincoln’s ringing phrase, “conceived in liberty.”