Self-Censorship and Associational Life in the Liberal Academy

Originally published in Society

Self-censorship is a well-documented phenomenon within the academy. Building from the works of Tocqueville, Mill, and Smith, this paper identifies sources of self-censorship within the academy, namely the values of intellectual abrasion and civility, that are associated with the liberal intellectual tradition. The resulting phenomenon of self-censorship, I argue, has both positive and negative effects on the quality of public and academic discourse. Given the dual nature of self-censorship, scholars seeking to make the morally upright choice of whether to self-censor or to speak up face both an epistemological and a moral challenge. I argue that in discussions of the “impartial spectator” and the virtue of self-command, Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments anticipates these challenges and lends guidance to the scholar who is sincerely committed to doing what is right when navigating associational life within the academy.

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