Ideas and Coercion
A belief in freedom of expression is not simply an instinctive feeling that anyone should be able to think and say whatever he for she wants--though that is perhaps the root of it--but a belief that a system which allows this freedom is the only guarantee that the good ideas will triumph over the bad ones. People who reject this belief should propose an alternative method for distinguishing between good ideas and bad ones. I, for one, would not want to rely on a majority vote of the Crimson editorial board or the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. If history shows too many instances when the bad ideas gained the upper hand, it's because the good ideas were actively suppressed, not because the bad ideas weren't. The triumph of racial superiority theories in Europe is a perfect example.
It's difficult, then, to see how the publication of any set of ideas in the Atlantic Monthly can be considered more dangerous than a decision that they're too dangerous to be printed. Therefore the content of Professor Herrnstein's article is irrelevant to a discussion of the propriety of the reaction to it. Likewise, questions of the relationship between research and policy are not relevant here. Professor Herrnstein is not under fire for his research, but for the publication of considered opinions in a national magazine. (Indeed one of the criticisms of Herrnstein's "shoddy scholarship" has been that he conducted no original research but relied too heavily on previously published work.)
If you accept the necessity for freedom of expression, it follows that in an intellectual controversy any attempt to coerce rather than to persuade--to make a person regret having expressed an opinion without convincing him of the error of the opinion itself--is not merely an offense against the person so coerced, but an erosion of the mechanics which make free expression work and therefore make it possible.
The SDS-UAG activities in response to Professor Herrnstein's article seem clearly to be coercive in intent and effect. Placards in and outside his classroom saying "Fight Racism--Fire Herrnstein" and "Pigeon Man", chanting outside his office, demonstrations demanding he be dismissed from the Faculty obviously are not meant to convince him or others of the mistakes in his theories. These tactics and others, such as interrupting his lectures with questions irrelevant to the subject matter under discusion--though within the rights of those engaging in them--undeniably create an atmosphere of tension in Herrnstein's teaching and personal life outside the legitimate scope of controversy over his article. When SDS-UAG do address themselves to the content of Herrnstein's article, they engage in blatant lies and misquotes (see yesterday's Crimson) and McCarthyite illogic (such as arguing that the defense of Herrnstein's article by the Harvard establishment proves that his ideas are important to them and therefore dangerous). It's easy to see how Professor Herrnstein might regret having written his article, and how others might think twice before publishing their own controversial beliefs.
This, of course, is exactly what SDS wants. And it's exactly what the 107 faculty members who signed the petition in the November 29 Crimson find distressing. It seems to me that the rhetorical excesses and coercive potential of this document don't compare to those of the materials being distributed by SDS-UAG. The impressive list of names at the bottom of the petition is unlikely to awe into submission anyone intent on harassing Professor Herrnstein, especially since they specifically say such behavior lies outside of disciplinary considerations. Should the fact that they are eminent academics disqualify them from speaking out when they feel academic values to be threatened?
The Herrnstein article on I.Q. has created much genuine intellectual controversy around the country (vide the current Atlantic). Perhaps there would be more here at Harvard if SDS hadn't refocused the debate. Far from deserving praise for "raising the issue," the members of the SDS-UAG anti-Herrnstein campaign--though their behavior lies outside the disciplinary reach of any rational system of academic justice--deserve the censure and contempt of all members of this community.