If I were to choose the most important year for the development of modern intellectual freedom, I’d choose 1859, which saw the publication of John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”
Both works are cornerstones in the edifice of a modern and distinctly Western understanding of science and philosophy.
Individual liberties and scientific worldviews are found well beyond Europe and North America of course, but Mill and Darwin are inheritors and promulgators of traditions of rational inquiry that begin in Greece and find their fullest expression in the West. Neither man was entirely fearless, but both were far ahead of most of their contemporaries.
Sadly, their thinking appears to be rather far ahead of that of many of our contemporaries. This is best illustrated by college students nationwide who have staged protests, sit-ins, boycotts and shouting matches to air grievances whose substance and specificity are so vaporous as to make analysis of their legitimacy impossible.
I have still less idea what college officials who accede to the students’ demands mean to say or do.
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