Kindly Inquisitors (Magill Book Reviews)
What’s most distinctive about Jonathan Rauch’s book is his angleof attack. He is dedicated to the principle that “checking of eachby each is the only legitimate way to decide who is right.” Heidentifies this principle with the development of science, or “liberal science,” as he generally calls it. A society in whichliberal science flourishes is one in which “no one has the finalsay” and “no one has personal authority”; it is a society in whichevery proposition must withstand scrutiny in the marketplace ofideas, and in which, conversely, no proposition, no matter howoffensive, will be denied expression. Rauch contends that those whowould limit certain types of speech which they find offensive orhurtful to others want to enjoy the benefits of a liberal societywithout accepting the necessary costs.
Rauch is willing to accept those costs. Near the end of hisargument, he loops back to two test-cases introduced at the outset,giving them a personal dimension. Rauch would nullify the lawspassed in France banning Holocaust “revisionism”—even though, as henow tells us, he is himself Jewish. And he disagrees with thedecision of the University of Michigan to discipline a student “forsaying that he considered homosexuality a disease treatable withtherapy”—even though, as he now explains, Rauch is himself gay.Ultimately, he contends, Jews, gay people—indeed, all members ofour society—“stand to lose far more than they win from...
(The entire section is 338 words.)
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Kindly Inquisitors (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
In an age of information overload, one welcomes a small book, clearly written, with a few points well stated and backed by appropriate examples. It is easy to read and understand, but its ideas are not trivial or unimportant. Indeed, if Rauch is right, they may well be the only hope for modern societies being torn asunder by their own diversity. Unfortunately, he not only must be right but also must persuade others that he is right. And while he is persuasive, he may yet not be right in some important respects.
Ranch’s basic case is simple. Liberal science (along with capitalism and democracy) has been built on an intellectual tradition of skepticism, which can be largely encapsulated in two principles: No one gets the final say; no one has personal authority. What this means in fact is that the discussion-any discussion-is really never-ending, and that the best we can ever hope for as far as results, or public knowledge is concerned, is an unsteady consensus, in principle ever open to challenge. There are practical limits to the latter, and while Rauch is aware of these, it is one of the points where his arguments are vulnerable.
Rauch begins his book with a series of mini-case studies, which he uses to pose the problem without doing more than hinting at the solutions he has in mind. He does almost too good a job, leaving the reader at times confused as to where all of this is leading. Rauch is able to bring up a varied set of problems...
(The entire section is 1615 words.)