Kindly Inquisitors

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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 measuresregulating knowledge and debate.”

There is much to take issue with in Rauch’s compact, bracingbook. His discussion of religion, of truths that aren’t subject tothe canons of liberal science, is particularly glib andunsatisfactory. Even those who strongly disagree with Rauch,however, will profit from careful consideration of hisargument.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist LXXXIX, March 15, 1993, p. 1281.

Chicago Tribune. March 25, 1993, V, p.3.

The Economist. CCCXXVII, April 17, 1993, p.89.

Insight On the News. IX, August 2, 1993, p.35.

Kirkus Reviews. LXI, March 1, 1993, p.286.

National Review. XLV, July 19, 1993, p.68.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, April 11, 1993, p.1.

Newsweek. CXXI, April 26, 1993, p.67.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, March 8, 1993, p.63.

The Wall Street Journal. March 23, 1993, p. A13.