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Publisher's Summary

"A liberal society stands on the proposition that we should all take seriously the idea that we might be wrong. This means we must place no one, including ourselves, beyond the reach of criticism; it means that we must allow people to err, even where the error offends and upsets, as it often will." So writes Jonathan Rauch in Kindly Inquisitors, which has challenged listeners for more than 20 years with its bracing and provocative exploration of the issues surrounding attempts to limit free speech. In it, Rauch makes a persuasive argument for the value of "liberal science" and the idea that conflicting views produce knowledge within society.

In this expanded edition of Kindly Inquisitors, a new foreword by George F. Will strikingly shows the book's continued relevance, while a substantial new afterword by Rauch elaborates upon his original argument and brings it fully up to date. Two decades after the book's initial publication, while some progress has been made, the regulation of hate speech has grown domestically - especially in American universities - and has spread even more internationally, where there is no First Amendment to serve as a meaningful check. But the answer to bias and prejudice, Rauch argues, is pluralism - not purism. Rather than attempting to legislate bias and prejudice out of existence or to drive them underground, we must pit them against one another to foster a more vigorous and fruitful discussion. It is this process that has been responsible for the growing acceptance of the moral acceptability of homosexuality over the last 20 years. And it is this process, Rauch argues, that will enable us as a society to replace hate with knowledge, both ethical and empirical.

©2013 Jonathan Rauch (P)2013 Cato Institute

What listeners say about Kindly Inquisitors

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  • AB
  • 07-13-16

One of My Top 3 Books - Ever

A must read for everyone who thinks maybe 'free speech' is a buzzword and limits are needed, or even for people that appreciate the principle of it but don't have it in the forefront of their minds when reading the news lately.

I love Penn Jillette and his voice is great. The producer deserves a kick for not noticing the changes in his voice where they obviously did re-recordings. However, this is a great book to take advantage of Audible's cross-purchase discount with Kindle if available. You'll find dozens of passages worth highlighting.

6 people found this helpful

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Empathic defense of free expression

Jonathan Rauch may be wicked smart but his defense of free expression is anything but wicked. He’s not motivated to protect -ists, -ites, or -obes. Rauch explains why caring humanists SHOULD enthusiastically support free expression on moral and pragmatic grounds. It’s not just about why we MUST tolerate it from a cold American legal or contractual perspective. The sad story of gay rights activist Frank Kameny has a happy ending and should serve as an enduring parable about the value of free expression culture. Frank convinced people not to be homophobic bigots, and he never could have done that by silencing them under threat of punishment. Coercion can’t change minds. Rauch gets us beyond grudging compliance with the First Amendment. Read and listen to this best of books.

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Outstanding

This book makes the case for unencumbered freedom of speech in a unique and compelling way. I had never before heard the term “liberal science”, which is the core principle underlying this work. It’s a brilliant idea, and the author forcefully and effortlessly brings it to life.

Penn Jillette‘s reading is... well hey, it’s Penn! I really like his delivery. He brings passion and commitment to every word he speaks. Sometimes his reading is a little too fast, but I can easily forgive that. He moves the text along and makes the book enjoyable and dynamic.

There are a few spots where his tone of voice changes dramatically. I can’t tell if it’s because those sections were recorded later, or if perhaps they are footnotes he is reading in an intentionally subdued voice. In either case, I merely note them as anomalies; cosmetic blemishes on a beautiful work.

I recommend this book whole heartedly. I’m inclined to buy a bunch of copies and hand them out to all my friends.

3 people found this helpful

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Ahead of its time book about woke epistemology

This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why "liberal science" philosophy is practically better for society than the post-modernist neo-marxism that is spreading through our universities, and creeping into our corporate culture, today. I bought this book after hearing James Lindsay speak about epistemology and and the problems with critical theory. Remarkably, this book was written in the early 1990's, but it speaks to current concerns issues with woke culture. After reading this you will feel better equipped to argue on behalf of enlightenment values, and against the authoritarian Twitter mob. A sequel to this book is long overdue!

2 people found this helpful

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Trenchant critique of the war on free speech

Mr. Rauch already saw very clearly the anti-scientific consequences of hate speech laws and where the war on free speech was headed over 25 years ago. He was too optimistic, but forcefully made the case for being so.

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Reasoned and principled approach to epistemology

My new favorite book! Great defense of liberal ideals and the process of determining facts and truth. I recommend this without reservation.

Penn's narration is pretty good, but changes in volume and pitch for random sections is at times distracting but isn't too much to get in the way of listening.

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Best book I've read in 20 years.

This book might as well have been first published this year given how relevant this subject matter is. Mr. Rauch tackles multiple facets of society in a well-argued case for freedom of speech and thought, even for those of us who are sensitive to injustice and affliction. His explanation and definition of diverse discourse ("liberal science") describes a key ethic of discerning objective truth, one that our societies in the West are built on and needs to be practiced and defended.

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A must read

As a concerned intellectual I struggle with the state of the free world today. This book delivers in eloquent and poignant fashion a voice to all my worries and arms me with a better perspective and better arguments for what troubles me. This should be required reading for all post-primary education; Student, professor, and administrator alike.

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More important now than ever

If you could sum up Kindly Inquisitors in three words, what would they be?

Insightful, clear and powerful argument for free speech and open society. When it comes to knowledge and 'being right' no-one has the final say and it belongs to no-one in particular. If, like me, you think Free Speech is important but don't like people being mean or abusive, this is the book to cure you of your (and my) misplaced empathy. A) Free Speech matters more, and B) it is in the interests of the oppressed more than the oppressors.

What did you like best about this story?

The clarity of the case being made.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

I love Penn Jillette, but initially it felt a little rushed and bombastic (a feature we love about him on stage) so took a little time for me to get used to it and for him to settle into the job. Volunteered his time though, so big raps for that.

Any additional comments?

In a world where the Thought Police are invading all aspects of our lives, and discussion so quickly descends into the ad hominem or ad Hitlerim, this book matters.

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Uncharacteristically uncurious at times

Jonathan Rauch’s Kindly Inquistors: The New Attacks on Free Thought was originally published in 1995, but its analysis of two opposite but dangerous trends which he noticed even then, to either silence free thought or treat all opinions as equally valid, could be seen as prescient in light of the recent uptick in campus censorship and even violent acts against those presenting views which challenge the academic progressive consensus.

Rauch’s suggestion is that we should not arbitrate our disputes with violence, nor should we condescend to treat every opinion as just as good as every other opinion. Instead, we should allow gatekeepers invested in the process of discovery to set the terms for the debate. For example, while creationists and scientific racists should not be silenced through the state, they can probably be safely ignored in the public square if the scientific community (those who should know something about this issue and have a process by which the popular view may be challenged by promising upstarts) is unmoved by their pronouncements.

While Rauch’s denouncement of state violence and censorship is commendable, his optimism about the process of critical engagement is at least partly unwarranted. Rauch himself seems to know this on some level as his critiques are often aimed at academia’s unwillingness to budge on its echo-chambering of liberal orthodoxy. This scholarly rigidity to challenges has arguably only gotten worse in recent years as we’ve seen more silencing and physical attacks on college campuses upon perceived ideological enemies (for instance, https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/01/us/milo-yiannopoulos-berkeley/index.html), often with the tacit or vocal support of the administration. Apart from these more extreme examples, there is also an implicit silencing that happens as the result of efforts to protect political sacred cows; for example, the trend in sex studies to uncritically accept the sometimes questionable orthodoxies of transgender activists (https://reason.com/podcast/2020/08/19/debra-soh-the-end-of-gender).

Of course, none of this changes the fact that free inquiry is still the best means of getting a society closer to truth. It only shows that a culture of rejecting free inquiry can interfere with even the most rigorous processes.

This brings me to another flaw in the book: its uncharacteristic uncuriosity about the process of inquiry and rejection of violence in the Christian tradition.

Rauch connects Christian faith with “the fundamentalist social rule,” that is: “those who know the truth should decide who opinion is right.” He cites Paul’s exhortation in his epistle to the Romans, that God would be right in judging all of us since all of us “suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18-19, NASB) as an example of this fundamentalist social rule. In Rauch’s reading, Paul’s statement is one which stands behind the later “killing, torture, and repression of people who perversely, ‘by their wickedness,’ denied evident truth. Certainly there can be no right to say what is false and what you know is false.”

But is this actually what Paul is saying? This is the same Paul who, eleven chapters later, urges Christians to bless those who persecute them and never avenge or repay evil for evil (12:14-21). Could he be suggesting that Christians should dominate the public square and silence their opponents? No, this is not the course of action that Paul favored. Instead, he went into the public square and argued openly, with pagans by appealing to his day’s philosophical knowledge and with Jews by appealing to the Hebrew Bible. He did not engage in silencing or even suggest that he favored it. That’s what his theologically Jewish and pagan opponents did. Paul was arrested, beaten–sometimes almost to death, and finally killed by the state for freely speaking against and publicly debating the orthodoxies of his time.

Similarly, while the church which gained secular power often abused it by playing politics and silencing–even killing–its opponents, Christianity also has a rich history of non-violence and a suspicion of political power. To begin at the beginning, the early church’s theologians were virtually universally pacifists. After a period of tradition displacing scripture, the church began to revisit the Bible again and restore it to the people in the 16th century. When this happened, a large and outspoken contingent of Christians, called Anabaptists, followed the early church’s model and rejected political power and violence as well.

This is not to say that in the intervening centuries the process of inquiry disappeared. Even the medieval church had a tradition of carefully reading two books–the one being scripture and the other the so-called book of nature–both which came from God. This belief that nature points to God’s creative glory spurred on the Scientific Revolution as Christians believed that the universe reflected a divine creative intent and wanted to know it’s creator better (for further reading, check out Principe’s The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction and Hannam’s The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution).

In addition to this careful reading of the book of nature, a process for reading the book of scripture was also developed that closely parallels the scientific method–hermeneutics. In other words, rules were developed that allowed readers to read the Bible for understanding its authors’ original intent and allowed Christians interpreters to challenge one another to read more carefully.

In other words, despite a tragic history of fundamentalist thinking, Christianity also has not only a deep foundation, but a rich tradition, of rejecting violence and promoting free inquiry.

Finally, Rauch’s contention that religious belief is relegated to the private realm, and therefore that good scientists may appeal to faith for emotional help in private but that it should not influence their scientific work, begs the question. If there are any questions which Christian faith seeks to answer that can be checked using public methods of inquiry and criticism (and there are), then those questions cannot be segregated to the realm of the private. They can and should be put to open inquiry.

While Kindly Inquisitors is an important book on this topic, if one only has time to read one, Haidt and Lukianoff’s more recent The Coddling of the American Mind not only builds on Rauch’s ideas with strong arguments and good research, it’s also more persuasive at making a case for a community of inquiry that’s open to all–even Christians.

Jillette's narration is great, but seems to have been recorded at different times. He seems to randomly go from speaking loudly to reading quietly, as if he's trying not to wake the engineer.

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  • David Martin
  • 06-04-21

Essential reading

It's genuinely astonishing that this book came out in 1993, Rauch predicted the current state of our society with stunning accuracy. Absolutely essential reading for anyone wanting to understand what's going on with safe spaces, cancel culture, and increasing censorship.

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  • MICHAEL W.
  • 02-12-21

A brilliant and lucid book .

Full of wonderful insights, pacy, empassioned and approachable and all read with wit and verve. A great read that enlightens some of the key ideas of liberalism (in an approchable and balanced way) and their enemies (the Authoritarian / Humanitarian / Fundamentalist frame of minds ).

The book is a great companion to Jonathan Haidt's books (Coddling of the American Mind, Righteous Mind) and a good reminder and warning that the Neo-Puritans / Blue-Noses of earlier decades seem to share so much with the authoritarian Woke brigade of today (the new potential philosopher kings of our days...).

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-14-20

fast talking but awesome

excellent book.
I found playing this at 0.85 speed made it sound at normal speed to me and I was able to listen more comfortably.

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  • Shane Connor
  • 03-15-19

A must listen!

Relevant in today's political and social climate.

A must listen for all, hard to believe it was written over 20 years ago.