Editorial: Defending Open Discourse

On April 18, *The Stanford Review* published a guest op-ed entitled “Defending Traditional Marriage” by Ben VanBerkum, president of the Stanford Anscombe Society. Within forty-eight hours, the op-ed was shared 257 times on Facebook. The reaction of the Stanford community to this piece was, in most cases, extremely negative. Indeed, *The Review’s* website was quickly inundated with indignant comments.

While some of the commenters on the article engaged in reasonable discussion about the author’s arguments, others lapsed into ad hominem attacks and general denigration of VanBerkum and The Review. Comment threads on Facebook walls lambasted *The **Review *and many students vowed never to read the paper again.

Despite these attacks and denigrations, *The *Review stands firm in its resolve to provide a forum for students to express opinions that are less than popular on the Farm. Philosophers and thinkers from John Stuart Mill to the present day have defended the value of publishing minority views, especially on campus.

Free and open discussion of unpopular viewpoints is truly beneficial for the community. It encourages critical thinking about received political wisdom, and allows supporters of the majority view the opportunity to enhance their understanding of their own position by defending it in the public forum. This line of reasoning, however, seems lost on many members of the Stanford community, who are quick to assert that minority views on social issues represent “bigotry” or “hate speech,” and should thus be barred from campus discourse.

In addressing the issues raised by VanBerkum’s piece, it is first necessary to clarify the role of the opinions section in a newspaper. The article in question was submitted as a guest op-ed. TheReview’sEditorial Board decides whether to publish any submitted op-eds.

There is no requirement for the submission to match the views of the board. The board generally has an ideological and philosophical range in which it will allow opinions to be published, but publication of an op-ed specifically does not imply that the board agrees with the author’s opinions.

Indeed, despite the board’s firm support of ROTC and the military, on February 13 The Reviewpublished “Why Conservatives Should Oppose ROTC” and “Answer to Capps: The Realities of War.” These op-eds were diametrically opposed to the Board’s stances. Written by Todd Davies and Reverend Geoff Browning, respectively, they were submitted to and published by the**Editorial Board, as was VanBerkum’s piece.

Critics charge that The Review should not have published “Defending Traditional Marriage” because it was not intellectual. This argument begs the question: what is required for an article to be “intellectual?” Arguably, an intellectual persuasive piece applies critical reasoning and analytical skills to solve a problem.

The problem that the author addresses, namely the definition and nature of marriage, has no generally accepted solution. The author makes claims and supports them with evidence. The claims must be explained through observations, evidence, and thought. Clearly, the author engaged in an intellectual discussion. If all else fails to convince, just look at the number of times certain passages were reprinted and argued against in the comment thread. The comment section was the continuation of the intellectual argument that the author began.

When critics assail *The *Review for stupidity, anti-intellectualism, and hate speech for publishing this guest op-ed, they are actually engaging in a circus show of anti-intellectualism themselves. In the absence of a truly objective judgment on marriage, any attempt to suppress the expression of one rationally articulated and defended opinion indicates a clear intolerance of mind.

Those who are opposed to the op-ed because it does not meet their standard of intellectualism are confusing “intellectualism” with correctness or soundness. It is quite possible to concede that an argument can be intellectual or philosophical without agreeing that the argument is sound or correct. “Intellectual” simply implies a certain mode of argument and persuasion, one of critical reasoning and analysis based on observation.

Does this mean that truly radical, offensive philosophies might be published in this publication? Not necessarily. There is speech that crosses the line into the offensive and hateful, speech that could violate the Fundamental Standard, which *The Review *would never publish. But theEditorial Board will not flinch from publishing an argument simply because it is shocking or upsetting to some. The Board may not approve of all of the philosophy espoused by its op-ed writers, but true intellectual discourse can only flourish when differing philosophies can be heard and discussed openly.

Newspapers are devoted to seeking the truth in their opinions sections, but they should not constrain the notion of truth to one philosophical or ideological perspective. Such an action would prevent readers from exploring different ideas and striving for truth. Individual readers may have set notions of truth that cause them to react negatively to an article like “Defending Traditional Marriage,” but it is not the role of The Review to sequester or censor the opinions in this article, which would put a clamp on the discussion that takes place on a campus-wide forum like The Review’s opinion page. This publication cannot imagine a more anti-intellectual approach to running an opinion section, and it encourages students to pursue a rational, intellectual response to “Defending Traditional Marriage.”

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