MELBOURNE, Australia – In April, the Journal of Controversial Ideas — of which I am a co-editor — published its first issue. The journal is a response to the shrinking boundary, even in liberal democracies, of acceptable discourse. It is specifically designed to provide a forum in which authors can, if they wish, use a pseudonym to avoid running the risk of receiving personal abuse, including death threats or of irrevocably harming their careers.
There was a time when the threat to academic freedom in democratic countries came primarily from the right. The free speech cause celebre of the early twentieth century United States featured Scott Nearing, a left-leaning economist at the University of Pennsylvania who was dismissed because his activism for social justice did not sit well with the bankers and corporate leaders on the university’s board of trustees.