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Michael Knowles signs books for freshmen Olivia and Sophia Rome after his lecture.
Josh Newhook | Collegian

On a campus that prides itself on defending liberty, Daily Wire host Michael J. Knowles offered an unpopular take on free speech at a lecture on Tuesday.

“Free speech has gone mad,” he said. “Our speech has been made too free.”

Before a crowded group of campus guests and stu­dents in Plaster Audi­torium, Knowles explained why con­ser­v­a­tives bemoaning political cor­rectness over the past three decades have missed the point.

“I don’t think cen­sorship is the great evil that con­ser­v­a­tives make it out to be,” Knowles said.

Knowles, a graduate of Yale Uni­versity, has worked at the Daily Wire since 2016, and began hosting “The Michael Knowles Show” podcast in 2017. He also hosts PragerU’s “The Book Club” video series and “Verdict with Ted Cruz.” He is the author of a new best­selling book, “Speechless: Con­trolling Words, Con­trolling Minds.” He signed copies after his lecture.

Knowles said that while con­ser­v­a­tives have attempted to become more lib­er­tarian in speech to avoid cen­sorship of their own content, the effect has backfired.

The new virtue of free speech abso­lutism has allowed the left to control the con­ver­sation by pre­senting an anti-standard of cen­sorship that has deter­mined what is now taboo to talk about, he said.

Con­ser­v­a­tives have bought into a free speech ideal that once reigned on college cam­puses in the 1960s, he said. But what they do not realize, Knowles said, is that the free speech movement has never been about liberty, but about rev­o­lution. Con­ser­v­a­tives have been forced out of the con­ver­sation because of this “dime-store phi­los­o­phizing,” he said. 

“Political cor­rectness has made us speechless,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter if we have nothing to say.”

Con­ser­v­a­tives have let the left make events like drag queen story hour prevail as a “blessing of liberty,” in the name of free speech. But leftists don’t play fair when it comes to free speech. Big tech leftists have pushed to censor lan­guage it does not agree with, like when Twitter and Facebook banned former Pres­ident Donald Trump from their plat­forms, he said.

Knowles encouraged con­ser­v­a­tives to use their voices for good and push back against the obscene.

“We the people decide. We transform these taboos,” he said.

Con­ser­v­a­tives have the ability to set the stan­dards of society, Knowles said. All law centers on some morality, and cit­izens should use their right to vote to pass reg­u­la­tions aligned with truth in a culture where lying is viewed as superior.

“We must be able to per­ceive reality, and pass laws,” he said.

During the Q&A portion of the lecture, Knowles showed off his sense of humor, from giving his Dr. Anthony Fauci imper­son­ation to speaking about the Hillsdale campus s uniquely devoid of liberal protestors.

“There is less blue hair shrieking at me outside,” he said.

On a more serious note, Knowles said he believes lib­er­tarian phi­losophy does not align with con­ser­v­ative doc­trine. He went as far as to relate it to a utopian concept with “five bullet points on the back of a napkin.” He said liberty, in a con­ser­v­ative sense, is more than doing whatever you want.

“Liberty is the right to do what he ought to,” he said. “Freedom involves mas­tering your base passions.”

He said lib­er­tar­i­anism has not improved con­ser­v­ative thought but has led to the degra­dation of it.

“I don’t think lib­er­tar­i­anism has had a good effect at all,” Knowles said.

On a cul­tural note, Knowles gave his thoughts on woke Hol­lywood releases like the all-female Ghost­busters film, which flopped when it was released in 2016. He said Hol­lywood pro­ducers have over­played their influence, and that con­ser­v­a­tives wield the power to influence such cul­tural insti­tu­tions through voting.

“Some say pol­itics is down­stream of culture, but culture is also down­stream of pol­itics,” he said.

Knowles said making culture better is part of the job of politics.

“Degra­dation of the American family is not just a cul­tural issue,” Knowles said. “It’s a political issue.” 

One student asked about whether there comes a point in time when people can no longer under­stand one another’s speech in a republic. Knowles said that is already the case in America today.

“To be a republic, we have to have some­thing in common. But we don’t,” he said.

Senior Alex Buchheit, who has been lis­tening to Knowles since 2016, said he often listens to his podcast with his dad on the drive to and from Hillsdale. He said he enjoyed the lecture.

“I think he is doing a great job of taking on the pol­itics of the left,” Buchheit said.

Sophomore Paul Mar­chetti, who listens to Knowles’ podcast reg­u­larly outside of the school year, said his remarks about Aris­totle and other highly read thinkers at Hillsdale helped make the speech more applicable. He also said the Q&A session sig­nif­i­cantly added to the lecture.

“I think he was able to elevate his speech and dig in deeper with the ques­tions,” he said.

David Naffaly, who came with a group from Florida to visit Hillsdale for this week’s Center for Con­structive Alter­na­tives series, also said the best part of the pre­sen­tation was the Q&A.

Fred Schoen, who was also in town for the CCA, said that even though he hadn’t heard of Knowles prior to the lecture, he enjoyed the speech.

“I was enter­tained and mes­merized by his approach all throughout,” he said.