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.