Jun 30, 2016
He has a glittering civil liberties résumé: co-founder of Human Rights Watch, president of the Open Society Foundations for nearly 20 years, professor of civil rights law.
But before all of that, Aryeh Neier was the executive director of the ACLU during one of its most turbulent moments: when it came to the defense of neo-Nazis trying to exercise their right to free speech and assembly in Skokie, Illinois in 1977.
In this week’s episode, we speak with Neier about that time and about his seminal 1979 book, ‘Defending My Enemy: American Nazis, the Skokie Case, and the Risks of Freedom.’
In addition to Skokie, the conversation touches on why the defense of civil liberties shouldn’t be placed on the political spectrum, Neier’s formative years fighting speaker bans on college campuses, and why free speech can’t be blamed for the violence in Weimar Germany, Rwanda, and Bosnia in the 20th century.
The conversation also veers toward what Neier sees as one of the greatest threats to free speech today: political correctness.
This episode caps off our series on the topic of “defending my enemy,” which explores why people who vehemently oppose certain ideas nonetheless staunchly defend the right of others to express them. The series was inspired by Neier’s book.
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