Murray speech at Chapel Hill takes on highlights purpose of universities  

Students talk to author Douglas Murray on Feb. 23, 2023 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. North State Journal

CHAPEL HILL — On a stormy Thursday night in Chapel Hill, renowned English author and journalist Douglas Murray spoke to a crowd of students and alumni in an auditorium on the vast campus. Hosted by the UNC Alumni Free Speech Alliance, the Common Sense Society and two conservative student organizations, Murray expounded on his views of the radical Left’s threat to Western values and the need for freedom of thought in colleges nationwide. 

In his nearly 45-minute speech before taking questions from the students in the audience, Murray took on two acutely sensitive issues at UNC Chapel Hill: Nikole Hannah-Jones and the toppling of statues. 

He opened by discussing what he called the disappearance of the “public intellectual” and how the West, notably the United States, has a serious problem with debate and discourse. 

“A culture that allows extraordinary claims go uncontested is a culture deeply in trouble,” Murray said.  

He continued by saying that traditionally, people with strong ideas would defend them in public – taking on those who disagreed with them. Instead, said Murray, we now have “public figures” in an ecosystem that allows them to talk only with those who already agree with them. 

Murray also pointed to two more examples of the behavior, writers Robin D’Angelo and Ibram X. Kendi.  

He said in swaths of their work, they deliberately misuse source materials to fit into a predetermined narrative. Murray said this was part of the threat with erasing history, specifically the toppling of statues. This was a pattern, said Murray, of “erasing the past and standing in their place.” 

Murray also took issue with the 1619 Project, calling it filled with repeated assertions which cannot be proven and can’t be defended in public. 

He added that it was the students in the room who must deal with the current problems of those who refuse to defend ideas. 

“The only way you get to the truth is to get all ideas out,” said Murray. He quoted the 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill, adding, “the person who is wrong must be heard and the worst that can happen is you know your argument better.” 

By refusing to engage in the exchange of ideas, Murray said, Western society has made themselves vulnerable to bad ideas. 

Earlier in the day Thursday, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors passed a motion that banned what it called “compelled speech” in what supporters of the motion called a victory for free speech. 

“One of the points of the university is to explore ideas including erroneous ideas. The university should be set up in such a way that it can best, most optimally allow, you know, free thought. And I’m, my own view is that almost anything that impinges on freedom of thought is to be avoided,” Murray told North State Journal following the event. 

“The university has always been in the society set up to be precisely to the place where that is the haven of thought. Institutions like this are for the furtherance of learning, irrespective of where you get to with it. 

Murray also expanded on his thoughts about debating ideas, lamenting how the left often claims they are being personally attacked when debating ideas. In one example, he cites the vigorous debates of William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky, who would often engage on Buckley’s show Firing Line.  

“Chomsky is totally at ease in his debate with Buckley. It wouldn’t occur to Chomsky to say, you’ve hurt my feelings,” Murray retorts. “It’s a very low form of things where they don’t feel like they need to engage. This is why I cited these people like Nikole Hannah-Jones, who will not put themselves up to debate. It does such a disservice to the culture as a whole.” 

Murray, though, said he is an optimist and called for adults to take the room back. 

“Essentially what we’ve seen in recent years has been the disappearance of the adults. I mentioned in my remarks, the fear of young people by adults is a very unusual feature of modern American life. The adults need to reassert themselves. There needs to be a respect for wisdom, respect for tradition, a respect for the past and that is best imparted by people of a certain age,” said Murray. 

He finished saying that the world is going mad because America has gone mad. 

“The gender nonsense started in America. Everybody in the world knew that there were two sexes and a tiny number of people had intersex issues. But everybody knew that there were two sexes until some people in American academia started to spill out the idea of gender. Before you know it, in numerous countries, there is a massive amount of public and political exertion discussing what a woman is when everybody knew, and most people know. It’s not a difficult question and yet because of something that has happened in America in recent years, the significant portion of the world is wasting everyone’s time with non-questions. It’s because some things are just true,” he concluded. 

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Matt Mercer is the editor in chief of North State Journal and can be reached at [email protected].