Conservative political columnist George F. Will kicked off the Bucknell Forum 2023-24 series.
Photo: Emily Paine
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Conservative political columnist George F. Will kicked off the Bucknell Forum 2023-24 series.

A Forum for Free Speech

by brooke thames
There’s no shortage of quotes from famed figures positing that “everything is political.” For conservative Washington Post columnist George F. Will, the politicization of everything threatens Americans’ right to say anything.

Will shared his thoughts on politics and free speech as the first speaker in the 2023-24 Forum series, centered on “Freedom of Expression.” Following a private question-and-answer session with students, the writer gave a keynote address on Sept. 19 at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts.

In addition to producing pieces for The Washington Post’s opinion section (syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the country), Will is a regular contributor to MSNBC and NBC News, and previously provided decades of commentary on ABC’s This Week. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1977.

In his remarks, Will pushed back on what he views as the enveloping nature of today’s politics: Influencing society’s consciousness has become a governmental pursuit.

If individuals are believed to be fully formed by their culture, “then controlling the culture becomes imperative, and politics must saturate every nook and cranny of life. This saturation will inevitably mean controlling what people say and hear and read and think and teach,” Will said. “Ultimately, this idea is the source of totalitarianism, which is the totalizing of politics.”

What follows, Will posed, is an effort not dissimilar to McCarthy’s red hysteria or Lenin’s Communist project — censorship. “They say that everything said or read or written or thought or taught affects the social system that envelops and shapes everyone’s situation. … Such people will necessarily believe that they are directly harmed by any speech and all ideas that [reverse] progress as they understand progress,” he said. “Today, it is said that the existential crisis that justifies censorship is systemic racism or climate change — there is always some crisis.”

Will pinpointed social media as a current battle-ground, where calls for content moderation encourage the government to decide what is disinformation or misinformation by disfavoring ideas thought to be on the wrong side of history.

He also challenged universities that take stances on political issues and require faculty to affirm diversity, equity and inclusion.

Other Forum Events
The 2023-24 Bucknell Forum features speakers from a range of political and ideological backgrounds whose personal and professional experiences have been shaped by freedom of expression.

Tuesday, Oct. 17
Jon A. Shields

Tuesday, Jan. 23
Jodi Picoult

Tuesday, Feb. 27
George M. Johnson

Tuesday, March 19
Jane Fonda