McEwan urges graduating students to defend the principle of free speech in his commencement speech.
It’s worth remembering this: freedom of expression sustains all the other freedoms we enjoy. Without free speech, democracy is a sham. Every freedom we possess or wish to possess (of habeas corpus and due process, of universal franchise and of assembly, union representation, sexual equality, of sexual preference, of the rights of children, of animals – the list goes on) has had to be freely thought and talked and written into existence. No single individual can generate these rights alone. The process is cumulative. It was a historical context of relative freedom of speech that made possible the work of those who were determined to extend that liberty.
It can be a little too easy sometimes to dismiss arguments you don’t like as hate speech, or to complain that this or that speaker makes you feel… disrespected. Being offended is not to be confused with a state of grace. It’s the occasional price we pay for living in an open society.