So Ann Coulter spoke at the University of Calgary last night, and Canada is still intact. There is no way to know whether Coulter’s remarks at the University of Ottawa – which she did not deliver because she was, in effect, driven away by a crowd of protesters – would have differed from the remarks she gave at Calgary, where she was treated almost politely.

The episode at Ottawa was interesting in its own way because the protesters presumably were to the left of Coulter on the political spectrum but were behaving a lot like people in the States have behaved recently — people who, one would assume, are in Coulter’s vicinity on the philosophical scale. So folks of all stripes are capable of intolerance.

This incident and others like it also expose the fact that many of us are almost infantile in our understanding of the very institutions we pretend to uphold.


In particular, people like those who hounded Coulter at Ottawa don’t grasp, or don’t want to accept, the radical principle that by whatever criterion we mitigate the rights of one person, we put our own rights in jeopardy. Such people also don’t grasp that they have to be willing to be offended if they want to live in a free society. It’s what the ancients called “a hard saying,” and far more of us subscribe to it rhetorically than like it when it’s put into practice.  “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all,” as Noam Chomsky put it.

There’s a guy who occasionally sets up shop outside the post office down the street to spread his vitriol about Barack Obama — which I don’t agree with, and Nancy Pelosi — which is negotiable. I hear neighbors complaining about that guy, but to me he is just a part of the big portrait of America. I don’t like Ann Coulter, but I feel much more secure in my own life to the extent that she is allowed to say what’s on her mind.