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Intellectual Freedom and Its New Enemies

Recent measures by governments across ex-communist Europe have created an increasingly oppressive intellectual climate. And the de-democratization of higher education and of science in general are just the first step toward putting experts in the service of broader anti-democratic goals.

BUDAPEST – The World War I exhibit at the House of European History in Brussels offers visitors an arresting sight. In a simple yet dramatic gesture, the museum has placed the pistol used in the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in a glass-paneled cabinet right in the center of the room.

The tour guide informed our group that, following much heated debate, the museum had agreed to change the objects on display from time to time, so that different countries could exhibit their most precious historical relics. But when I peevishly remarked that the pistol Gavrilo Princip used in Sarajevo is irreplaceable, the curator replied that four European museums claim to have the authentic pistol on display.

As much as I respect and defend the plurality of European national traditions, only one pistol, not four, triggered the outbreak of World War I. We cannot be “pluralistic” and “inclusive” when historical facts dictate a single right answer to a question. And such questions must be decided by experts who have been rigorously educated in the history (and trained in the historical sources) of a given era, not by those with a political agenda.

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