Ian McEwan at Dickinson College (video)


Ian McEwan at Dickinson College (full video address)


  • Don’t be taken in by those who tell you that life is short. It’s inordinately long. I was into my twenties when my mother astonished me by saying wistfully, ‘I’d give anything to be forty-five again.’ Forty-five sounded like old age to me then. Now I see what she meant. Most of you have more than 20 years before you peak.
  • Free speech was, it is and always will be, under attack – from the political right, the left, the centre. It will come from under your feet, from the extremes of religion as well as from unreligious ideologies. It’s never convenient, especially for entrenched power, to have a lot of free speech flying around.
  • 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.
  • There’s a phenomenon in intellectual life that I call bi-polar thinking. Let’s not side with Charlie Hebdo because it might seem as if we’re endorsing George Bush’s ‘war on terror’.
  • I hope you’ll use your fine liberal education to preserve for future generations the beautiful and precious but also awkward, sometimes inconvenient and even offensive culture of freedom of expression we have. Take with you these celebrated words of George Washington: “If the freedom of speech is taken away then, dumb and silent, we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.”


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