That’s Offensive!

Criticism, Identity, Respect

Stefan Collini

That’s Offensive!

Stefan Collini

Distributed for Seagull Books

69 pages | 4 1/4 x 7 | © 2010
Cloth $14.95 ISBN: 9781906497798 Published February 2011 World sales rights except India

That’s Offensive! examines the common assertion that to criticize someone else’s deeply held ideas or beliefs is inherently offensive. This idea, Stefan Collini argues, is unfortunately reinforced by two of the central requirements of an enlightened global politics: treating all people with equal respect and trying to avoid words or deeds that compound existing social disadvantages. In this powerfully argued book, Collini identifies a confused form of relativism and a well-meaning condescension at the heart of such attitudes. Instead, Collini suggests that one of the most profound ways to show our respect for other people is by treating them as capable of engaging in reasoned argument and thus as equals in intellect and humanity.

Collini’s ideas are timely and controversial, addressing deep issues about identity and human agency. His maxims—do not be so afraid of giving offense that you allow bad arguments to pass as though they were good ones; and do not allow your concern for the disadvantaged to exempt their beliefs from the kind of rational scrutiny to which your own must also be subjected—provide solid guiding principles for dialogue in our world today.

“One of Britain’s finest essayists and writers. . . . His style is capacious, fair- minded and unbuttoned, alert to the quirks of personality and the conflicts of creative restlessness.”—TimesHigher Education Supplement on Collini’s Common Reading

Equality and Respect
Identity and Condescension
An Uncomfortable World

Review Quotes
Scott McLemee | Inside Higher Ed
"Let me simply recommend Collini’s book, rather than try to synopsize his argument. . . . But it seems like a good antidote to both clash-of-civilizationists and identity-politicians."
William Skidelsky | Observer
"Stefan Collini is an exemplary essay writer who combines great stylistic elegance with absolute ruthlessness when it comes to dissecting sloppy thought. These virtues are much to the fore in That’s Offensive!, a contribution to Seagull Books and Index on Censorship’s ’Manifestos for the 21st Century’ series, addressing the issue of censorship. Collini’s concern here is to analyse just one form of modern censorship (or, perhaps more accurately, self-censorship), one that may not strike many liberal readers as obvious, or even particularly important. This is the idea that, out of concern not to give ’offence,’ one should refrain from criticising ideas, beliefs or practices that one regards as wrong."
Steven Poole | Guardian

“What can be taken when not given, and is not always taken when it is given? Offence. It is often claimed these days as a badge of moral authenticity, against which bad faith Collini offers this brisk and cool intervention. At its heart is an ideal of ‘criticism:’ the way public debate is (or at least ought to be) conducted, through reasoning and scrutiny of evidence. No one, Collini insists, should be able to claim immunity to criticism by crying offence. Offence is not a ‘harm,’ and to eschew criticism because the targets might take offence is to infantilize them.”

Isaac Chotiner, New Republic | The Book

“Collini, a distinguished historian of ideas, has written a powerfully argued manifesto on the subject of offense and criticism. The book is neither densely philosophical nor as militant as books that have covered some of the same ground. . . . But Collini’s deft dismantling of various forms of cultural relativism—conveyed in clear and concise prose—are sure to be debated and discussed by anyone who engages with his important essay.”

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