If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Free Speech

Thanks to a link in Longrider's blog, I have come across the best defence and justification of the principle of Free Speech that I have ever read.  Here's a sample, but I urge you to go and read the lot.

Nowhere in Farago's pro-censorship argument does he address, or even fleetingly consider, the possibility that the ideas that the state will forcibly suppress will be ideas that he likes, rather than ideas that he dislikes. People who want the state to punish the expression of certain ideas are so convinced of their core goodness, the unchallengeable rightness of their views, that they cannot even conceive that the ideas they like will, at some point, end up on the Prohibited List.

That's what always astounds and bothers me most about censorship advocates: their unbelievable hubris. There are all sorts of views I hold that I am absolutely convinced I am right about, and even many that I believe cannot be reasonably challenged.

But there are no views that I hold which I think are so sacred, so objectively superior, that I would want the state to bar any challenge to them and put in prison those who express dissent. How do people get so convinced of their own infallibility that they want to arrogate to themselves the power not merely to decree which views are wrong, but to use the force of the state to suppress those views and punish people for expressing them?

Ultimately, the only way to determine what is and is not "hate speech" is majority belief - in other words, mob rule. Right now, minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago are happy to criminalize "hate speech" because majorities - at least European ones - happen to agree with their views on gay people and women's equality. But just a couple decades ago, majorities believed exactly the opposite: that it was "hateful" and destructive to say positive things about homosexuality or women's equality. And it's certainly possible that, tomorrow, majorities will again believe this, or believe something equally bad or worse.

In other words, it's very possible that at some point in the future, majorities will come to hate rather than like the personal beliefs of minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago. And when that happens, when those majorities go to criminalize the views which minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago hold rather than condemn, they'll have no basis whatsoever for objecting, other than to say: "oh no, it's only fair to criminalize the ideas I hate, not the ones I like."
Thank you, Guardian, for a very sound and well-argued article.  (That's a sentence you won't read often on this blog.)  The comments BTL are, as ever, both wildly entertaining and profoundly depressing in equal measure.


  1. Nobody has a "right" to be not-offended.

  2. Golly, something sensible in the Guardian; good read, ta for the link.

  3. Advocating censorship of 'things I don't like' is parallel to the old 'all extremists should be lined up and shot' argument - clearly flawed but seems to work for many in the US (amongst other places).

    Keep up the posts - I look forward to them.

  4. Thanks for the link. It was a refreshing read among the dross that is usually seen at CiF. And, yeah, the BTL comments are pretty depressing...

  5. Free Speech is a hot topic here in the USA and it is funny how much of our news is censored and we don't always hear anything that does not concern the USA, thank goodness for the internet.

    I try to tell people that opinions are just that. They are opinions. It does make them right, it doesn't make them wrong, and no one has to agree with them, they are just opinions.

    Unfortunately we have a lot of loud-mouthed bigoted, homophobic, racist people in this country, but they are still aloud to spew their opinion whether we agree with them or not.

  6. We have some pretty awful people over here too, both 'left' and 'right' (terms to be treated with caution). But I always reckon that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Banning things won't make them go away, but debating them openly might.

    Mind you, open debate is getting to be a rare beast. I was appalled at the number of commenters to the article who basically said 'the writer is an educated white male, and therefore has no right to speak on the subject'.

    Blogger seems to have deleted my 'wise words of others' page, but there was a quote there from Noam Chomsky which seems relevant (from memory, dammit): If you don't believe in freedom of speech for views you despise, then you don't believe in freedom of speech.


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