Free Speech's Fits and Starts

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sat, 2016-09-10 22:37

Note: originally written in 2007, this essay has been revised and updated to mark the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and to offend Muslims—Linz.

"Freedom is the fundamental requirement of man's mind. ... A gun is not an argument."—Ayn Rand

In my recent presentation, stopped short by evil Muslims, at Auckland University I noted the propensity for evil Muslims in civilised countries to take advantage of freedom of speech to hold demonstrations where they sport signs saying "Freedom of speech go to Hell!"

One wonders if these savages would be capable of giving a moment's thought to free speech's long, tortuous history, and if so, would they be given pause by it?

Those magnificent Greeks had more than an inkling of it—yet they infamously put Socrates to death.

The Enlightenment resurrected it after centuries of heresy-hunts and burnings at the stake. John Milton’s celebrated speech to the English Parliament, later published as the Aeropagitica (in deference to the Greeks), was an attack on Imprimatur, the literal stamp of approval one had to obtain from state censors on documents one wished to publish. (One could not obtain Imprimatur on anything attacking the Church of England or the Government.) Censorship of ideas, Milton said, was “the greatest discouragement and affront that can be offered to learning and to learned men.” Unfortunately, Milton made an exception of Catholics, since they were supposedly in thrall to a foreign power (the Pope).

Then came John Locke, who did brilliant, original work in developing the concept of rights, including freedom of expression—except for atheists! Freedom of religion, it seems, did not extend to freedom from religion!

Locke did tumble to a vital distinction underpinning the case for free speech—the distinction between force and persuasion. Force he equated with governments; persuasion he equated with books. Persuasion cannot force, he argued; coercion cannot persuade. “Such is the nature of the understanding that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force.” The use of government force as an instrument of persuasion, he believed, was wrong; for the Government to censor the content of books (except atheist ones) was improper.

One hundred years later, the United States’ first Congress sent off to the states, for ratification, the following Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” What an achievement! From primordial slime through countless millennia of grunting evolution and brute force to such magnificent words as those!

And of course, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the French playwright and anti-Catholic polemicist Voltaire, who in 1770 had penned the following in a letter to a priest: "Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." This later became popularised as the classic affirmation, "I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it."

Then came John Stuart Mill, widely regarded as one of free speech’s foremost advocates: "If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility." Note, though, his over-arching view of when government force is justified: “… the only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others.”

“Harm to others”? What does that subsume? It could cover any number of things, speech being just one of them, whose forcible prevention by the state would be profoundly anti-freedom. It could cover, for instance, hurting the feelings of others. It could cover withholding one’s earnings from others (Mill himself said that failure to perform certain charitable “duties” constituted harm). Would the exercise of governmental power then be warranted to protect people’s feelings by banning certain types of speech and to force people to perform their charitable duties? The contemporary incarnation of primordial slime—university lecturers and their slavish, mindless, quacking, upward-inflecting moronnial students—gleefully answer “Yes!”—as they enforce politically correct “speech codes” and "safe zones," demand “hate crime” legislation, urge higher levels of taxation to fund more "free stuff," etc., etc. And there is nothing in Mill to justify one’s saying, “No!”

Clearly, this won’t do. It’s a short, barely discernible step from “harm to others” to “injurious to the public good”—the indefinable notion that in one form or another underlies censorship legislation around the world. The imprecision of Mill’s argument has contributed to the dead-end of post-modernism whose pin-up boys like Stanley Fish write books with titles such as There Is No such Thing as Free Speech—and It’s a Good Thing Too. Free speech, says Fish, is a contradiction in terms; all speech is coercive. This is what, three hundred years after Locke, two hundred years after the First Amendment, we have been reduced to—as though Locke’s crucial insight distinguishing force from persuasion, so admirably crystallised in the Ayn Rand quotation above, had never happened.

But it did happen—and the pomo-wankers and the smelly Social Justice Warriors and the Islamosavages and all the other enemies of free speech know it. Some are so offended by it that they fly aeroplanes into buildings. Collectively, all of free speech's opponents have almost succeeded in destroying it. The urgent imperative on civilised human beings is to restore it.


Lindsay Perigo's picture

I can hear a NZ audience whispering that most infuriating of all instructions 'just calm down'. We are the poorer for that habit.

Thank you! That sentiment means more to me than I can say. But you're doing it right there! Smiling We are not merely "the poorer" for it ... that's way too "calm": we're morally (and economically) bankrupt on account of it! The Cult of Cowardice.

Articulate and passionate

Neil's picture

I admire the language but I love the passion. That's honesty right there and we don't see enough of it. I can hear a NZ audience whispering that most infuriating of all instructions 'just calm down'. We are the poorer for that habit.

That's an excellent speech on

J Cuttance's picture

That's an excellent speech on the history of free speech.

It illustrates exactly how our freedoms get lost in the sub-clauses and generational hang-ups.

The entity most clearly causing "harm to others" is the state, yet try to go about preventing that and the uniform and judicial coalition will throw you in a cage without having to declare their painfully obvious interest.

I could by-and-large defend myself against others attempting to cause me harm, if I was free to do so.

If any other entity - perhaps state-like in its ambitions - wanted to encroach on my freedoms in an organised fashion, there are other options, best expressed by Molinari.

There would be enough similarly-positioned people to perfectly adequately fund defence cooperatives and common law arbiters via, perhaps, addenda to house and contents policies.

The blandness of this proposition, first written by Hoppe (I think), appeals to me because it removes the aura of what really are just services.

Free-market competition would prevent that public service sclerosis setting in, and the specialisation would occur for the protection of, for example, ex-Muslims.

The 2nd-conditional if/would structure of my rant betrays the fact that I am not free to do this, and I pay crippling taxes towards boys in blue and green pajamas and kinky robes already.

If we look at the market value of the pensions these guys have granted themselves, for each well into seven figures, sometimes more - I kid you not - we would get a handle on just what a threat they are to us.

It's going to take a hell of a lot of theft to fund them and their health and education collaborators.


Olivia's picture

Judge Janine gave Hillary what for. Fabulous balls on that woman. Smiling

Magnificent response ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... to ARISIS Obleftivists and their fellow-filth:

Flaky minds. That is the

Andrew Atkin's picture

Flaky minds. That is the threat.

As long as something is in written 'code' it can always be interpreted in stupid ways by stupid people, to meet stupid ends.

Semi-autistic pseudo intellectuals in academia can be so brilliantly rationalised in the abstract, but simultaneously bizarrely stupid. These are the worst of the "flaky minds".

Solution? Cut back on infantile damage and child abuse! As long we're a 'biologically stupid' people (who could never grow up because we didn't have a real home to grow up in) we will be stupid in practice. No matter the abstract teachings.

That's my rant Smiling

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.