A Free Speech Credo
By Larry Sanger - 04. May 2019
I. Free speech is nothing if not offensive.
- Free speech just is the right to say offensive things.
- Popular, safe speech needs no protection; only unpopular, unsafe speech does.
- Free speech needs protection precisely because and to the extent that it bothers, annoys, dismays, infuriates, emotionally wounds—and, yes, offends—other people.
- You have the right to offend me, and I have the right to offend you.
- I find attacks on free speech deeply offensive.
- You have a free speech right to attack the right to free speech.
- To oppose free speech is to favor censorship.
II. What free speech is not.
- Free speech extends well beyond the First Amendment.
- Free speech is a moral right that should be protected by legal rights in all countries on earth.
- You do not gain more free speech if you are given a louder megaphone, a larger podium, a bigger audience; but you lose free speech if such things are seized from you by an authority.
- It is incoherent to suggest that you win “more” free speech for yourself by silencing your ideological foes.
- Free speech never was equivalent to some fair quantity of speech; it was always about whether or not you were being silenced by some authorities.
- The appalling ignorance spewed about free speech in the last few decades demonstrates how important it is that we teach philosophy, logic, and especially American civics (or the civics of liberal, open societies) in schools.
- Those who do know the issues behind free speech—professors, lawyers, philosophers, historians, journalists—must step up to teach and correct about free speech, or this principle will be lost.
- Defending important principles of democracy, like free speech, demands courage.
- Citizens of a free republic, perhaps especially intellectual and well-spoken citizens, have a positive obligation to exercise that courage.
III. The politics of free speech.
- A generation ago, free speech was not just another liberal cause—it was one of the most essential and defining of liberal causes.
- A person who is not a free speech absolutist does not deserve to be called a “liberal.”
- The Old Censorship that liberals railed against in the 1960s—conservative demands for censorship of both obscenity and far left propaganda—is moribund.
- For several decades, until very recently, free speech was a cause that united American liberals and conservatives.
- There is a New Censorship on the left as well as, to an extent, the right.
- The New Censors are governments eager to rein in hate speech; some Silicon Valley corporate executives and their employees; some university administrators, professors, and student agitators; and those journalists and activists who agitate for more.
- The New Censors are dominant in most of the centers of power—they are leaders in today’s Establishment.
- The New Censorship is, especially in its rapid rise, quite new and genuinely alarming.
- The attack on free speech has become so striking and dismaying to some liberals that some have gotten into the business of denying that an attack exists; but this is wishful thinking.
- Former defenders of free speech are contemptibly hypocritical or cowardly not to stand against the new censorship.
- That goes double for academics.
- Academics not willing to give a full-throated defense of free speech on campus betray academic freedom—freedom of inquiry.
- Campus speakers who take views offensive to the left now need police protection; some campuses require the speakers to pay protection fees.
- Political speeches safely delivered on campus in the past were more shocking and “offensive” than speeches shouted down today—the standards have changed.
- Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Apple, Patreon, and a few others have more real-world power and influence than many U.N. members.
- Moral panic about trumped-up charges of bigotry is being used to justify not just censorship, but political censorship—the worst kind.
- It is now a well-established fact that the Internet giants are intolerant of certain political speech.
- Much of the speech controversially censored by Silicon Valley, campus authorities, and governments has an important political aspect.
IV. Hate speech must be protected despite its offensiveness.
- Most people who want to protect hate speech also happen to abhor hate speech.
- People want to protect hate speech not because they approve of it, but because they have a much greater horror of censorship.
- The New Censors often pretend not to understand the difference between defending free speech and approving hate speech. They deserve to be excoriated on this essential point.
- There is no First Amendment exception for “hate speech.”
- The essential problem about a “hate speech” exception to free speech is that the phrase is irreparably vague.
- There are no widely-agreed standards of “hate speech”; there is little agreement on what constitutes “hate speech.”
- A great deal of what now passes for “hate speech” is, in fact, merely political speech that somebody else hates.
- It is morally wrong—it is outrageous—to censor political speech.
- Sometimes, the “hate” in “hate speech” is most accurately understood as a feeling not of the speaker, but of the person damning the speech.
- The best short definition of “hate speech” in this dishonest sense is: speech that enfuriates the Establishment, i.e., our would-be censors.
- “Hate speech” used to be restricted to speech clearly motivated by bigotry against race, religion, or sexual orientation.
- You must defend, without hesitation, the freedom to utter hate speech—even speech that is outrageously bigoted—or you have abandoned free speech as a civil right.
- Until very recently, this was the position of the ACLU and of liberals generally. Many still believe this.
- It is absurd to suggest that anyone who defends free speech is ipso facto bigoted, racist, or—ironically—fascist.
- The actual fascists of history did a great deal of censorship.
- The irony is that censorship, rejection of free speech, and indeed thought control are essential to the totalitarian mindset—an irony lost on certain uneducated and miseducated youth.
- We could still return to more enlightened standards of free speech, having realized the enormity of error in this abandonment of principle.
- Many well-intentioned social movements, once considered “progressive,” have deservedly died out; the New Censorship, like Prohibition and Eugenics, should be one of them.
V. To abandon free speech is to confer arbitrary power.
- As people have different values and emotional make-ups, people are capable of hating and being offended by many things.
- Historically, people have found different religions, philosophy, cultures, races, research, and even language—even art and music—to be deeply offensive, malevolent, and, yes, hateful.
- Permitting censorship based on disagreements overs facts and aesthetics empowers the authorities to determine facts and aesthetics.
- Similarly, permitting censorship of political discourse empowers the authorities to determine who wields political power.
- Once the authorities gain the power to mold our thoughts, they will not easily give up that power.
- Once they gain sufficient power to censor, authorities always grimly impose their values and their vision of reality by force.
- The values of the powerful, the elite, the Establishment, are guaranteed to change; they always have; and how often have they been 100% correct?
- Therefore, if you are worried about right-wing censorship, you should also be worried about left-wing censorship.
VI. Censorship violates our right to autonomy.
- Those who are most eager to take away your right to free speech want to impose their own beliefs on you.
- Censors are would-be thought controllers.
- If you want to be in control of your own thoughts—your own values, religion, philosophy, aesthetic, etc.—you must support free speech.
- Censors are worthy of the deep contempt of the free citizens of an open, truly diverse republic.
- No one—absolutely no one—can be trusted to wield the power to determine what millions or billions of people shall believe.
- The bloody Inquisition and the fatwa-wielding mullahs, the secret police and propaganda ministries, the holy warriors and the Bible-thumping do-gooders, they all had deep contempt, indeed deep hostility, to those who would dare to think their own thoughts about important truths.
- I value the right to think my own thoughts.
- The thought controllers are utterly convinced that they know best and that others are wrong.
- “Why is there a need to think your own thoughts?” the heretics are told. “The truth is known. If you deny it, you are anathema, a heretic, an enemy of the people, a traitor to the state.”
- The New Censors insist that their concerns are merely pragmatic, obvious, and eminently reasonable; but that is what most censors have said.
- All censorious regimes have in common a furious hatred of the free-thinker, rejection of the individual, hatred of the outsider—the stern demand that we subject our minds to that of a controlling group.
- You cannot support censorship without ultimately wanting to impose an entire thought-world.
- Indeed, the most passionate new censors today are entirely convinced of their own thoughtworld, indeed they want to impose it on the rest of us, and indeed they have the deepest contempt for those who differ from them, even slightly.
- It might be hard for some citizens of an established, old democracy to understand, but thought controllers throughout history have had contempt for the dignity of most people.
- Respect for the diversity of individual minds absolutely requires free speech.
- This standardizing, collectivizing, controlling impulse is inherently dehumanizing.
- We will inevitably lose the habit of thinking and speaking for ourselves, of fearing being ourselves.
- Our very dignity rests in our being responsible for our own thoughts.
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