3.7.18

TOLERANCE MEANS TOLERANCE.

I've complained, previously, that "limiting dissent from the orthodoxy is more important than constitutional principle."  I've also long been of the view that "if the Good Ideas of Smart People were that persuasive, there'd be no serious debate about their Correctness."  None of which deters Smart People from making the case that Incorrect Thought be shut down.  "Many on the left have traded an absolutist commitment to free speech for one sensitive to the harms it can inflict."  It's the usual stuff: arguments that protect a position that the advocate doesn't like becomes a defense of oppression.  "Some liberals now say that free speech disproportionately protects the powerful and the status quo."

Read the article, dear reader, you'll see some of the usual suspects, as well as some surprises.  The problem, though, is that powers conveniently appropriated to suppress bad speech by your standards becomes powers your adversary might be able to appropriate to suppress your speech.  Thus, Robert Shibley for the win.
Those on the left who argue that it’s time to jettison our nation’s uniquely liberal conception of free speech are making a grievous mistake, but not a new one. British philosopher John Stuart Mill identified this error in his famous 1859 tract On Liberty, and his observation is as accurate now as it was the day he wrote it.

“All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility,” wrote Mill. “[W]hile every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable.”

The underlying, and apparently unquestioned, assumption of the new First Amendment critics is that it is self-evident that progressive positions (whatever those may be) are correct. Therefore, if the application of free speech principles makes accomplishing their aims more difficult, it’s freedom of speech that is the problem. There can be little doubt that Anthony Comstock, Joseph McCarthy, and the myriad other right-leaning censors of the past felt the very same way when the ideals of free speech got in the way of their own plans to “improve” American society.

Censors of all stripes worry that without proper guidance and regulation, our society might make the “wrong” choices, as determined by, well, them. But policies adopted under conditions where all sides have a right to be heard carry the legitimacy they do precisely because free discussion and debate increase people’s confidence in the conclusions that are ultimately reached. As Mill also wrote, “Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action.”
Amen.

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