Recent events in the United States have only reaffirmed the wisdom of this liberal compromise. If there was ever a group whose speech appears to me to be obviously evil and dangerous, it is the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville earlier this month. But the president of the United States is sympathetic to white supremacists; to him, it is the (mythical) alt-left that presents the real threat. If he had the power to suppress freedom of speech, he would use it to silence the people I agree with. It is better for me for no one to possess that power than to entrust it to someone who might regard me as an enemy.
Campus leftists who believe they are serving the cause of goodness and truth by silencing right-wing (or even not-so-right-wing) speakers are living in a fools paradise, because they temporarily inhabit an environment where they are in the majority. When they graduate into Trumps America, they will find that many people, including people in power, think they are the ones who are wrong and dangerous. Then the principle of free speech will become their shield, as it has long shielded dissidents and radicals in America. Without it, politics becomes a war of all against all, and as we have learned since last November, there is no guarantee that the right side will win.
Adam Kirsch is a poet and a critic. His most recent book is The Global Novel: Writing the World in the 21st Century.
By Francine Prose
What could free speech possibly mean when a mob is bullying and beating people with whom they dont agree?
Lately, Ive been thinking about The Emperors New Clothes. What a deeply felt and personal story it must have been for Hans Christian Andersen, whose work is full of plucky honest children. Awkward and painfully unable to pick up on basic social cues, he chose, as his fairy-tale hero, the outspoken innocent who delivers an unwelcome truth.
The emperor is naked! Was Andersen also alluding to one role of the writer: to say the thing that everyone knows but fears to say? Even the emperor realizes that the boy is right. No one punishes or contradicts the young truth-teller. But naked or not, no one is owning up. The procession must go on, so the emperor held himself stiffer than ever, and the chamberlain held up the invisible train.
Had the story been set here, we might say that the little boys right to call attention to the emperors nudity was protected by the First Amendment. But doesnt context matter? Wasnt the boy discouraged by his parents from embarrassing their leader? Shouldnt he have waited for a private moment, or asked the chamberlain to explain the emperors intention?
Not according to the United States Supreme Court. On the basis of past decisions, we can imagine that the justices would have decided in favor of the boy. Not only would he be allowed to say what hed observed, but he could have hurled insults racial, religious, sexual, political at the emperor, and still he would have been within his constitutional rights. In order for the boy to exceed the limits of protected free speech, he would have had to exhort the crowd to attack their naked ruler.
Traditionally, the courts have defended the freedom to express the thought that we hate; the law doesnt ban words that wound egos or hurt feelings. Its concerned not with psychological harm but with physical action, injury and risk with real and present danger.
Though when violence does occur, as it did in Charlottesville, we want to be very clear about what constitutes exhortation and incitement. Its regrettable that the phrase free speech should have been co-opted by white supremacists, as if the only kind of free speech worth rallying around is hate speech. And what could free speech possibly mean when a mob is bullying and beating people with whom they dont agree?
Obviously, context is important. Just because youre legally permitted to say what you want doesnt mean its socially or morally acceptable to subject other humans to racist rants. Yet almost daily one can see, on social media, someone doing just that, losing it on a plane or at the checkout counter. I think the ranters are reprehensible, but I dont want to see them locked up unless theyre trying to goad their fellow passengers or shoppers to mob violence.
Democracy depends on the civil, healthy and open exchange of ideas, on the chance to be persuaded by opposing opinions, to reasonably consider variant arguments and explanations. Freedom of speech, free expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press those guarantees have helped keep us from sliding into dictatorship, a fate that has befallen countries with formerly democratic governments and levels of education and prosperity not unlike our own.
We need to be clear about what those protections are, and about why we need them a need that seems to grow more intense each time Donald Trump attacks the press; when the former chief of staff Reince Priebus floated a plan to change libel laws (and by extension the First Amendment) in some vague but ominous way; and each time someone brings an automatic weapon to a free and open political demonstration.
Our democracy may have its flaws, but the alternative the repression that exists right now in so many countries is worse. That is a different fairy tale, less like the work of Andersen than like some modern-day Brothers Grimm. That is the story that ends with the little boy being arrested, jailed and killed for the crime of daring to say out loud what the emperor isnt wearing.
Francine Prose is the author of more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, among them the novel Blue Angel, a National Book Award nominee, and the guide Reading Like a Writer, a New York Times best seller. Her most recent novel is Mister Monkey. Currently a distinguished visiting writer at Bard College, she is the recipient of numerous grants and awards; a contributing editor at Harpers, Saveur and Bomb; a former president of the PEN American Center; and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
See the rest here:
Is Free Speech an Absolute Right, or Does Context Matter? - New York Times
- Assault on rights to free speech, dissent: 99 ex-IAS, IPS, IFS officers say in open letter - ThePrint - July 5th, 2020
- Freedom of expression is under threat in Lebanon - Middle East Monitor - July 5th, 2020
- No masks allowed: stores turn customers away in US culture war - The Guardian - May 24th, 2020
- Vaccination and coronavirus: Public good clashes with choice, freedom - UPI News - May 24th, 2020
- Have We Weaponized Virtue? - lareviewofbooks - May 24th, 2020
- Hate Speech and the New Tyranny over the Mind - Heritage.org - May 24th, 2020
- [ANALYSIS] The right to call the government crazy - Rappler - May 24th, 2020
- How a 20-year-old student put the spotlight on Australian universities' cosy relationship with China - The Guardian - May 24th, 2020
- Freedom of Speech Is Under the Gun as the Virus Spreads in Russia - The Nation - May 11th, 2020
- Divorcing Parents Have a Right to Post Their Stories Online, Court Says - The New York Times - May 11th, 2020
- Gov. Whitmer becomes target of dozens of threats on private Facebook groups ahead of armed rally in Lansing - Detroit Metro Times - May 11th, 2020
- Readers' Letters: 'Hate bill an attack on free speech and could affect football and comedy' - Evening Telegraph - May 11th, 2020
- Big TCPA Supreme Court Oral Argument Complete: Here Are the Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the Barr v. AAPC TCPA Review Right Now -... - May 11th, 2020
- Assange's US Extradition, Threat to Future of the Internet and Democracy - CounterPunch - May 11th, 2020
- Readers React: Are the reopen protests about free speech or presidential politics? - The San Diego Union-Tribune - May 6th, 2020
- The SNPs war on free speech - Spiked - May 6th, 2020
- The best political reads to keep on your bookshelf - Spectator.co.uk - May 6th, 2020
- A Contrarian's View of the Uses, and Abuses, of Free Speech - Jewish Week - April 9th, 2020
- Update: Signature Gatherers and Solicitors | Downey Brand LLP - JD Supra - April 9th, 2020
- U of I protests of the 1960s - Illinois Times - April 9th, 2020
- China Appointed To UN Human Rights Panel To Help Identify Threats To Free Speech - The Daily Wire - April 9th, 2020
- A Zionist attack on free speech - Redress Information & Analysis - April 9th, 2020
- How the Chinese Government Undermined the Chinese People's Attempts to Prevent and Respond to COVID-19 - Heritage.org - April 9th, 2020
- ACLJ to File Amicus Brief with Supreme Court in Pro-Life Speech Case Battling the Abortion Distortion - American Center for Law and Justice - April 9th, 2020
- The Right Constitutional Philosophy for This Moment - The Atlantic - March 31st, 2020
- Lebanese Activists Fear Hezbollah-led Government Is Using Coronavirus to Solidify Power - VOA News - March 31st, 2020
- Improving decision-making in the face of growing misinformation - Ecofin Agency: Economic information from Africa - March 31st, 2020
- Ming Pao row: If we learn anything from the virus outbreak, it should be the importance of free speech - Hong Kong Free Press - March 31st, 2020
- Freedom of speech 'is the property of the left of politics' - Sky News Australia - March 31st, 2020
- No one is safe from the puritanical poison of wokeness says SIR JOHN HAYES - Express - March 31st, 2020
- ASG introduces three resolutions, votes on advocacy committee - The Daily Northwestern - March 5th, 2020
- Why Toby Young and other robust white men are using free speech to whip universities - The Guardian - March 5th, 2020
- A Slap in the Face: Chinese Readers Share Their Coronavirus Stories - The New York Times - March 5th, 2020
- Opposition to Ted Nugent - Villages-News - March 5th, 2020
- Bitcoin Is the Technology of Dissent That Secures Individual Liberties - Bitcoin Magazine - March 5th, 2020
- NRB Resolves that Religious Liberty & Freedom of Speech Must Prevail - MissionsBox - March 5th, 2020
- The Guardian is not a fan of Toby Young or free speech - The Post Millennial - March 5th, 2020
- No platforming nowhere near as productive as debate or conversation - The Badger Herald - March 5th, 2020
- When The PC Police Come For Our Books - The Jewish Press - JewishPress.com - March 5th, 2020
- Following the crowd - Education - WORLD News Group - March 5th, 2020
- How progressives and conservatives have changed the debate over freedom of speech - Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) - February 27th, 2020
- What transgenderism and Islam have in common: Destroying free speech - Lifesite - February 27th, 2020
- Hitler would be very proud of the Aalst Carnival in Belgium! - The Times of Israel - February 27th, 2020
- Facebook and Zuckerberg keep getting freedom of expression wrong - The Next Web - January 21st, 2020
- Sheffield Arena urged to cancel event by 'homophobic' Trump ally - The Guardian - January 21st, 2020
- Ninth Circuit Affirms Anti-Libel Injunction, Rejects Overbroad Portion - Reason - January 21st, 2020
- What we still havent learned from Gamergate - Vox.com - January 21st, 2020
- Montclair State Univ. Sued for 'Unconstitutional' Speech Policy and Favoring One Student Group Over Another Based on Their Beliefs - CBN News - January 21st, 2020
- POV: Trump's Executive Order Aimed at Protecting Jews Will Have a Chilling Effect on Freedom of Speech at Colleges - BU Today - December 21st, 2019
- 92% of Americans think their basic rights are being threatened, new poll shows - USA TODAY - December 21st, 2019
- Trump's Executive Order Targets Federal Funding to Universities in Suppression of Speech on Palestinian Rights - International Middle East Media... - December 21st, 2019
- Washington State's Mike Leach responds to Donald Trump impeachment: 'I'm yet to hear what he did wrong' - Sports and Weather Right Now - December 21st, 2019
- Impeachment won't slow the global rise of the radical right but an alternative vision might - Salon - December 21st, 2019
- Over Regulating Intermediaries: Threat To Free Speech? - Inc42 Media - December 15th, 2019
- Charter of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom to be adopted - News - The University of Sydney - December 15th, 2019
- Is YouTube Cracking Down on Free Speech With New 'Harassment Policy'? - NewsBusters - December 15th, 2019
- Johnson orders universities to protect freedom of speech - Stock Daily Dish - December 15th, 2019
- Freedom of speech must trump safe spaces in universities, minister says - Stock Daily Dish - December 15th, 2019
- Alberta premier says energy war room will be respectful as it takes on critics - CFJC Today Kamloops - December 15th, 2019
- Amnesty International Canada Questions Freedom of Speech and Assembly - Reason - December 13th, 2019
- Why we need to stop believing freedom of speech is a dangerous thing - Marie Claire UK - December 13th, 2019
- Drawing the Line: When Does Freedom of Speech Go Too Far? - SUNY The New Paltz Oracle - December 13th, 2019
- RTI is Inbuilt within Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, says Bombay HC - Moneylife - December 13th, 2019
- Opinion: The clear line between hate speech and free speech - DW (English) - November 26th, 2019
- Appleton school board signs off on policy that some say endangers free speech, others see as a constitutional safeguard - Post-Crescent - November 26th, 2019
- What to Be Thankful For | Cato @ Liberty - Cato Institute - November 26th, 2019
- Universities Enabling the Hijacking of Free Speech When Jews are Involved - The Times of Israel - November 26th, 2019
- Documentary Takes Aim At Higher Eds Free Speech Violations - Washington Free Beacon - November 26th, 2019
- Should the First Amendment protect language deemed to be hate speech? - The Vector: NJIT's Student Newspaper - November 26th, 2019
- Fight to protect your freedom of speech - The Saint - November 26th, 2019
- Improv joke reaction: What about free speech? - Mount Airy News - November 26th, 2019
- Trump defends Yovanovitch attack: 'I have freedom of speech' | TheHill - The Hill - November 17th, 2019
- 'Critical Infrastructure' Bill Is a Major Threat to Freedom of Speech - Shepherd Express - November 17th, 2019
- Free speech rights a concern in Wisconsin water resolution - Minneapolis Star Tribune - November 17th, 2019
- Freedom of speech and freedom from lies - Opinion - Cape Cod Times - November 17th, 2019
- Trump: 'I Have Freedom of Speech Just as Other People Do' - MRCTV - November 17th, 2019
- Freedom of speech and its consequences - BCLocalNews - November 17th, 2019
- Free speech in Canada: It was bad five years ago. Do you think it's gotten better since? - National Post - November 17th, 2019
- The American Internet Sucks. The Alternative Is China. - BuzzFeed News - November 17th, 2019
- On free speech, a new era and that blocking thing | Editorial - Chico Enterprise-Record - October 27th, 2019