There’s no shortage of temptations to ignore our First Amendment free expression rights and pervert the law into a billy club to banish disturbing speech. Indeed, ever more people demand we outlaw all “hate speech” and “disinformation” in the name of “equity” and “social justice.”
In this vein, to justify their recent attempt to ban any pro-Israel speaker from the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, the school’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine explains: “Free speech and the exchange of ideas cannot be romanticized when the byproduct of such rhetoric causes harm to marginalized communities.” Of course, this “reasoning” can easily justify the suppression of any statement alleged to “harm” some preferred group.
But freedom fans know that, as George (Animal Farm; 1984) Orwell observed, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Indeed, as Justice Harlan Fiske Stone noted, “If only popular causes are entitled to enjoy the benefit of constitutional guarantees, they serve no purpose, and could as well not have been written.” Furthermore, we’re all vulnerable to the whims of speech censors. As Thomas Paine understood, “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression.”
Ironically, totalitarians may appreciate even more the power of freedom and the ideas it conveys. Vladimir Lenin (not good Beatle John, but bad commie Vlad) proclaimed, “It is true that liberty is precious, so precious that it must be rationed.” His even less tolerant and bigger mass-murdering disciple, Joseph Stalin, stated, “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns; why should we let them have ideas?”
Alas, the world has been littered with formerly free lands transformed into totalitarian plantations by snowballing restrictions on individual expression, and usually out of a sincere conviction to stop speech many decent folks find repellent. Anyone wanting the right to voice politically incorrect views is deemed as defending the indefensible.
In today’s U.S., to deter “hate speech” against “LGBTQ+” and other groups preferred by the ruling class, to protect “public health” against “disinformation,” and to “save our democracy,” so many controversial views are excised from Twitter and other media outlets that free public discourse has been substantially restricted.
But, as for unsettling internet content, who’s a better filter for what you read: big tech, the state, or you? Why entrust others to be nannies for your mind? As Thomas Jefferson declared, “We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” So fight bad speech with your own informed judgment and good replies.
Contrary to what 1984 implied, it’s precisely the modern flowering of the means of mass communication that has empowered more people than ever to stand tall for truth and freedom, making it harder for dictators to keep their citizens ignorant and oppressed. Witness the fall of the cruel communist tyrannies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the liberalization of post-Maoist China, and exciting liberty liberation movements, even in a Muslim theocracy like Iran.
The root of censorship is a lack of faith in people. The censor is an arrogant elitist idealist bent on saving the rest of us from our own ignorant, depraved selves. Since he also lacks confidence in his ideas’ currency, he stifles all opposition. Furthermore, as Joe Sobran observed: “If a would-be censor could express himself so well, he’d have no need, or urge, to censor. He’d be content to oppose words with better words. Censorship is a confession of failure…. [A]ll the qualities such people tend to lack [include]: candor, humor, self-confidence, and self-respect.”
This typifies today’s speech cops on so many American campuses who are true totalitarians seeking what censors sought in 1984. As Orwell explained, “It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all, and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought … should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.”
There’s never a dearth of fervent ideologues and purists, secular and religious alike, eager to legally pounce on any deviation from their enlightened orthodoxy. But witness the bitter fruit of such repressive regimes as Revolutionary France, communist Russia and China, Nazi Germany, Muslim theocratic Saudi Arabia and Iran, Castroite Cuba, and socialist Venezuela and Nicaragua. While none would permit the controversial expressions many seek to end here now, neither would any of these statist societies sanction the most basic right of the people to even question their rulers. Remember that our Bill of Rights is a Ten Commandments of thou-shalt-nots restraining the state since rights are granted by God — not government.