Free SpeechSteven Lieberman
When we discuss Second Amendment issues, we do so through the construct of civil rights. The Second Amendment was codified to recognize the intrinsic natural right of self-defense and, more importantly, to establish a defensive line against tyranny.
As I have mentioned before, tyranny is a broad concept. It should be viewed as expansively as possible. The Second Amendment protects us against invading armies, it protects us against our own army, it protects us against the State, against the magistrate, against the abusive spouse, the hostile neighbor, or the common street thug.
Tyranny exists on many, many levels.
The other amendments each, individually, protect us against tyranny as well. Their primary purpose is to recognize the fundamental limitations on government. Each recognizes core rights of the individual, typically at the expense of the government.
While Cosmo would certainly argue the overriding importance of the Third Amendment, we will have to forego that discussion for another time.
This blog is dedicated to the First, and specifically freedom of speech.
Let’s begin by stating what the First Amendment is not. It is not a limitation on private prohibition of free speech; it is only a limitation on government regulation of speech. Private individuals, private companies, and private publications are absolutely free to promulgate or regulate commercial, or even public, speech (to the extent that their private industry is a necessity for promulgation of that speech). If people wanted to use this blog for the purposes of articulating an anti-gun message, I am completely free to refuse to print their missives. Failure to promulgate their message on my own platform is not a violation of their First Amendment rights. When the government says they can’t say something… well, that is going to be a problem.
What becomes troubling is when agents of the State start calling for private regulation of speech. The “one step removed” idea is functionally absurd. If the State demands a private company regulate speech… and the fear of government retribution is always hidden behind the smiling teeth of a politician… one could say that the government itself is simply compelling its agent to perform an otherwise unconstitutional act.
So we look on with troubled eyes at the missives of Connecticut Senator (D) Chris Murphy who is demanding that media platforms begin censoring speech, because the “future of our democracy is at stake.” Specifically, he is talking about far right websites and conspiracy sights that he feels postulate “dangerous” ideas.
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John Stuart Mill, one of our founding philosophers, wrote an influential book at the time of the Revolution titled, On Liberty. He postulates many theories but, in my mind, his most important one is his passionate defense for unbridled freedom of speech. His argument is essentially a capitalistic one. Free speech, at its most fundamental level, enriches everyone. The speaker, the audience, and the critic.
If someone were to postulate an argument that is contrary to the views of another, the recipient must contrast these new potentially radical views against the dogma that he has accepted as orthodoxy. He, of course, is completely empowered to point out the logical inconsistency of his opponent’s positions as well. Either way, one of three outcomes will emerge from this “incidence of free speech”: 1. The recipients will realize their dogma does not have the same strength as the new information, and the recipients will abandon their dogma for the new, better idea. 2. They will realize that the proffered argument fails to usurp their original beliefs, and their understanding of the original position is strengthened after being tested against competing ideas. 3. A mix of the two takes place, and their original idea is modified to accept valid points articulated by the challenger. No matter what, each participant is left enriched by the experience.
Nietzsche, roughly 80 years after Mill, came up with a similar, decidedly Germanic concept: Philosphize mit hammar, “philosophy with a hammer.” Nietzsche argued that dogma is like a golden statute; you must constantly hammer at the statute with intellectual ferocity. One of two things will happen… the idol will break, or your hammer will break. If the idol falls, you should never have been accepting of it in the first place; if your hammer breaks, then you know that the idol is strong.
The belief that we are somehow better off if we limit the amount of speech injected into the body politic is a dangerous thing. Some speech is indeed abusive, coarse, and often flat out wrong. The antidote to that speech is fundamentally more speech.
President Trump, for all of his boorish articulations, essentially has mastered this concept. When the mainstream media articulates either a falsehood or a heavily slanted article, he labels it “fake news.” This causes a massive level of insecurity amongst the media as they push the narrative that it is not, in fact, “fake news,” but factually accurate. As they expand upon their stories, alternative narratives begin to emerge which allow the audience a far greater understanding of the original story.
When the media makes editorial decisions to limit the access to information that does not support a collectivist narrative, they are essentially making speech by prohibiting it. With the decentralization of media, stories that otherwise would never have been published, now find their way onto internet sites. (When was the last time you saw CBS/ABC/NBC MSNBC or CNN show stories of CCW holders saving lives?) When the President lambasts the above as “fake news,” invariably these hidden stories start seeing the light of day… even if they are not placed on these purveyor’s news feeds.
When someone… anyone, especially a Senator, suggests that democracy can only be protected by limiting the amount of speech the public can consume, he need to be shown the exit door for he is the existential threat to democracy.