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We Are Free Enough


Ann Althouse (lifted directly from Borepatch):

Remember when lefties were all about free speech? When did that change? Why did that change? Perhaps the answer is: Free speech was only ever a means to an end. When they got their free speech, made their arguments, and failed to win over the American people, and when in fact the speech from their opponents seemed too successful, they switched to the repression of speech, because the end was never freedom.

In a video clip in Althouse’s post, she makes the point that “free speech” is not merely what is protected by the First Amendment. A culture can be more or less tolerant of wide-ranging debate beyond the immediately political. Speech can be artful. Or pornographic. It can be inspiring. Or offensive.

The primary limit—perhaps the only ideal limit—on speech in a free and open society is that nobody be required to listen.

Many ideas may find little audience. The speaker may be deranged or dysfunctional. The words may be offensive. But they have power only when they are heard.

Since it is less practical to deafen the masses, those seeking power attempt to silence the speakers. For the good of society, of course.

…free speech is too dangerous because it might be false and it might inspire bad people to act out in terrible ways.

But how do we know what is true and what is false if we’re not able to express our perceptions? Justice relies on context. Human communication is an ongoing trial of ideas.

Suppressing testimony is necessary in a courtroom, where pre-defined points of law are in question, and where time is of the essence. Outside the courthouse in the broader culture, the law evolves. This is the soft law, mores and etiquette, that play the greatest role in anyone’s life. Time is no matter as generations are perpetual. Standards that were acceptable and necessary in ancient times have become less acceptable and often unnecessary.

That process of cultural evolution was embraced by classical liberalism. And that’s what the free-lovin’ lefties used to hold as a high value. ”Do your own thing,” they would preach. Not anymore.

Now it seems we’re free enough. Some us perhaps a bit too free. The things that people might want to do cannot even be talked about. “Dangerous” ideas cannot be tested in the agora. Because, you know, the wrong people might get the wrong idea and take things too far. The libertine welfare state must be…conserved.