You have the right to remain silent

August 20, 2017 § 31 Comments

Liberals are firmly committed to free speech, as a core value.

Free speech doesn’t mean absolutely free speech.  Absolutely free speech is an obvious straw man, positing no middle ground between manifestly insane absolute rights and nice tame rights within due limits. Everyone who is committed to free speech agrees that there should be some limits on speech. We just don’t want to live under an inquisitional speech restricting tyranny.

Free speech means that permissible speech should be permitted, while impermissible speech should be suppressed and punished.  It means we should take a live and let live approach to regulating speech.

So free speech, at least as understood by reasonable liberals, is restricted speech: speech circumscribed within limits.  The terms “free” and “restricted” are interchangeable.  For reasonable non-ideological liberals, free means the same thing as restricted.

Limits on speech which should be in place are called “limits on free speech”.  (Everyone agrees that there needs to be limits on free speech).

Limits on speech which should not be in place are called “political correctness” (with an ironic inflection).

Now even though the terms “free” and “restricted” are interchangeable, the term “free” must be used when describing free speech. It is unfair and ridiculous to propose that we stop calling free speech “free speech”.  It is not advisable to use the term restricted speech to refer to free speech, even though they are really the same thing.  Using the term “free” focuses attention the the fact that some speech is permissible and allowed, while minimizing the fact that some speech is impermissible and punished.

If someone points out that by free speech we mean restricted speech, the best course is to scoff and point out again that of course every sane person believes that there are limits on free speech (which we shall continue to call “free speech”).  The term “free” attaches the configuration of speech empowerments and restrictions that we prefer to the liberal slogan “freedom”.  Everyone supports freedom!  People who don’t support reasonable freedoms – as well adjusted people understand them – are bad people, nazis or worse.

Freedom, of course, means crushing dissent from the configuration of empowerments and restrictions our society considers good – or that our team is convinced society ought to consider good – under the boot of emancipation.

§ 31 Responses to You have the right to remain silent

  • You’re just a big tyrant here to pigeonhole me into your way of thinking.
    (from Cocks’s bracketed replies inside you’re very first comment):

    I’m not using the word “free” to do what you suggest. But your manner of discussion does make me feel like a prisoner being guarded with a big whip. You seem ever so interested in the suppression aspect associated with free speech. Talk of heresies and inquisitions doesn’t exactly make me feel safe and secure either. All that talk sounds like a giant threat.

  • Elspeth says:

    What we really have is “restricted free speech”, in the same family as the “lifetime limited warranty”. The fine print is pages long and changes constantly. The warranty isn’t lifetime anymore than our speech is free.

  • TomD says:

    I offer the term “freer speech” to any liberals willing to pay a sizeable but reasonable royalty.

  • Advenedizo says:

    Saw the post and got surprised. When was the orthosphere invaded with liberals? Was it always that way?

  • Step2 says:

    TomD,
    Your royalty is right here.

  • […] speech” and “limited free speech” are intrinsically dishonest phrases, because they treat the question of what restrictions there ought to be on speech as if it were a […]

  • Wood says:

    Step2,

    It’s cute when you liberals try to one up irony with snark. Why give up liberalism when we can make fun of all the stupid people.

  • vetdoctor says:

    My home state, Virginia, is renaming Jefferson Davis highway because, reasons. I’m going to ask them to rename it ZippyHighway. Somehow it just works.

  • Mike T says:

    We just don’t want to live under an inquisitional speech restricting tyranny.

    This spreads to all of the other issues in the Bill of Rights and more, and speaks to the fear that Westerners have had for centuries that predates liberalism: being ruled by what we used to call “oriental despotism.” Your “rights” are whatever the ruler says they are. If he changes his mind about your right to say something innocuous or wants to kick in your door in search of petty violations of the law, tough luck. It’s more than little like being ruled by a sometimes benevolent Darth Vader: “[On the matter of your ‘rights’] I am altering the deal, pray I don’t alter it further.”

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    Peoples’ emotional reactions need to be set aside when trying to get an accurate picture of reality.

  • Ian says:

    Advenedizo,

    When was the orthosphere invaded with liberals? Was it always that way?

    I’m not sure, though I think Richard Cocks is the newest contributor there.

    I don’t read the Orthosphere posts regularly enough to have a great sense, but I do get the sense that some of the contributors are still compromised by liberal commitments (though I suppose that could be said of all of us to one degree or another).

    The good news was that Cocks got a lot of pushback on the free speech post (though some of it has been disappeared), while no one really showed up to defend his point of view.

  • Advenedizo says:

    @Ian

    If i had some time i would troll the thread, because it is ripe for it. Richard Cocks seems like an easy person to “trigger”.

    I used to read the orthossphere, but i have much less time now. Well well, more magic shoveling to do, and I have to say that our host makes an excellent job. I just prefer to do it in person.

  • Unlike liberalism generally, free speech as formulated by classical liberals is not, as far as I can tell, an incoherent idea. “You have a right to not experience adverse consequences from the government/corporation/whatever the case may be as a consequence of the content of things you say, unless what you say is either a threat of criminal violence, defamation of a specific person, the violation of confidence, encouragement to break the law, or likely to result in imminent harm, provided that imminent harm which could be inflicted by persons with a premeditated desire to commit acts of violence is not sufficient to justify restriction of speech” is not incoherent.

    It is wrong as a general principle of course, though I think that advocating it as a tactical matter (insofar as the current wielders of censorship power are malevolent) could be prudent. Of course this does not justify obfuscation in theoretical discussions.

  • You have a right to not experience adverse consequences from the government/corporation/whatever the case may be as a consequence of the content of things you say, unless what you say is either a threat of criminal violence, defamation of a specific person, the violation of confidence, encouragement to break the law, or likely to result in imminent harm, provided that imminent harm which could be inflicted by persons with a premeditated desire to commit acts of violence is not sufficient to justify restriction of speech” is not incoherent.

    Nope, it is just a tautology. You have the right to not experience adverse consequences from the government/corporation/whatever the case may be as a consequence of the content of things you say, except when you should experience adverse consequences.

  • You would need to demonstrate that it reduces to that. e.g. by demonstrating an infinity of exceptions.

    Even then though, it wouldn’t be useless. there are lots of general principles that admit a potentially infinite number of exceptions.

  • You would need to demonstrate that it reduces to that. e.g. by demonstrating an infinity of exceptions.

    No I wouldn’t. The definition literally states that speech shouldn’t be punished, except for these times when it should, which is a tautology. Why you think an infinity of exceptions would be needed to demonstrate this is beyond me.

  • The definition literally states that speech shouldn’t be punished, except for these times when it should

    Well no, obviously. If it literally said that you would only have needed to quote it.

  • You got me there. But the essence of the given definition is that speech shouldn’t be punished, except for these times when it should, which is tautological, as I said.

  • ignacy says:

    ArkansasReactionary,

    “likely to result in imminent harm” opens your definition to infinite exceptions, since what kind of speech results in imminent harm is controversial.

  • Ian says:

    I think the idea is more that ‘free speech’ begs the question, not that any particular conception of what counts as ‘free speech’ can’t be expressed in such a way as not to be incoherent.

    In ArkansasReactionary’s formulation, the problem is that free speech advocates will call this ‘free speech’, but speech with a different set of limits will be ‘suppression of free speech’.

    The free speech advocates will be committed to the conceit that their favored configuration of ‘free speech’ is neutral, while different configurations of permitted speech with different limits are not.

  • Zippy says:

    Tautologies aren’t (necessarily) incoherent. But the term “free” in “free speech” suggests that the speaker is committed to unrestricted speech, when what he is really committed to is speech that is unrestricted except when it is restricted.

  • Zippy says:

    A “right to free speech” represents an attempt to empower people to express whatever they want to express without negative consequences to themselves. But of course this can only be done within limits, and only should be done within limits which are bounded by the extent to which it is good for someone to express himself without negative consequences to himself.

    I’ll note that as with usury the arrow is expected to go only one way: positive consequences may accrue to the speaker, negative consequences must not. But within limits, insists the right-liberal, that is, only when and to the extent this ought to be the case, which is what reduces it abstractly to tautology.

    People are always trying to avoid the terrifying prospect of facing the consequences of their own choices – including their choices of how, when, and to whom they express themselves. Thus it seems to create security in framing the question of what speech ought to be suppressed and condemned as if it were a question of whether any speech ought to be suppressed and condemned. That way when the consequences of one’s own self expression loom, the “free speech” principle can be used as a defense (even though free speech really just means restricted speech).

    This inherent dishonesty creates a social gradient in which more and more unacceptable speech — speech which ought not be negative-consequence-free — is empowered, ultimately crowding out good speech and (because one of the things good speech does is mediate negative consequences for bad speech) treating good speech as the ‘outside due limits’ part via PC tyranny and law.

    “Free speech” right liberals created PC in the first place, and now attempt to fight it by throwing more gas on the fire.

    Because remember that the house (in this case liberalism) always wins, but not all at once. The house always wins by keeping a thumb on the scale: in this case by framing the question of what consequences ought to obtain in the domain of speech and expression as though it were a question of whether consequences ought to ever obtain in that domain.

    And the druid abides.

  • Zippy says:

    A basic problem with the right liberal “rule of law” mindset is that the people building these social gradients believe that they are building static laws. But the gradient in labeling the legal and cultural structure of speech restrictions “free speech” is obvious, once you see it.

    Human beings in general often don’t grasp the consequences of their own commitments; and liberals in particular, by the nature of the thing, are constantly building and defending gradient (as opposed to static) structures the nature of which they don’t themselves understand. “Ideas have consequences”.

    It is the classic “what could it hurt” followed by “how was I supposed to know” dynamic, except that the knowledge needed to even reach the “how was I supposed to know” stage is ruthlessly avoided and suppressed.

  • My general point is that “free speech” as understood by American constitutional law is neither incoherent nor tautological. Given the tautological fact that some speech should be suppressed and some shouldn’t, it is useful and necessary to create specifying rules and principles to delineate which is which.

    Those developed over time by SCOTUS are not actually in correspondence to the good, and therefore are ultimately irrational, but it isn’t the case that they are meaningless.

    You got me there. But the essence of the given definition is that speech shouldn’t be punished, except for these times when it should, which is tautological, as I said.

    Any statement can be de-specified into a tautology.

    ArkansasReactionary,

    “likely to result in imminent harm” opens your definition to infinite exceptions, since what kind of speech results in imminent harm is controversial.

    The use of the word “imminent” is designed to prevent this, could you use an example to illustrate how this would be circumvented.

    In any case though, plenty of moral principles admit of potentially infinite exceptions (e.g. don’t engage in unnecessary detraction) yet are still useful principles of conduct in general.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    My general point is that “free speech” as understood by American constitutional law is neither incoherent nor tautological.

    If we stipulate, it remains the case that labeling that particular configuration of restrictions “free speech” is intrinsically dishonest.

  • […] speech refers to a regime of restricted and censored speech.  Every reasonable person acknowledges that there have to be reasonable limits on […]

  • GRA says:

    I believe Step2 showed up on WWWTW as well as Catholic Answers Forum (CAF) a few years back, though using the handle “Rose.” I also spotted her (?) on Ed Feser’s blog. She (?) was still making the same arguments with the same tone … Of a liberal.

  • Zippy says:

    GRA:

    I don’t think Step2 has ever hidden his liberal commitments, in the ten years or so of his commenting with which I am familiar.

  • Step2 says:

    GRA,
    I’ve been at W4 since its beginning and still comment there but I have never commented at Catholic Answers Forum. It has been many months since I was at Feser’s blog, his comments section just hasn’t been the same since Scott Ryan died.

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