by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The concept of free speech, so central to the American experience, is facing a trial in our society. This is not the first time, and surely won’t be the last, in which competing interests wrestle to define the term.
But it is our time to debate it, and those who would trammel speech in the name of justice, or patriotism, or anything really, are relying on several very flawed premises in their attempts to silence their fellow citizens. It’s time to tackle them, one by one, and establish a positive argument for free speech that recognizes it is a blessing, not a burden.
Much of the confusion regarding the idea of free speech stems from a fundamental misunderstanding that somehow the First Amendment of the Constitution invented and constrains the idea. This is hogwash.
In 399 BC, Socrates was tried, convicted, and executed for violating speech codes. For more than 2,000 years since then, Western culture has played a game of tetherball over speech, sending it this way and that. But the heart of the issue has nothing to do with government. It has to do with whether we, as individuals, value tolerance for perspectives we disagree with.
In the past decade or so, many people — usually but not always those on the Left — have distorted the concept of free speech in an effort to suppress it. Their arguments are not deep; they are not even shallow. It is useful, however, to look at and dismantle them so we are not tempted to snatch from ourselves the rights generations past established for us.