by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Blissfully unaware of how hot the irony burned, Robert Kennedy Jr. yesterday took to a public protest to rail avidly in favor of censorship. The United States government, Kennedy lamented in an interview with Climate Depot, is not permitted by law to “punish” or to imprison those who disagree with him — and this, he proposed, is a problem of existential proportions. Were he to have his way, Kennedy admitted, he would cheer the prosecution of a host of “treasonous” figures — among them a number of unspecified “politicians”; those bêtes noires of the global Left, Kansas’s own Koch Brothers; “the oil industry and the Republican echo chamber”; and, for good measure, anybody else whose estimation of the threat posed by fossil fuels has provoked them into “selling out the public trust.” Those who contend that global warming “does not exist,” Kennedy claimed, are guilty of “a criminal offense — and they ought to be serving time for it.”
Thus did a scion of one of America’s great political dynasties put himself on the same lowly moral, legal, and intellectual plane as the titillation website Gawker.
It is dull and dispiriting that it should need so often to be repeated, but, for the sake of tedious clarity, repeat it I shall: Freedom of speech is a wholly fruitless guarantee unless it is held steadfastly to protect even those utterances that most pugnaciously contravene the zeitgeist and most grievously offend the well-connected. Inherent to the safeguard, further, is the supposition that the state may not distinguish between speakers or make legal judgments as to whose words are valuable are whose should be frowned upon. Despite a concerted and increasingly unsustainable attempt to suggest otherwise, the question of climate change remains an open and rambunctious one, and the debate that surrounds the topic remains protected in practice by the First Amendment and in civil society by the dual forces of taste and liberality. Robert Kennedy, by agitating for the suppression of heterodoxy, is casting himself as an enemy of all three.
Ludwig von Mises would not be surprised, of course, since he once warned that “Every socialist is a disguised dictator.”