The 1st Amendment — that’s enough in itself.
…The British left is screaming for parliamentary regulation of the press. Prime Minister Cameron says this would “cross the Rubicon”: let the politicians start regulating the press and the Ministry of Truth is not far away. He is basically right; while the Leveson report doesn’t call for censorship of content, it introduces the idea that an outside regulator (theoretically independent of government) should regulate the conduct of reporters. Such bodies accrete power over time; once the camel gets its nose in the tent, the takeover process begins.
Britain is particularly susceptible to the disease of controlling unpleasant speech. Mixed with its long and proud tradition as an upholder of liberty, Britain has always had a weakness for letting the Great and the Good dictate to the rest of society. It has an Established Church, and for centuries people who didn’t belong to it were banned from holding office or attending universities. Britain was traditionally much more puritanical than, say, France when it came to censoring books, plays and later films.
That tradition has shifted, but it has never gone away. In the old days the Brits censored anything to do with sex; these days anything goes where sex is concerned, but “hurtful” speech is something else. All over Britain, the speech nannies are stirring, eager to ensure that only worthy thoughts can be spoken in public places. Give them an independent body that is able to regulate and punish the press, and they will seek to expand its powers and extend its jurisdiction to “harmful” content as well as harmful methods.
The trend against free speech can also be seen on our side of the Atlantic, especially on college campuses, and these moves must be fought. The right of people to say nasty, unkind and untrue things, their right to insult your religion, your dearest moral values, the ethnic and racial groups from which you spring, your eating habits and social customs, your ideals—that is the essence of freedom. Sad but true.
The “good” people, the “helping” people, the “nurturing” people and the idealists are usually the ones eager to punish people who say hurtful things. The left recognizes this when Andrew Sullivan’s dreaded “Christianists” try to stop the teaching of evolution on the grounds that it is false and destructive. But when the left’s most cherished ideas are rudely and nastily challenged, the hammer comes down.
“Nice” people who want to limit your freedom of speech so that only “nice” ideas will be expressed are some of the most horribly misguided and dangerous people around. They must be relentlessly mocked and resisted so that human freedom can survive.
In a complicated, pluralistic society like ours, when life depends on the coordination of large institutions and complex social systems, and there are many groups and individuals whose feelings are easily hurt by the thoughtless or hostile comments by others, the temptation is huge to use the law and the powers of the administrative state to keep disturbing speech out of the system.
But that temptation must be fought…