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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Free Speech Under Attack

As I have argued in past posts, I think freedom of speech is the most important political issue facing advocates of individual rights. In the midst of the Obama administration's fascist takeover of the United States economy, a Supreme Court case related to "indecency" might not move many people's mental dial, but, it should - as this post by Don Watkins at ARC makes clear.

Watkins discusses the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold FCC bans on "indecency":
According to the Court, free speech is not an absolute. It must be balanced against other “interests,” such as the state’s “interest” in the “well-being of its youth." (No, that’s not a typo: its youth.)
Consider, that without the right to speak which is equivalent to the right to think, there can be no other rights. As I documented in this post, which analyzed prohibitions on criticizing religion on the grounds of so-called "hate speech codes", and in this post, which discussed bans on political criticism via the campaign finance laws, freedom of speech is under attack. As with all profound losses of fundamental rights, the state will not overthrow the first amendment overnight. It will chip away at it in principle until the logic of precedent can be use to justify further, more dramatic encroachments. I agree with Watkins conclusion:
The principle endorsed by “indecency” regulations is that the state gets to decide what Americans can and can’t say. You cannot oppose that policy by haggling over what speech Washington decides is off limits this week–you have to challenge the notion that the government can make any speech off limits. You have to stand for a different principle: that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.”


Burgess Laughlin said...

1. When I hear statists (both rightist conservatives and leftist "progressives") use the term "balance," I am on guard. The word is often a symptom of philosophical pragmatism. Principles -- both the moral ones and the political ones -- cannot be "balanced." They are absolute. Philosophical pragmatists abandon absolutes.

2. I think your identification of statist chipping away at rights is correct. The justification for that chipping is "balancing" -- with a heavier and heavier finger on the scale as time passes.

The Rat Cap said...


That's a great point re "balance".

I think there is another aspect to this call for "balance" which is the theory of determinism. I believe that leftists hold that people are essentially determined meaning that if the "wrong" ideas impinge on a consciousness, they will be unable to "fix" them. This premise seems to underscore their hostility to advertisement, and their support of campaign finance laws, for example. This is an aspect of pragmatism, i.e., they hold there are no principles, no logic, no way to argue for truth - people are like rats and you need to put cheese in the right place.

Notice that Obama nominated Cass Sunstein as his "regulatory czar". Sunstein, author of "nudge" and an advocate of "ibertarian paternalism" is a raging behaviorist who has proposed applying a fairness doctrine to the internet and having controls to stop people from sending angry emails.

Thanks for bringing out the more philosophical underpinnings of the anti-free speech crowd - interested in your thoughts on above.

C. August said...

Not only is "balance" a code word for pragmatism, in government -- both left and right -- it tends to refer to a hidden and specific ideological agenda. Both left and right now believe that government power should be used to further "social justice" goals, which means: collectivist egalitarian goals, intended to increase state power in the name of the "common good." The left is more socialist in their leanings, and the right is more theocratic, but they both yearn to use state power to push their agendas.

The conservatives and progressives on the Supreme Court are cut from the same cloth.

I wrote about these issues yesterday in my post, Pragmatism, Social Justice, and the Failure of Conservatism. I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.