On freedom of speech and “civilization”

Originally posted via twitlong, 4 Oct. 2014


Evelyn Beatrice Hall, characterizing and paraphrasing Voltaire — a French Enlightenment philosopher — wrote the famous quote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. I can think of no higher defense of the freedom of speech and of thought.

In “Cato’s Letters (#15)” Thomas Gordon and John Trenchard penned the following immortal quote, to be later used by Benjamin Franklin in his “Silence Dogood letters (#8)” [edited to clean up archaic language]:

‘SIR, Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech: Which is the right of every man, as far as by it he does not hurt and control the right of another; and this is the only check which it ought to suffer, the only bounds which it ought to know.

This sacred privilege is so essential to free government, that the security of property; and the freedom of speech, always go together; and in those wretched countries where a man can not call his tongue his own, he can scarce call any thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of the nation, must begin by subduing the freedom of speech; a thing terrible to public traitors.’

How far have we fallen the most valued freedoms, speech and thought, of the Enlightenment era (of which European thinkers were the vanguard) considered to the mind and soul as what oxygen is to the body gleefully abandoned in the name of “justice”. And indeed, that is precisely what it is, an abandonment of principle, to censor hateful or distasteful speech rather than allow its dissolution in a free marketplace of ideas by freethinkers in turn.

If that is “civilization”, I would have none of it. I’ll take a society that is so robust and confident in the transcendence of its principles that Jewish lawyers will readily defend the right of neo-Nazis to assemble and demonstrate, not because they condone the speech but simply because censorship is unjust.