Bad ideas, reprehensible ideas, evil ideas — they only pose a threat when people don’t articulate and stand up for good ideas.
Bad ideas only flourish when they’re obscured by doublespeak and darkness, by equivocation, jargon, groupthink — when open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas is ridiculed and disallowed and leaders of the once-free-world are telling us all that the debate, if there ever was one (and there wasn’t), is over.
Nazi fascists and communist fascists are (e.g.) two variations on the same theme, and that theme is anti-individualism — which is to say, collectivism, which is to say tribalism. But both groups should be free to speak. Even the very left-leaning ACLU used to agree with me on this — until they were corrupted by a progressively carious ideology.
Bad ideas, I repeat, are only dangerous when people don’t articulate and fight for good ideas.
Good ideas are ideas that are right and true.
Good ideas promote peace, prosperity, goodwill. They stand ideologically opposed to the initiation of force and do not look the other way when, for example, partisan politics dominate. Good ideas do not pretend someone is suddenly a hero who in reality is clearly declining, unwell, and who has made a career of corruption and lies, who has repeatedly handled young human-beings this way.
Good ideas do not do this. Good ideas allow for the open exchange and the debate of ideas and simultaneously, as a corollary, bar the initiation of physical force and violence.
If you’d like to test how much your friends actually care about you — and how much they care about free speech as well, and understand it — it has never been simpler to do so than right now, and I can personally testify to this: all you have to do is tell your friends that you fully support freedom of speech for Donald Trump and his voters and, even if you’re not a fan of Donald Trump and have repeatedly said so, watch how many of your friends distance themselves from you, and watch how fast this distancing occurs. I predict you will be surprised.
Still, the fact remains: Free speech does not mean speech with which only you or the majority agrees. Free speech includes the crucial freedom to dissent from the majority — in fact, part of the legal meaning of free speech is the freedom to disagree, as it includes also the freedom not to support (financially or otherwise) one’s detractors and antagonists.
The political function of the right to free speech is not to subsidize people and their speaking platforms — that, I emphasize, is not included — but rather to protect dissenting voices and unpopular minority views from forcible suppression, either by government or other people. Many if not most lawyers and judges, as I’ve recently discovered, do not know this. But even more disheartening and appalling is the level of their apathy concerning the overwhelming importance of such issues, as well as their ignorance (and I don’t use that word lightly) concerning the philosophical principles underpinning it all. Disheartening, I say, and discouraging because these are the very people who, in theory, are best educated and therefore best positioned to effect actual change, and yet so many remain willfully ignorant and do not care enough to make any attempt at serious rectification. They care about getting paid, getting through the case, and then, finally, moving along to the next, and that, I can tell you upon great authority, is the only thing they care about.
The difference between speaking with your fists and speaking with your ideas is a difference which was once self-evident. It is so no longer. So I’ll articulate that difference now: spoken and written speech and physical blows are separated by a clear-cut line which is also a principle, and that principle is the prohibition of the initiation of physical force upon another’s physical person. Property is an extension of person.
Nobody has the moral right to seek his own advantage by force. That is the one unalterable, inviolable condition of a true society. Whether we are many, or whether we are few, we must learn only to use the weapons of reason, discussion, and persuasion…. [my emphasis in boldface] As long as men are willing to make use of force for their own ends, or to make use of fraud, which is only force in disguise, wearing a mask, and evading our consent, just as force with violence openly disregards it — so long we must use force to restrain force. That is the one and only one right employment of force … force in the defense of the plain simple rights of property, public or private, in a world, of all the rights of self-ownership — force used defensively against force used aggressively (Auberon Herbert, The Principles of Voluntaryism, 1897).
When you lose the distinction between freedom of speech (written as well as spoken) and freedom of action, you lose the freedom of both — and that is the point at which you begin to see things like book-banning and book-burning.
Even more terrifyingly, you’ll begin to see more and more people defending, with enraged righteousness and sanctimony, the governmental enforcement of book-banning and book-burning. And that is when you can know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the right to free speech has been entirely nullified. Then — perhaps only then — will some people see the heartbreaking paradox of it all: the right was destroyed because the majority (i.e. vox-populi, i.e. democracy) did not want the right. The majority voted against it. They rejected it. They wanted all individual people, themselves and their loved ones included, to live their lives not by right but by permission: the permission of politicians and bureaucrats. Thus individual rights were not inalienable in the end but, all along, were purely subject to vote — to the whims and will of the majority.
Yes: people scoff incredulously when someone warns about the inescapable dangers of democracy — specifically, I mean, the majority possessing the power to vote down the right to the life and property of any minority, their incredulity and scoffs coming from their not being able to imagine that the rights of, for instance, an entire latino or black community could ever be fully voted down by a majority, and I hope to high heaven that this is true. But I suggest the following thought-exercises instead: imagine virtually any and all Native American Indian tribes — imagine them still, to this very day, in 2020, not being allowed to own property on “their” own land.
And if that, too, is difficult to imagine, try imagining your family, or a group of your friends, or any very small gathering of likeminded people. Then imagine that your family or this small group of likeminded people, yourself included, believe in and wish to exercise your right to read and even teach, on private property and to anyone who voluntarily and consensually wishes to attend, the novels To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men and even more daringly The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Then imagine government agents, who learned of your readings and your teachings through a Facebook post and then a Twitter controversy, come onto your property and arrest you and your entire family for teaching these books, and the reason they arrest all of you for this is that you broke the law, because the majority has deemed these books illegal and so it is now against the law to teach or even read them.
I sincerely hope the glaring outrage in the examples above help clarify, at least somewhat, why it is that I am and always will be an uncompromising, intransigent defender of the inalienable right to free speech, and also why I will never make any apologies for my defense of free speech, no matter how rabid the mob, no matter how many people whom I thought were my friends go on to slander me and, in a craven act absolutely indefensible and inexcusable, involve those who have not shunned me, and who don’t even share my views yet are deemed guilty by continued association with me — I who would dare, even in this “Trump-era,” to defend the absolute and inalienable right to free speech, yours included, even when I profoundly disagree with what’s being spoken.
This is, as well, by logical elaboration, precisely why I stand by my conviction that force-initiation should be barred from human interaction, and the fact that this idea, this beautiful, elegant, intelligent, once-bedrock idea, has become in any way controversial is the total testament to the sheer lunacy of today’s dominant philosophical ideologues, which finds its poisoned crucible in academia.
Future generations will, you may depend upon it, regard this era in the same way that sane people today regard people from 150 years ago who used to gather in asylums and mental wards in order to laugh at and ridicule the mentally ill.
Also, just for the record, rights are inalienable, in the literal sense, and for this very reason are not subject to vote, as I hyperbolically suggested in my example above: they are inalienable because the person or institution which breaches or violates or otherwise infringes upon the rights of an individual is in the wrong. As such, this person or institution must answer to the law. Rights do not stop club blows. Neither do they stop punches and kicks. But the person or people who assault an individual by means of club blows or punches or kicks has committed a crime. It is not a coincidence that wrong is the opposite of right in a politico-ethical context as well.
The right to assembly does not include the right to obstruct public thoroughfares, and all groups, no matter the ideology they espouse, should not be allowed such public obstruction. Yet know this also: if #BLM and ANTIFA are permitted such obstruction, Proud Boys must be permitted as well. The right to assembly, properly understood and accurately codified, is the right to assemble on your own property or on the property of those who allow you to assemble on their property.
When you think about free-speech in context of the over-cited example of yelling FIRE! in a crowded theater, simply ask whose property the theater is. That’s who has the right. If that doesn’t fully clarify the issue, think of that crowded theater as your home or your parents’ home, and think of the crowd as dinner guests who have been invited over and who’ve voluntarily agreed to come. Now think of one among these guests in your home, at your dinner party, seriously yelling out FIRE!
I am and always will be the first to tell you that it’s most certainly not inspiring to fight for freedom of speech by fighting for people who hold reprehensible views and ideas: whether it’s the sexually obsessed and their ghastly, stomach-churning depictions of consensually staged atrocity exhibitions (including depictions of horrific racism — and I do repeat: fully consensual) or whether, similarly, it’s the NAZIS and all the other collectivists and racists, including, of course, our current CRT theorists, whose overt racism is given a pass. No, it is not inspiring at all. But remember this always: in any shift, on any level — state, city, or national — away from freedom and toward authoritarianism and tyranny, every infringement of individual rights has started with the subjugation of the rights of the least appealing practitioners. In this way, the unappealing nature of the beliefs and ideas in question stand as a true test of one’s understanding of the principle — the principle of liberty, which includes free speech — as it stands also as a test of the depth of one’s conviction for the principle. And that’s when you really see the sorting of the men from the boys. Because, like rights and like freedom itself, free speech has unfortunately become another of these things that virtually everyone believes in — that is, until everyone finds out what it entails and actually means, and then virtually no one believes in it.
Most people only believe in free speech when the speech conforms to things with which people already think and agree.
That’s not what the right to freedom of speech means.
(Note: one aspect of the sex industry that does and always should fall squarely within the proper jurisdiction of law and government — and it is a critical one, about which many on today’s left have become sickeningly silent and apathetic — is the protection of minors and other non-consenting people. And if you really want to make yourself infuriated and ill at the same time, read about the outrageously, gut-wrenchingly criminal videos that have been uploaded to mainstream porn sites and permitted to stay there — I’m talking about actual crimes and staggering violations captured on camera — and even more horrifyingly: read about the purveyors and partakers and defenders of this monstrous criminality and injustice.)
I reiterate my opening sentence: Bad ideas and evil ideologies only become dangerous when people default on the process of articulating and standing up for good ideas. If you want to fight bad ideas or ideas opposed to your own, you don’t shut down free speech — never that — and you don’t initiate or instigate physical force and violence, as the #BLM and ANTIFA mobs have been doing for many months now (never forget Henry Dorn). Rather, you think and you reason and you articulate and you express yourself on the battleground of ideas. You will be shunned, hated, ridiculed, and quite possibly harassed by any number of others — some of whom you were under the impression were your friends — but you will have stood up for a true and vital principle: a principle as rare as it is timeless.