Liberals' free-speech amnesia

Australian professor Robert Simpson, in a recent article at Quartz, also advocated for benevolent authority figures separating “good speech” from “bad speech.” After cursory nods to the value of the right to free expression unencumbered by government interference or violent mobs (“Free speech is important … However, once we extrapolate beyond the clear-cut cases, the question of what counts as free speech gets rather tricky”), Simpson argues for putting “free ‘speech’ as such to one side, and replace it with a series of more narrowly targeted expressive liberties.”

Like Baer and Dean, Simpson assumes that those in power will always be as right-thinking as he, and that if the price of squashing the Ann Coulters of the world is abandoning the principle of universal free speech so long as it doesn’t rise to direct threats or incitement to violence, well, that’s a price they’re willing to pay.

Erstwhile anti-war presidential candidates and distinguished professors should know better than to put their faith in authority when it comes to the competition of ideas. That they don’t shows how little faith they have in the ability of the “good” to beat the “bad.” Call me a hopeless optimist, but the value of robust free speech — especially the right to offend — has helped to facilitate the changing of minds regarding civil rights and has helped end or stop wars. That’s why free speech, and not well-meaning censorship, will continue to be perhaps our greatest bulwark to tyranny.

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