Is America having second thoughts about free speech?

In place of the first view’s faith in the free market of ideas to sort out right from wrong, truth from falsehood, the more communitarian branch of the liberal tradition presumes a metaphor of illness and empowers those in positions of authority to contain pernicious ideas through a kind of public health measure of the mind. As I recently had occasion to argue, Albert Camus’ didactic novel The Plague is an important text for understanding how postwar liberals came to think of dangerous ideas as a kind of contagion that requires quarantine in order to be defeated.

What we’re seeing on multiple fronts today is the notable retreat of the first notion of free speech and simultaneous rise in the popularity of the second notion. I find that troubling, but not because it represents a break from the liberal tradition. It’s a move, instead, away from the libertarian tendency to valorize market-oriented thinking and toward an emphasis on the common dimension of social life.

The problem with such a shift is that the communitarian approach to speech regulation empowers certain people to make the determination of which ideas are permissible and which are worthy of restriction. That is and always will be a political decision.