Now, one must reasonably ask whether we would be a better country if we were more restrained. The philosopher Michael Sandel in particular has asserted that our freedoms are vindicated in our ability to restrain rather than indulge our urges. This is a fair point, and a correct one. In the manner and multitude of our self-expression, we are growing more childlike, not more mature. That failing, however, lies in our collective character, not in our respect for liberty.
I have said before that I am a near-absolutist on the subject of free speech. I defend the right of imbeciles to express themselves in ways that are offensive and wounding to people who have done nothing to deserve it. Naturally one would prefer to defend free speech in the name of such once-banned classics as “Ulysses” and “1984.” One would prefer to defend a free press that is ferreting out the Pentagon Papers.
Those opportunities rarely arise. If our culture instead produces offensive junk, then that is where the ramparts must be built — not because offensive junk is a positive good, but because the power to censor is far too dangerous to be placed in the hands of government.