In a way liberalism is a lot like Peanuts’s Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown right before he kicks it. Liberals tend to play the role of both.
“Thought leaders” (to put it charitably) present the most illiberal ideas that actually reduce freedom (like Obamacare), but they package it as it’s savior (you have to vote for it), then when their
base of support low-information voters actually fall for it we all find out too late what it is we are actually getting (to find out what’s in it).
Now, one of their own is saying that defenders of the first amendment are “speech nuts.” One would think a speech nut is someone who thinks words on a teleprompter could slow “the rise of the oceans.”
Really though, what could possibly go wrong with The New Yorker’s writer Kelefa Sanneh’s argument here?
Speech nuts, like gun nuts, have amassed plenty of arguments, but they—we—are driven, too, by a shared sensibility that can seem irrational by European standards.
In the case of online harassment, that instinctive preference for “free speech” may already be shaping the kinds of discussions we have, possibly by discouraging the participation of women, racial and sexual minorities, and anyone else likely to be singled out for ad-hominem abuse. Some kinds of free speech really can be harmful, and people who want to defend it anyway should be willing to say so.
That is to say, it’s becoming obsolete. Could it be because the left is done taking over academia and the media? We don’t need free speech anymore. Now that they control two vital pillars of civilization, if liberals wanted our opinion they’ll just give it to us.
James Taranto wrote a great piece responding to this. He does a terrific job weighing this notion (this Reason article also does a thorough job destroying it), this probably being the money shot of the entire piece:
As vague as the idea of “fairness” is, it is at the heart of the rule of law. And here there is a crucial difference between a legal regime based on restricting government (free speech) and one based on empowering it (“hate speech”): The latter is far more amenable to abuse by people in authority.
Enforcing the law and prosecuting crimes—and this is as true of actual crimes as it would be of speech crimes—necessarily entails a substantial amount of discretion, if only because law-enforcement resources are finite. Even assuming a facially neutral hate-speech law could be written, it would be enforced in ways that reflect the political priorities of the powerful—just as, for example, the Obama IRS used ostensibly neutral speech regulations to persecute the administration’s critics.
Um…yup! For liberals that’s the point, the whole point, and nothing but the point.
At what point should we entertain the paradoxical vortex of protecting free speech by silencing those who use it to argue for it’s suppression?
I’m being facetious, but these are dangerous waters, and of course the left wants to enter them.