is the social justice left really abandoning free speech?

It’s a question I’ve played around with before. Generally, the response is something like “of course not, stop slandering us,” or whatever. But more and more often, I find that the answer from lefties I know in academia or online writing are answering “yes.” And that is, frankly, terrifying and a total betrayal of the fundamental principles we associate with human progress.

I say this in light of this depressing, maddening report about a UCSB professor who attacked an anti-abortion protest and stole one of their signs. She responded to the incident by saying that she had been triggered by the protesters. In the comments of Gawker, she’s attracted many, many defenders. Several of them have come right out and said that speech they find unpalatable  should be banned.

I wish this didn’t need to be said, but apparently it does: this is not OK. It is not OK to attack protesters. It is not OK to try to silence people whose views you don’t like. It’s immoral, and it cuts directly against the very human rights that are the foundation of feminism, the campaign against racism, and the campaign for gay rights. That this could be possibly in question among self-defined members of the left demonstrates how unhealthy the left has become. What’s more, it demonstrates the incredible lack of historical perspective among today’s social justice left. It is precisely because we have enjoyed the freedom of expression that feminism, the anti-racist movement, and the gay rights movement have made long and arduous progress. Had we lived in the world these commenters want to live in 50  years ago, there would be no feminism. And it’s particularly bizarre to endorse the end of free speech when it  comes to an  issue like abortion, where the public mood is very much in question, and where we are not at all guaranteed victory. If we get around to banning speech we don’t like, there’s a decent chance it’ll be abortion rights advocates like me who are silenced, not abortion foes. That’s the risk you run.

I know some people will assume I’m speaking to some sad fringe here. But I have been amazed at how mainstream these anti-free speech efforts have become. I have been amazed not just because of the immorality of trying to ban free though, free expression, and free assembly, or because these efforts reverse centuries of the assumed work of the left, but because of how easily this could backfire, in a world where our movements against sexism and racism and homophobia are still so fragile and contested. Ten years ago, the Republican party ran on a platform of opposition to gay marriage, and enjoyed enormous electoral success, and yet people trust the majority so deeply that they are willing to hand it the power to ban unpopular speech. My people: we are not nearly so popular or powerful as it can sometimes seem, when we engage with those we agree with online. Sometimes, the people who are arguing against free expression know that; they recount in terrible detail all the ways in which this remains a deeply unjust world. And yet when it comes to these kinds of political debates, they seem to forget, arguing always for a retrenchment back to the already convinced, and responding  angrily to the notion that it is our responsibility to argue publicly and effectively for what is right. It’s a central contradiction of this movement, and something I’ll never understand.

If we’re going to have this debate, then please, let’s have it. It would be very useful if people who are committed to social justice but opposed to rights of free expression would lay out their preferences directly and clearly. Who gets to define acceptable speech? How would laws against that speech be worded? Where does hate speech end and unpopular or controversial speech begin? How would these laws be enforced? How severe would the punishments be? Where would the right to express unpopular speech continue to exist? What level of force would the police be allowed to exercise in preventing unpopular speech? How much would the carceral state grow in response to these laws? What would be the long-term consequences of further aligning the social justice movement with the violent apparatus of the state? What is the potential for unforeseen consequences? What guarantee is there that the public won’t move to ban speech we on the left would like to express? Why do we need to ban hateful speech, when examples like the Westboro Baptist Church and gay rights demonstrate the capacity for free expression of hateful speech to result in progress?

All of these are natural and necessary questions that need to be answered by those who think that the solution to enduring inequalities and injustice is to ban speech they don’t like.

Update: Greetings to the conservatives who have found this post. I appreciate your readership. I hope you will also join me in defending the Fourth Amendment rights of black and Hispanic against unreasonable search and seizure, the rights to privacy and equal treatment under the law for Muslims, the privacy rights that protect a woman’s sexual and reproductive freedom, and the same free speech rights that are constrained when conservative students try to have liberal professors punished for their own political beliefs.


  1. Would this extend to things like shouting down controversial speakers at events or would you distinguish between physical violence/legal prohibitions, and non-violent boycotting?

    1. I think if a campus group invites a speaker to speak, and that invitation follows the protocols of that college, they have every right to expect that speech to happen without it being meaningfully impeded by the speech of others. The other students are free to plan a rebuttal, counter-speech, or protest that doesn’t prevent the free exchange of expression from others. My right to swing my elbow ends where your nose begins. I get that this gets complicated when we’re talking about competing speech acts but the ultimate goal should be meaningful expression. Efforts to shout people down are intended to halt meaningful expression.

      1. I guess I disagree with you on a crucial aspect: someone utilizing their right to speak freely and politically in public spaces should not be institutionally or coercively marginalized. BUT, someone who is invited by an institution (i.e. university), and being paid for their speech (or is simply being given private institutional space at no cost), I think members of that institutional community have some leeway to “occupy” that space for their own. Indeed, you could say that the originally-invited speaker has the right to hold their own counter-speech in public space.

        These issues are tangled and very important, so I would hope that you avoid the black-and-white political morality that you often critique in other contexts. “Speech” means many things, and occurs in many different social and institutional configurations.

        1. You express your position here in content-neutral terms. So I just want to be clear here. If Angela Davis is invited to speak at a university and paid for that speech, the White Supremacist Student Alliance should be allowed to “occupy” that space for their own?

        2. What purpose would they have for “occupying” that space, other than to attempt to silence speech they don’t think should be heard?

          And that silencing is OK as long as the silenced original speaker can mount some kind of exterior counter-counter-speech?

          What are you so afraid of when it comes letting someone speak?

  2. Ethan raises a good question. Some groups are getting a lot of mileage out of this footage, and frankly, they deserve it.

  3. This overstates the free-speech side of the argument in some crucial ways — it’s never been the case that there are absolutely no limits on speech, it’s always been a tense negotiation at the margins — but it’s certainly true that people on the left (and super-double-ultra-true that the anti-racist and anti-capitalist left(s)) benefit from free speech norms far more than they suffer under them. Now, of course, there’s still a lot to be argued over at the margins: I disagree with SCOTUS that money = speech; I think I disagree about Freddie about whether legitimate hate crime legislation is thinkable and I know he’s wrong when he says the only possible alternative to a fully open version of free speech is expansion of the carceral state; I think this post conflates “free speech” as a social norm and “free speech” as a legal category in ways that aren’t especially helpful to the debate. But the left absolutely messes with “free speech” at its peril. I can’t imagine the people on the left who look at the current situation and conclude “great, we’re in charge, let’s crush the opposition.”

    1. Yeah, there’s a lot to talk about, obviously. Do feel free to dig around in that Gawker comments thread. You’ll see who I’m talking about.

        1. Well I should add– as a grad student in the humanities, I’m not joking when I say that I interact with many people who don’t believe in a right to express opinions they see as hateful. And that definition of hateful is often expansive.

          1. What do you mean by “right”? With respect to what kind of prohibition? That is: do the people you are talking about want to use the law specifically to restrict the speech of others? Or are they wishing to impose other, extralegal consequences?

            I ask because I think absolutist views on freedom of speech rarely make sense outside the context of legal sanctions per se. If I submit an article to a journal and the journal declines to publish it because it’s terrible, they haven’t infringed on anything I can think of as a right. If someone says something bigoted and childish on Twitter, I am not infringing on any right they possess if I direct vitriol at them in response. (Of course, we may both be violating other principles, like good manners or common sense.) I am not a libertarian per se (I identify more with the left, as you do) but I appreciate Popehat’s writings on this topic and found them to clarify my thinking.

          2. Erin, if you respond to someone on Twitter, you are exercising your own speech. But if you try to get that person’s Twitter account canceled, then you are trying to silence that person. There is a significant difference between the two, and people who try to prevent a speech from being heard, rather than simply offering their own viewpoints, fall into the latter category.

          3. DJ1706, I agree, I see that difference. But I don’t think it follows that all such appeals are inappropriate, and I think there is a continuum between the two. Some points along that continuum might be:

            @jerk I think you are wrong.
            @jerk Hey, cut it out.
            @jerk That offends me and you’d better stop it and apologize.
            .@jerk Hey everybody, tell jerk he is a jerk!
            .@jerk Do you talk to your @employer with that mouth?
            (block/report @jerk)

            Worse yet, I don’t think we can draw any sensible lines here between good and bad behavior that are neutral to content and speaker identity, as the law for the most part must be. “Hey @employer, @jerk voted for #embarrassingcandidate” is out of line, but how about “Hey @employer, @jerk called me a racial epithet in an email pertaining to official company business”? I’d argue that’s an okay kind of silencing.

            We enforce social consequences for disapproved speech acts all the time, constantly, and I think any policy like “never silence anyone, anywhere” falls apart on close scrutiny. Loud moviegoers are shushed, would-be novelists are rejected, insulting houseguests are asked to leave; all of these things deprive speakers of a platform, but the thing is, a platform is often not a thing anyone has a right to. Even the much-vaunted principle of academic freedom is limited in that it only applies to specific people (who have been heavily filtered on the basis of their perceived likelihood of saying something worthwhile) in specific contexts (professors get substantial latitude in writing their syllabi, but still don’t get to bring in a megaphone and shout over the president of the faculty Senate). Most of the time, saying stuff out loud has a range of natural social consequences. And that’s as it should be. If you call my daughter a whore, I don’t want the guys with the guns to toss you in jail, but you’re sure as hell not coming over for Sunday supper.

        2. Erin, you’re talking about just plain rude and boorish behavior, which of course should be socially sanctioned. But that’s a far different thing from shouting down a speaker you disagree with, or trying to get the speech canceled.

          1. What is the goal of socially sanctioning irritating speech, if not to discourage it?

          2. There’s a difference between being rude and boorish, which is a behavior, and a manner of expression, and the idea being expressed. You appear to be saying that certain ideas are so inherently rude that they should be censored, shut down, not allowed to be even stated.

            That strikes me as being the type of thinking deBoer referenced, among “people who don’t believe in a right to express opinions they see as hateful. And that definition of hateful is often expansive.”

            There is no idea which is so harmful that it should be banned from being expressed. There is bad behavior, but that’s behavior, not an idea. Ideas should be countered with other ideas, not cut off at the knees before they’re even spoken.

            Be rest assured, Erin, that no matter what ideas you embrace, somebody, somewhere, finds some of them offensive enough to shut you down, too, and your only recourse in the world you’re describing is to be among the majority opinion. That is the very opposite of, and anathema to, the whole reason for freedom of speech.

          3. There is a critical thing you seem to be eliding. What does “banned” mean? If we are talking about using the power of the law, I agree with you: the law should ban very little. I donate to the ACLU monthly; when they put that money to use defending the right of Neo-Nazis to march, I am glad for it. I think we are allies on that.

            But sometimes — and I cannot tell whether Freddie is among these; I have asked but at the time of my writing this he has not seen fit to answer — sometimes people mean something more; they mean to lump in with “banning speech” those acts of counter-speech (by non-governmental entities) that have teeth. I put in this basket: “lynch mobs” on Twitter (I find the term distasteful but that is what people call them), companies firing employees who say embarrassing things, organizations putting limits on what can be said in their forums. I do not say that these kinds of counterspeech are always good policy, or intellectually admirable; I do say that an absolutist principle against them makes absolutely no sense to me. Take conference codes of conduct, for instance, which some object to on grounds pertaining to freedom of speech. It is not actually revolutionary for professional organizations to put limits on what their speakers may say: it is *the norm already*. This is why presentations are typically reviewed in some fashion, however cursory the review: I do not actually have anything like a right to stand up at my professional meeting and spend twenty minutes yammering about something that is not of interest to that professional audience. Given that, I can’t see why it is *categorically* wrong for a professional group to put other limits on what may be said, via platforms they sponsor, on the basis of professional norms (e.g. no pictures intended to intimidate women or minorities, say). Restrictions of this form may of course be immoral in specific! I merely claim that it is not enough, when the disruption involves a private group deciding its resources are not to be used in a certain way, to invoke freedom of speech as an absolute good. In this case a positive argument for the contested speech is needed.

          4. Erin (don’t know why I can’t reply to you directly), when you are purposely seeking to silence someone else — not criticizing them, not ending your association with them as a consequence of their having said it, but trying to prevent it from ever having been said — then you are stifling free speech, whether you are a legal authority or not.

            As I said, you may find silencing someone else — shouting them down, “occupying” the speaking space, body-jumping the stage where they’re speaking, physically intimidating them from appearing to speak — justifiable under what you consider “hate speech” or “offensiveness” or somesuch, but then, so did the Westboro Baptist Church. Do you want your ability to express ideas governed by them? Because the way you describe it, you want to be in their position, only from a different point of view. Splendid if you’re in the majority. Not so nice if you’re not.

            deBoer did touch on all of this, especially the part about it not being such a sure thing that you ARE in that majority.

          5. There is a limit to nesting on this blogging software — that’s why we can’t reply to each other directly.

            I’m not sure where you got the idea that I support any of the things you describe. I think that is all bad behavior. I don’t think it should be illegal (except where it verges into assault), but I think it should be socially sanctioned in some fashion — much like I don’t think it should be illegal to say racist things, but I do think it’s appropriate that there be social consequences to having said them. In fact I think it is reasonable for private entities to make rules of conduct that prohibit the kinds of speech you mention — shouting down a speaker, physically impeding a discussion, etc. I would argue that those rules are, in fact, themselves limits on speech, and that they are okay!

            What I am pushing back on is a notion that no speech must ever be prevented, because it is a sloppy idea that has very little connection with the world as I experience it. Every time I hang up on a telemarketer, I am preventing speech! Every time one of my papers is rejected from a scientific journal, or only accepted on the condition that I make certain revisions, the reviewers and editors are restricting my speech. Every time one of my teachers redirects a question by saying “Come see me after class,” she is shutting down someone’s speech. And that is okay! It is okay to tell someone “you cannot say that thing here, on my property.” There is no legal principle that the first person to start speaking gets to hold the microphone until Judgment Day.

            I am fine with a statement that there should be almost no limits on speech in a public square. We do get into tricky territory if everything is privately owned — and you can make the argument that that’s the case with the internet now, or could imaginably be. For instance my stance claims that it is permissible for Amazon to decide it doesn’t want to sell a book on the basis of controversial content — and I think that’s true — but leaves unanswered the question of what happens to ideas if Amazon is the only bookseller out there. I won’t argue that this isn’t a problem. But I think “Amazon ought to be required to carry everything” is unsustainable because there is already, I presume, some more prosaic filtering going on that nobody but the rejected themselves would object to. I encourage you to try to draft a law that mandates that Amazon must carry books on, I don’t know, why being anorexic is a great idea, but still permits it to refuse to carry someone’s embarrassingly ungrammatical Harry Potter fan fiction. When I say “freedom of speech is not absolute,” it is not the Fred Phelpses of the world I am thinking of. It is the authors of bad Harry Potter fan fiction.

          6. I honestly don’t think it’s too tough of a concept — if someone has a legitimate platform for speech, and someone tries to prevent the speech from happening because they don’t like what’s being said, then that’s anathema to the concept of freedom of speech.

            If you are seeking to use someone else’s venue and they deny you, that’s not what I’m referring to.

            The difference between the situations could not be more stark, and I wouldn’t think too troubling to see.

          7. Yes! Now we are not talking past each other.

            Here is why I don’t think this is as trivial a problem as you do: (1) whoever has direct control over a platform is doing some filtering of views by inviting some people and not others to use the platform, and this filtering is not only appropriate, but inevitable; (2) very often, the person with direct control is exercising it on behalf of a larger community of stakeholders. Representation of this type is imperfect, and community members can be legitimately irritated when someone gets through the filter who shouldn’t have. That’s what’s going on when, say, people protest a campus speaker: they are saying to the people who organized the lecture, “you did not properly represent this community and you are giving our legitimacy to views that ought not have it.” Like any protest I think there are better and worse ways of going about it. It’s hard for me to imagine a case where I would feel my best choice of action was to boo a speaker on a stage, but it’s not as hard to imagine a case where I might make a public statement that I thought the choice of speaker was radically inappropriate and encouraged others to boycott the event, or a case where I might be so enraged that I would seek to have my representative removed from that position of authority. These are less direct means of silencing a viewpoint, but make no mistake, they are still an attempt to tell someone, “you cannot say that thing here.”

          8. When did I ever say there was a “trivial” problem?

            Here’s what’s troubling, Erin:

            “and community members can be legitimately irritated when someone gets through the filter who shouldn’t have. ”

            Who “shouldn’t have,” on what basis?

            “they are saying to the people who organized the lecture, ‘you did not properly represent this community and you are giving our legitimacy to views that ought not have it.'”

            So, you don’t even want to HEAR views you don’t agree with? Even hearing someone out is “legitimizing” views?

            And again, on what basis do you decide those views are illegitimate?

            “These are less direct means of silencing a viewpoint, but make no mistake, they are still an attempt to tell someone, “you cannot say that thing here.”

            Yes, they are, and that’s what I’ve been talking about all through this exchange, which in your previous post you pretty much denied was your view.

            This justification is disturbing, and yes, it’s exactly what deBoer is talking about. Aside from the very practical reasons for not doing that I mentioned above — it can easily be turned around on you or things you believe in — how do people come to an understanding if they refuse to listen to each other?

            If you can’t even listen to a point of view without accepting it, which seems to be the case if you think merely allowing someone to speak “legitimizes” a point of view, then that’s a problem. But it’s not a problem with free speech or the other speaker.

          9. This is getting heated and I feel compelled to say I really don’t think I am the enemy you think I am. Some of my opinions are minority opinions. Some of them are probably crazy fringe opinions — nobody’s going to hire me to write an opinion column, that’s for sure. I don’t particularly like echo chambers, and yes, I can imagine many cases in which I would roll my eyes at students protesting a lecture on my campus, or even join up in some counter-counter-speech (or whatever; like this software, my brain is not meant for infinite nesting). I think having access to variety of ideas is a great thing, and it matters to me. I just don’t think it is the *only* good thing out there.

            Inviting a speaker to speak in a particular context does legitimize their view, to an extent that varies with the context. In academia, published papers, invited talks, postdocs and professorships, these things are the currency of that world, and each constitutes a platform. When a journal publishes your paper, they are not saying “we agree with this 100%.” What they are saying is, “We believe this meets the standards our community has set for what constitutes scholarship in this area.” I have the sense that you view these types of standards as irrelevant to your interests, but to me they are the central problem. I think that your view is subject to an extreme form of sampling bias: you are not seeing the enormous amount of restriction of speech that happens out of your view in deciding who to offer a platform to in the first place. Your view seems to me equivalent to saying that, by definition, whoever the lecture committee invites to use a platform has a right to that platform, and nobody else does. I think that the high profile cases of audience protest that come to mind, of Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia or whatever, are edge cases, and that people who think about what freedom of speech means without thinking about all the speech that get excluded before anyone shows up with picket signs are getting a very distorted picture.

            For me, how much to worry about the legitimacy offered to a speaker by a given platform is mostly dependent on how much legitimacy is tied to that platform. Let’s make this concrete. My department has a variety of invited talks that happen over the course of a year, of varying levels of import, ranging frm informal talks by applied scientists looking for statistical advice to highly formal talks by statisticians looking for a job. Some time ago, an informal talk was given by a surprising person, a scientist advocating a minority viewpoint on a controversial topic that is often in the news these days. When I saw this, I felt skeptical but very glad I had the opportunity to hear him out — oh good, I thought, now I’ll get to have my viewpoint challenged, and maybe I will learn something that will make me roll my eyes less at the grocery store. Unfortunately the talk was extremely terrible and only reinforced my biases: just about every “how to lie with statistics” trope was in play. Graphs showing decades-old data were extrapolated to the present day with no comment on recent data; subject-change sleight-of-hand was used to draw implications that did not follow from even the old data, and audience questions on that point were answered with further subject changes. It was a political talk under another name. After the talk I felt rather nettled that this person had made it through the filter: he was not there to do science and he was definitely not there to obtain statistical advice. Still, I didn’t think the experience was without value: some of us will find ourselves working for such people some day, and it is good practice for students to encounter them before we are drawing pay from them. (I think we did a great job grilling him, honestly.) But if this type of guest were the only type of guest we ever had, I would stop going to this lecture series; and if this had been a job talk, I would be extremely worried for the department, and would probably write a letter to the search committee strongly urging them to find another candidate. This man absolutely deserves to seek a venue for his views! Geocities comes to mind. My living room is not such a venue, and in my opinion my department is also not a good fit.

            The question of who gets to decide does not have a simple answer. In principle, the community sets the standards. In practice, disproportionate weight is likely to be given to 1) loud people, 2) people with money, 3) people who took the time to serve on the relevant committee, and 4) people whose ideas are practical to implement. I will not argue with you on these things: this can produce difficult, ugly results; it can restrict diversity of ideas to the ultimate detriment of a community; and no matter what you do it is likely to be seen by somebody as unfair. Yes! That is all true. The exclusion of viewpoints is not my utopia. I simply don’t think it can be avoided in an intellectually honest way.

          10. Why do people take disagreement as anger, or “heat”? That’s one of the oddities of the Internet which I haven’t figured out.

            ” I have the sense that you view these types of standards as irrelevant to your interests”

            I’m not even sure what that means — what do you think my “interests” are?

            “Your view seems to me equivalent to saying that, by definition, whoever the lecture committee invites to use a platform has a right to that platform, and nobody else does”

            At the time the platform is being used by the person invited, it’s their right to speak unmolested. It’s your right to respond with whatever counter-speech you wish, but a respect for the freedom of expression does require you to let the person speak. If you don’t (and you say you did, at least in that one case), then you’re just a bully who doesn’t want to hear things you don’t like. I don’t know how that would make you better than whomever it is you’re trying to silence.

            The very fact that you DO somehow think “legitimacy” of a point of view is a proper ground for attempting to silence it is what’s troubling. Not arguing against it, not presenting a different point of view, not offering more speech containing more “agreeable” ideas, but actually trying to silence it.

            There are people who use the word “diversity” as a mantra. What is the value of diversity? Different perspectives. Those who would preach “diversity” yet seek to limit the expression of ideas they don’t think are “legitimate” don’t really believe in diversity. Is that you? I don’t know; you haven’t said enough to know. But you do seem amenable to the idea of controlling what is and isn’t considered “legitimate” viewpoints in an academic setting. Like I said, fun and games while you’re in the majority view; not so fun when you’re not.

            Suggestion — instead of trying to stop someone from speaking, why not let them talk to an empty auditorium? That’s far more effective than trying to shout them down or protesting them.

            Attempting to silence someone strikes me as much more of a FEAR that their ideas might catch on than a principled disagreement. Liberty doesn’t do well when people are motivated by fear.

          11. I think I interpreted your response as heated because you kept drawing the conversation to my views being majority views (which they are sometimes and not other times; naturally the times when I am a minority burn brighter in my mind). Glad if I misinterpreted!

            Why not let any speaker speak to an empty auditorium? Because funds, time, venues, and attention are all limited. My department simply can’t extend to every person on the planet a ninety-minute session in which to air their views. When we have student socials we can have tea, but we have to bring our own teabags! Given that our resources are limited, we have to prioritize. Some number of dud speakers in a semester is a fine price to pay for hearing a variety of viewpoints — this one made a good cautionary tale, as I mentioned, and also makes a funny story — but if all the speakers are bad, there is a problem.

            And I think that if some important viewpoint is routinely excluded by the people who are making the immediate decisions, that is also a problem! A department with which I was once associated had this type of problem: there were two broad schools of thought in my particular research area, and we hired exclusively from one of those. I felt the whole time I was in that degree program that I was not getting a true picture of that research area, and it annoyed me.

            I think we are actually in agreement on the point that once a speaker has been invited, he has some right to occupy that space unmolested. This is not an inviolable right, but the burden for evicting him ought to be really, really high, something much worse than the kook I described. But I really don’t see why I, as a member of this community, shouldn’t get some input on the front end into who we invite to talk to us. I don’t demand that I be the sole arbiter of the decision! I’m not crazy. But I *am* a stakeholder and it is, in a very small way, my living room too.

          12. “Why not let any speaker speak to an empty auditorium? Because funds, time, venues, and attention are all limited. ”

            I didn’t ask that. What I asked wasn’t about who to choose to invite. What I asked was about someone already invited. The choice was between letting someone speak to an empty auditorium, or protesting, shouting down, and attempting to keep the speaker from speaking. Either way, the same resources are “wasted.” But if you let them speak and no one attends, that’s certainly a more effective message than bullying the speaker. And bullying the speaker will have the unintended consequence of having people rally behind the speaker (not to mention the stigma of creating an anti-academic atmosphere). An empty auditorium won’t do that.

            “I think we are actually in agreement on the point that once a speaker has been invited, he has some right to occupy that space unmolested.”

            No, I didn’t say that, either. I didn’t say “some right.” I said “the right.” I didn’t hedge.

            “This is not an inviolable right, but the burden for evicting him ought to be really, really high, something much worse than the kook I described. ”

            Describe the burden. When, specifically, is it appropriate to march in and deny the speaker the chance to speak? You certainly seem open to the idea that it could and perhaps should be based on what the speaker has to say, rather than the manner in which he says it.

            It continues to be disturbing that a member of academia would be open to the idea of content-based suppression of speech. Academia is about free thought and the discussion of ideas openly. It’s supposed to be, anyway.

            “But I really don’t see why I, as a member of this community, shouldn’t get some input on the front end into who we invite to talk to us.”

            I never said you shouldn’t, when it’s your department. You aren’t obliged to invite anyone in particular to speak. But everything I’ve said is about denying someone their chance to speak at the time of the speech, and it’s what you were referring to earlier, too. And you still are, when you say someone who’s already been invited only has “some right” to speak.

          13. I would argue that the speaker can be stopped when there is an emergency; when he has exceeded his time allotment; perhaps when he begins to use the stage to engage in some variety of verbal abuse very distant from the reason he was invited (say he was invited to speak to a classroom about some specific topic on the syllabus, but spends the time trying to get people to join his pyramid scheme). His right to speak in that space at that time is conditional. I am not arguing that it is appropriate for him to be shouted off the stage by the audience, and I tried to make that clear before. I believe audience members owe him whatever good manners are in that space. But he absolutely does not own the space, and he can be removed from it if he is not holding up his end of the bargain. I would not take responsibility for removal if I were not the moderator — but I would expect the moderator to be on it.

            What I said I can imagine myself doing is (1) boycotting a speech and encouraging others to do so (the empty auditorium you mention would be a goal of this); (2) attempting to influence the selection of future speakers in some way, by kicking up a stink about this particular talk and attempting to boot the person in charge of the lecture series if absolutely necessary (note, I have never done anything like this, I just think it is not outside the realm of possibility). I can’t tell whether you find this sort of behavior permissible or not. On the one hand you agree with me that it is also a kind of silencing. On the other hand you say that you aren’t condemning filters that are put in place after the talk or before the next one. So I am not sure where that puts me on your list of enemies of intellectual freedom!

            Next time you encounter a speaker lineup for some venue, I encourage you to think about it critically: What viewpoints are here, and what viewpoints are missing? Who made the decision on what to include? Are the missing ones missing because of prejudice, or professional judgment, or simple inattention, and is their absence a problem? I don’t think there is one single answer to that last question. I think it is an extremely hard question that is necessarily informed by the culture of the local community. And I think without considering it, discussions about freedom of speech make very little sense.

          14. Again, you’re talking about behavior, not actual speech, and you’re giving examples well outside the scope of this discussion. No one’s talking about (legitimate) fire alarms being an untoward limitation to to the right to speak. (Though purposely PULLING a fire alarm to stop a speech would be a rather insipid, and dangerous and illegal, way to shut down a speech.) It’s about exactly what I said many times — trying to impede, shut down, prevent, someone from exercising their right to say what they came to say.

            I also didn’t really ask what you personally would do. I asked where you see the limitations as being.

            I will say that you appear to have shifted your position from where it was originally — the acceptance of at least some kind of prevention of speech you find “illegitimate,” not as a means of selecting who to invite, but actually at the point of speech once invited — to something I can be more in agreement with.

          15. I realized what I think is actually the biggest gulf and the reason I keep pursuing this. I think in practice my limits on what is an appropriate type of protest look very much like yours do. But I do not think they are about freedom of speech — I think they are about good manners. The point about sampling bias means a lot to me: for good or ill, there is an enormous amount of viewpoint filtering that goes on on a university campus, and to construe the culture of academia as being primarily about freedom of expression misses the mark in a serious, and I fear far too self-flattering, way.

            Or, put another way — I can think about this in terms of freedom of speech without twitching, but I would say that it is not the freedom of speech of the *speaker* that is at issue. The speaker is a guest, only there as part of a filtering process, the entire point of which is to exclude potential speakers on the basis of content. (There is a reason Immunology hasn’t invited Jenny McCarthy to do grand rounds.) So I think it is misleading to think of a speaker as having any kind of free speech right independent of the parameters of the invitation. The “speech” that ought to be free is that of members of the campus community to invite the speakers they wish to hear. A club inviting guests to campus to promote or discuss a certain view or idea can be construed as an extension of club members’ free speech rights. Looked at from that perspective, perhaps we are in agreement. As a campus community member opposed to the speaker, free speech rights also apply to me and I deserve to have my viewpoint considered by the inviting authority, but voicing my objection in a rude way will have consequences that may include me being kicked out of the community. As a nonmember of the community my free speech right is limited to getting to bitch and moan about the unfairness of it all (a) at home or (b) on public property without disturbing the peace. I can yell all I want that (e.g.) Jenny McCarthy’s brilliance is being censored but the tears the university will cry for me will be very small indeed.

            Does that make more sense?

          16. Erin, why do you keep looking for all these extraneous issues?

            The “parameters” of the invitation include the speaker saying what he came to say.

            Even as such, the “parameters” are set by the invitation, not by some crowd or individual who objects to the content of the speech as “illegitimate.”

            I really do not understand the impulse of someone to declare an idea “illegitimate” and then try to prevent the idea from being expressed. As I said earlier, the only motivation that could come from is fear — fear that the idea might find agreement. And the impulse to squash it because of that is totalitarian.

          17. Because to my mind these issues are not extraneous at all — they are central to understanding what the academy is about.

            I think it’s clear that I won’t persuade you of this, however, and that’s fine of course. I thank you for a discussion that has at least clarified for me what it is I am reacting to, when discussions about free speech in academia rub me the wrong way.

          18. They’re extraneous to the actual issues of free speech. When you’re talking about going beyond time allotments, requiring speakers to vacate if there’s a fire alarm, etc., you’re just talking about practical concerns that no one would argue are free speech issues.

            I also appreciate your willingness to discuss this rationally and cordially.

    2. I think the fact that you didn’t answer any of the questions at the end of the post says a lot about how weak arguments for value based restrictions on speech really are.

      1. Well, I didn’t answer them because I mostly agree with Freddie. But most of those rhetorical questions are coming from a somewhat disingenuous place precisely because laws that govern speech already exist and it hasn’t been the end of free discourse as we know it.

        1. How are they disingenuous? You’re probably right, that a handful of laws here and there are unlikely in themselves to destroy free speech as we know it but they do set precedents which over time are harmful. There are plenty of examples out there of hate speech and libel laws in Europe leading to negative outcomes for open discourse.

          Whoever ends up policing it is always going to have to make value judgments about content which in turn always leads to arbitrariness, hypocrisy, and censorship of certain ideas. Even with the best of intentions its a very dangerous path to start down.

  4. This is somewhat impressionistic, but I would say that the left today, including the campus left, is far more absolutist in its defense of free speech than the left has been historically. There’s of course a long tradition on the left of dismissing free speech and other rights as just so many bourgeois liberties. You also have a tradition on the left of authoritarian parties like the CP having nearly little tolerance for internal dissent, whatever their stance might have been vis-a-vis the state. But most important, I’d say, is that between the late 60s and mid 1980s, you had a flourishing intellectual tradition on the left of critiquing the absolutist stance on freedom of speech. Everything from Herbert Marcuse’s notion of repressive tolerance — in fact, he, Barrington Moore, and Robert Paul Wolff wrote a famous and quite interesting book called “The Critique of Pure Tolerance” — to Catharine MacKinnon’s extremely interesting critique of porn (and even more interesting work “Only Words”), which had a fairly big impact on more left-liberal theorists like Owen Fiss, who pursued some version of her arguments in The Irony of Free Speech. I think for various reasons the left today is far less interested in pursuing these sorts of arguments, both in theory and in practice, than it used to be.

      1. Which means that you’ve reached the NYT level of trend-spotting 🙂

        “I got into a debate with a fellow campus lefty last year. He was arguing that we need to react to sexism/racism/homophobia/etc. by “excluding it from every arena,” not by debating it. I said to him that, setting aside the most important issue of censorship, it was incredible to me that he thought we had that kind of power— we’re here in rural Indiana, surrounded by hundreds of miles of God country. ”

        Note that another term which you could have better used was ‘an ignorant college student being an ignorant fool’. Not the first, not the last, and a trend only in that.

        (See the origin of ‘sophomore’)

    1. In trying to compare current circumstances to, say, the 1960s, I wouldn’t rely on impressions. But I will grant you that, at least in its early 1970s manifestation (which I treat as still part of the ’60s), SDS was flagrantly against free speech, attempting at Harvard to shut down both an anti-war teach-in chaired by Michael Walzer (unsuccessfully) and a pro-war teach-in (organized, if I recall correctly, by Elliott Abrams, among others) (successfully) because neither was for the victory of the NLF/North Vietnam.

      Regarding “The Critique of Pure Tolerance,” my recollection (my copy is at home) is that the book was a collection of papers/chapters, one from each author, rather than a jointly-authored book.

  5. I once did something like this, and it’s stayed with me ever since.

    I was fresh out of high school and a group was protesting against Bush. As usual with people who actively protested him, their messages were a bit histrionic, and one of them displayed a swastika in association with Bush’s name.

    As a Jew, I was extremely offended. I was no fan of Bush then or now, but his policies can hardly be compared to the instigation of World War II or the Final Solution, and I felt that the comparison cheapened the deaths of my people. I spoke to the protestor about it, but he didn’t seem to care, and somehow I convinced myself to take a Sharpie and try to scribble out the swastika.

    Even before I did it, I knew it was wrong, and after, I felt ashamed of myself. It was a violation of my own principles to sate my anger. It’s one of the few things I’ve ever done that I don’t feel I can excuse or justify; all I can really say in my defense is that I would never do it again.

    I can’t imagine doing something like that and, afterwards, declaring that it was my right.

  6. Freddie,

    Let me put forward an argument, in a nice way, to alter your rhetorical stance:

    “What’s more, it demonstrates the incredible lack of historical perspective among today’s social justice left. It is precisely because we have enjoyed the freedom of expression that feminism, the anti-racist movement, and the gay rights movement have made long and arduous progress. Had we lived in the world these commenters want to live in 50 years ago, there would be no feminism. And it’s particularly bizarre to endorse the end of free speech when it comes to an issue like abortion, where the public mood is very much in question, and where we are not at all guaranteed victory.”

    YES, free speech is 100% absolutely necessary.

    But the real reason we have gay marriage and drug legalization, and that we’re seeing a shift towards the pro-life side is…


    Free speech without the Internet and you still don’t have the awe inspiring movement of culture that we are witnessing.

    Basic power law: The Internet is 80% of action. The Free Speech thing is 20%.

    I mention this bc it gets to something fundamental:

    The Internet is delivering the things that government that political action (government, laws – including free speech) been unable to deliver.

    And you are a statist, a government guy, and the real danger fromt he left isn’t that it forgets how important the 20% free Speech thing is.

    The real danger is the left forgets the INTERNET IS WHAT THEY OWE THEIR THANKS TOO.

    It’s not just Snowden. It’s the Evgeny Morozov stuff always looking for ways the uber-technologists are going to ruin the statists handle on things.

    And we are.

    That is the trade.

    We deliver the 80% to move the culture forward fast, for better or worse (I too am wildly pro-choce, but I bank on artificial womb tech solving), and the trade is that government has to be told by the people we are saving (the social justice left) that they have to let states rights and commerce work their magic.

    We got this.

    Again, “free speech” without the Internet being run by the guys the way the Internet has been run by us so far?

    Is basically worthless.

    1. There was a tremendous amount of social change, going in many directions, facilitated by free speech long before there was any Internet. If you have no significant memory of the world before the Web, I can sort of see how you would think the Internet is indispensable to free speech, but it isn’t. It’s a powerful tool, no doubt — but it’s also one which can be detrimental to free speech as well.

  7. I find myself increasingly put off by the “social justice left,” not because I necessarily disagree with their goals, but because the internet has spawned a cottage industry of professional offense-takers, who scour the news for anything, ANYTHING, that could possibly offend somebody who’s a member of a minority group. Anyone unlucky enough be caught in the crosshairs is bombarded with hate mail, death threats, and people attempting to damage them professionally or reputationally. I think it’s stifling to free speech. I certainly have some opinions that I think are reasonable but would probably land me on some s**tlist or another.

    For the record I’m very aware that this also occurs in the other direction. For example, the stories I’ve read about people fighting against revenge porn or the abuse that the Duke University porn star has taken are very disturbing. I suspect the lesson is that the internet just brings out the worst in us and sadly gives us a platform to just unleash our basist instincts on others anonymously.

    1. Basest instincts? That is a strange word when you try to spell it. At least I didn’t say bassist instincts. I’m not musically inclined.

  8. Yes, what Corey Robin said is exactly right. During much of the 60’s through 90’s, both the Buckley right and the neoconservatives seemed far more comfortable with free speech than the Left– confident that if their ideas were heard, they would break through what was then perceived as dominant, nearly all pervasive, liberal discourse. Disdain for free speech stretched from communist dismissiveness to anti-racist, anti-sexist “political correctness”–which is still very much alive today. I suspect that the only group in America which regularly has trouble hiring a hotel to hold meetings –because of left wing threats– is the white separatist and racist American Renaissance. But disdain for free speech almost always a sign of political weakness– so it’s encouraging that the Israel Lobby feels the need to try to stamp out dissident Hillel chapters. And the UCSB lady is probably uncomfortably aware that pro-life sentiment is stronger among the young than any other “conservative” or “reactionary” social issue point of view.

    1. Scott,

      You are flat out wrong about the pro-Israel side being the censorious one. Maybe in the narrow world of conservative punditry, but not in the broader culture. Just witness the shouting down of Michael Oren, or the behavior of the BDS movement during the UCLA debates, intellectual thuggery at its finest.

      Some conservative publications do stifle criticism of Israel, but they stifle all sorts of opinions. They stifle criticism of the religious right for example. How many conservative publications would publish an editorial arguing that we should nationalize key industries? And the stifling goes both ways. Would The American Conservative publish pro-Israel articles?

      I somewhat dislike the stifling; however, the stifling makes some sense, even if one doesn’t agree with it. The anti-Israel position, in the year 2014, cannot be described as conservative in any meaningful sense of that word. Israel exists, and imposing a solution that amounted to the de-facto abolition of Israel would not be conservative in anyway. Would The Nation magazine publish an article written by a libertarian arguing for a super minimal state? They wouldn’t publish an article that violates the entire purpose of the publication.

      Also, the right is already quite divided, opening up the Israel issue would just create more conflict. Very few conservatives sympathize with BDS, and a nasty fight over Israel would impair conservatives ability to unite behind other issues.

      I disagree with these justifications, but they have merit, particularly when you consider how outnumbered conservatives are. Mainstream publications see it this way: let sleeping dogs lie, and you have to admit they have a point.

  9. “… the very human rights that are the foundation of feminism, the campaign against racism, and the campaign for gay rights. … It is precisely because we have enjoyed the freedom of expression that feminism, the anti-racist movement, and the gay rights movement have made long and arduous progress.”

    Indeed, phrases like “human rights” and “freedom of expression” (not to mention “progress”) have been very useful to progressivism (the left) over the years. It would be a mistake to assume that this means that progressives believe in human rights (whatever those are) and freedom of expression.

    Here is a good example of what I mean:

    “I champion civil liberty as the best of the non-violent means of building the power on which workers’ rule must be based. If I aid the reactionaries to get free speech now and then, … it is only because those liberties help to create a more hospitable atmosphere for working class liberties. …

    “When that power of the working class is once achieved, as it has been only in the Soviet Union, I am for maintaining it by any means whatever. Dictatorship is the obvious means in a world of enemies, at home and abroad.”

    That was Roger Nash Baldwin writing in 1934. Who was Roger Nash Baldwin? Co-founder of the ACLU. Food for thought.

  10. The pendulum can swing both ways which should cause enormous alarm.

    I was at UCSB when the same professor in question, Mireille Miller-Young, was arrested during an anti-war rally for crossing a police line that blocked traffic on the freeway leading into campus. During those years when an anti-war presence was active on campus, the UCSB College Republicans simultaneously tried to curb protests as well as displays posted in the walkway commons against the war or against torture (Gitmo, Abu Ghraib) with the contention it offended members of the ROTC program and more importantly triggered PTSD of returning veteran students (a few were active in College Republicans) and that the campus administration would have to act to ensure the safety of these students. The administration did not act on their requests.

    Fast forward almost a decade and you have this incident in question where the outpouring support behind Miller-Young is calling for the presence of pro-life or anti-gay groups on campus like Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust to be prohibited – arguing it’s a responsibility of campus safety and that it triggers students. Even so far as Miller-Young defends her actions by saying she was being personally triggered. I’ve even seen proponents for her side take on glaring contradictions, both dismissing free speech because it’s built upon a historically discriminatory legal system (calling the bill of rights racist, sexist, etc etc) … but then a breath later citing Oliver Wendell Holmes on why it should be curbed. It’s a dismissal of institutional power while simultaneously calling upon institutions to act on their behalf.

    What the social justice left is doing is not necessarily new or of their own creation. But they’ve expanded the tautology of so-called justice to an almost impossible spread of contestable issues or so-called microagressions. It’s the only way to be heard by the institution. UCSB recently passed a resolution requiring all classroom material to contain trigger warnings that are to the point of trivializing the actual trauma.

    And the problem is a question of in whose hands do these tools land? Again at UCSB, Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League stormed on campus to demand a professor be fired for juxtaposing images of the siege of Gaza/Operation Cast Lead with Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Students felt unsafe, claimed to have been emotionally triggered and violated by the class material and as a result the campus had to resolve a question of academic freedom.

    As Corey Robin has pointed out, maybe in the past the left had a more dismissive approach to speech and liberties but that entire debate doesn’t even seem recognizable in this current “social justice warrior” crowd which has moral and issue policing grounded in more recognizable historical strands like obscenity or sacrilege. And as we’ve seen in the past when institutions are called upon to make these determinations, they take on frameworks like Potter Stewart’s famous “know it when I see it” approach. And as these questions get asked, demands are made and the social justice lexicon is more known, you better believe conservatives and or reactionaries alike are already licking their chops at exploiting it to their gain.

  11. The woman in question acted against the same forces that have criminalized pregnancy in many states, attacked public reproductive health funding in the same, and assassinated abortion doctors. The asymmetry of violence is striking, and I do not think a stolen sign and scratched person indicate a troubling trend of stifling free speech on the part of the left.

    1. “The woman in question acted against the same forces that have criminalized pregnancy in many states, attacked public reproductive health funding in the same, and assassinated abortion doctors.” (Bjorn)

      Spoken like a true Collectivist! That teenager protesting abortion was not a person with the right to speak her mind in public without being assaulted… Oh, no. She was part of “forces.”

      And where exactly is pregnancy a crime?

  12. This is a great post, really thought provoking and eye opening. I’ve had a few internet convos w/self-identified Lefties about this, and I came across one situation that I get stuck on:

    Advertising. You know the kind that function by degrading people in order to create insecurity and a need to buy product x? More specifically, I mean like the kind that use abusive motifs of women, that airbrushes them to be inhumanly thin, etc. Is there a point where its a kind of… I guess psychological abuse to bombard women with these images?

    Would it really be infringing on free speech to, for example, restrict photoshopping women in advertising? Is advertising free speech, or is advertising like a kind of buisness transaction that is expected to have its content held to a standard like TV & movies?

    I am not advocating banning anything, but this was one case I haven’t really been able to resolve for myself philosophically, and I’d love to hear some other thoughts!

    1. I’ll try to leave aside questions of principle or current law, and instead give you some practical questions.

      (However, I will give you an answer to your question: “Is advertising free speech, or is advertising like a kind of buisness transaction that is expected to have its content held to a standard like TV & movies?” The answer is, “You are deeply confused about how all this works.” At least in the US, broadcast TV is held to certain content standards because it is carried in limited radio spectrum that belongs to the public and is licensed to particular companies by the FCC. Cable TV is not held to any legal standards, and nor are movies; the ratings and limits on those are imposed by the industries themselves, not required by law.)


      Suppose I wanted to create a campaign against Photoshopping women in ads. To do that, I created my own ads which featured Photoshopped models, but so grotesquely altered that they could not be considered beautiful.

      If it were done well, it’d probably be pretty effective. Would you ban that, too?

      (“Don’t Photoshop” campaigns would probably be necessary even in a world with a ban, because banning a practice doesn’t make it go away. See, for instance, the “don’t steal movies” ads put out by the movie industry.)

      Now suppose this campaign was so successful that a counter-movement formed. They wanted to put out ads featuring attractively Photoshopped models, not to demean women but to demonstrate the beauty that a Photoshop artist can add to the world.

      Would it be illegal for them to Photoshop women to promote an art form?

      If it were illegal to Photoshop in pro-Photoshop ads but not in anti-Photoshop ads, wouldn’t that be tantamount to the law supporting one viewpoint over another? How would that be different from, say, banning pro-animal rights ads from using photos of animals, but not anti-animal rights ads? How would it be different from banning Democrats but not Republicans from using color photos?

      What if the “pro” campaign were led by a guild of graphic designers? What if it were led by Photoshop’s manufacturer, Adobe? What if it were led by ad agencies? What if it were led by a consortium of cosmetics companies? These advocates would obviously have a financial interest in the outcome, but they’re also the ones in the best position to articulate the benefits of Photoshopping, since they see them every day.

      If the pro-Photoshop lobby gained enough power in Congress, could they reverse the Photoshop ban so it only applied to anti-Photoshop ads? If not, what would prevent that?


      Suppose we take it as a given that cosmetics ads demean women by making them feel ugly without the product being sold. But there are all sorts of ads that work by presenting an unrealistic image of a product’s user intended to make you feel inadequate by comparison, or even by directly insulting you for not getting the product:

      • Shaving product ads make you feel stubbly and gross unless you have the new ten-bladed, vibrating super-razor.
      • Fitness ads make you feel unattractive without the ripped abs and defined pecs that the gym membership or piece of equipment will almost effortlessly give you.
      • Deodorant ads make you feel unmanly unless you use Old Spice so you can produce diamonds from nowhere, or unattractive unless you bathe in Axe Body Spray.
      • Health food ads make you feel reckless if you eat—or worse, feed your family—anything else.
      • Travel ads make you feel like your life is boring without a visit to Disney World or Mexico.
      • Beer ads make you feel stressed if you’re not laying on a beach next to a beautiful woman and a bucket of ice-cold Coronas, or uncool unless you drink Dos Equis like the Most Interesting Man, or lonely if you’re not at a hopping party with a cooler full of Coors.
      • A recent Samsung phone ad makes you feel like an idiot if you buy a smaller phone than theirs. Another (tries to) make you feel romantically inadequate unless you have their smart watch.

      Not all advertising works by making you feel bad for not having the product, of course, but a lot of it does. Would you ban all of it? If not, how do you decide which untargeted insults are too sensitive for poor, vulnerable full-grown adults to bear?

  13. This is so synchronistic with Mark Dice’s video “Obama Supporters Petition to Repeal the FIRST AMENDMENT.” Dice is a popular youtube video maker. His account was recently removed and then put back up again potentially because they wanted to censor his views. I had to post the video here. I hope you allow it because it is important for all to watch because we all may be gullible enough to do something like this. We need to protect free speech for all, even when we disagree in my opinion and protect the First Amendment.

  14. I found this post through a post at Crooked Timber, so why not?
    Various, from the past. Use google.

    Harry Brighouse, at Crooked Timber:
    “I would say, in fact, that the first amendment tradition has a terribly distorting effect on American public discussions of free speech.”

    Chris Bertram, Crooked Timber:
    “The right frame, in my view, is to think of the state as “we, the people” and to ask what conditions need to be in place for the people, and for each citizen, to play their role in effective self-government. Once you look at things like that then various speech restrictions naturally suggest themselves.”

    Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber:
    “I’ve suggested that academic freedom is a good thing on pragmatic grounds, but also made clear that it fundamentally depends on public willingness to delegate some degree of self-governance to the academy. If the public decides that academic freedom isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for academic freedom.”

    Eric Rauchway at Crooked Timber:
    “If Kramer’s report is accurate, you can see why the Columbia faculty got frustrated. They wanted Bollinger to offer a traditional defense of academic freedom, which goes something like this: Academic freedom predates free speech….
    [Perhaps Bollinger] knows the history and sources of academic freedom, but he thinks it uncongenial to assert them in this anti-elitist day and age.”

    John Quiggin at Crooked Timber:
    “The claims about Art criticised in Art, an Enemy of The People, are very similar to those made by most religions, namely that there is a special category of people (prophets or artists) and a special category of activities (Religion or Art) which yield transcendent insights into the human condition, and which should be accorded special privileges over other people and other ways of finding meaning and enjoyment in life.”

    The above is not an attack on free speech as such but treats speech and art/rhetoric as they were separable. That relates to the following by Mark Tushnet, writing elsewhere:
    “Is the loss of meaning from paraphrase or restatement or statement (in the case of nonrepresentational art) small enough to make nonrepresentational art sufficiently similar to expository writing that it should be covered in the same way that such writing is?”

    Brian Leiter reviews Jeremy Waldron’s The Harm in Hate Speech

    There’s a lot more where that came from.

    I’ve repeated all of these over and over again, as well as this: The rule of law protects us from the rule of reason. The rule of reason fades always into the rule of the reasonable in the imagination of the powerful. The common sense dismissal of the authority of precedent in science does not justify the dismissal of precedent in law.
    The late Spencer Coxe of the ACLU: “The ACLU is a conservative organization”
    The next one might by apocryphal but I remember it as Kunstler. “People say I’m a radical lawyer, but I’m not. I’m a lawyer who defends radicals, and that’s not the same thing at all. Radicals don’t believe in the justice system.”

    John Mortimer on defending free speech, human rights and blahblahblah
    “Doing these cases I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended.”

    The ACLU defended the Panthers and the KKK, Communists and Nazis. There’s irony in that. It’s the defense of a formal relation not at argument for Truth.
    None of the academics quoted above are radicals. They’re liberals who try to assuage their guilt at being only what they are by calling for restrictions on others. They’re authoritarian schoolmasters, Mr Chips as Marxist. And of course none of them said a damn thing about Palestine until is was safe to speak. They claim the right to lead, but follow.

    Bertram: “I’m sympathetic, I really am, to the idea that people should work and consume less and that we should attend more to real life quality. But this doesn’t seem very realistic in my own life…”

    Coxe, Mortimer and Kunstler all understood that liberalism in the best sense of the word is an ironic conservatism. Positive liberalism is the founding logic of neoliberalism: the imagined freedom of the individual. But somehow in all its forms the only individuals worth taking seriously are philosophs, of one sort or another.

    Their first mistake, the mistake of theorists, is to try to build down from the ideal, which only they can imagine, to change a world they don’t even try to face. From idealism, to the rule of generalizations, to the rule of generalizers measuring others’ mediocrity, to the rule of mediocrity itself.

  15. The answer to the question of your post, is clearly yes. The left in general is abandoning free speech. That’s because the left’s relationship with the First Amendment and free speech in general was strictly transactional. And that’s been the case for a long time. This may be apocryphal but Susan Sontag was alleged to say in response to a question about free speech rights in the then Soviet Union, “they don’t need free speech. They already have socialism.”

    Of course at that time the left was fighting it’s battles. Now, on the social front, most of those battles have been won, so when you already control the media, the pop culture, academia, and most of the government, “free speech” has done it’s job. I think it was liberal reporter Joe Klein who wanted both Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck arrested for “sedition.” I think we’ll see more and more of that in the future.

    1. The Susan Sontag quote is unsourced. Until you provide a reliable source, I see no reason to take it seriously. As for Joe Klein…and? How many foaming-at-the-mouth reactionaries have popped up out of the woodwork claiming Obama is some kind of Muslim/communist/fascist/insert-random-insult-that-makes-no-sense-with-the-others bent on destroying America and spitting on the Declaration of Independence? When you can’t win elections, poison the well.

      The idea that the right in this country doesn’t have a transactional or purely incidental relationship with the First Amendment is hilarious. They are the ones who attempt to enforce their values on others. That there is a growing trend, such as identified here, amongst the left, to adopt this style, is just that– a trend within the left away from its core values. But it’s a trend towards right-wing means for left-wing ends, which as such betrays those ends. It has always been an essential feature of the left that it was concerned with procedural values and justice.

  16. As a conservative, I think you are rather late to the battle on this issue. The first major case involving college speech codes was decided by SCOTUS in 1989. By 2000, the establishment of free speech zones at universities was the standard. The denial of conservative groups on campus funding based on their viewpoints, the punishment of conservative professors by their institutions, has been a feature of campus life since the Vietnam War protest era.

    Your update, particularly about conservative students having liberal professor punished for their speech is little short of laughable. Let me know when a university actually does that.

    The behavior of the particular professor in regards to pro-life demonstrators is hardly unusual. It is only notable because her behavior was so egregious that she was actually charged with a crime. Otherwise, it was like any other pro-life protest on a college campus. It simply reflects the existence of a culture where the left honestly believes it has the right to shut down any speech it does not like.

    While your late conversion to the idea that free speech is an integral part of a free society is noted, what you have to realize is that the well has been substantially poisoned and I don’t think you have the right to expect anyone on my side to defend your right to free speech. And God knows no one on your side will.

    1. “Your update, particularly about conservative students having liberal professor punished for their speech is little short of laughable. Let me know when a university actually does that.”

      Oh, you mean like Norman Finkelstein or Ward Churchill?

      I noticed you didn’t engage with the other examples of the conservative betrayal of Constitutional values that Freddie cited in his edit. Curious.

      1. Ward Churchill was not denied tenure due to his beliefs about Israel/Palestine. The issue was a lot more complicated than people think –

        1) Finkelstein was a good teacher, but a very difficult person to get a long with.

        2) He published for a popular audience and didn’t publish very much academic work.

        I’m not saying the decision was correct. Finkelstein is clearly a good teacher, and in a sane world #1 wouldn’t matter as much. As far as #2 is concerned, tenured positions are scarce, and as a researcher Finkelstein just wasn’t tenure caliber.

  17. Freddie, I posted something similar over at Corey’s blog, but as far as the questions you posted, it’s disingenuous and lazy for anybody (especially anybody who claims to be a socialist) to pretend that only people like Prof. Miller-Young need to worry about answering them. Nobody’s answer to the question of what constitutes acceptable speech is 100% permissiveness, so it’s hard to escape the conclusion that “free speech” is a rhetorical fig leaf for anything outside the set of restrictions a particular political community has decided to accept as common-sensical. Even the most ardent supporter of Millian “free speech” still has posit a way to differentiate between sets of restrictions like (for instance) Mill’s example of a just government prosecuting the mob leader outside the home of the corn dealer, U.S. liberals and conservatives alike prosecuting anarchists/communists/Islamists for their political affiliations, Soviet Marxist-Leninists prosecuting followers of dissenting leftist tendencies for their political affiliations, and Prof. Miller-Young acting against anti-abortion demonstrators at UCSB. Note well that Holmes’ “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” defense, whose rhetoric often worms its way into efforts to articulate the “common-sense” limits of free speech, was originally written to justify the repression of socialists for advocating draft refusal during WWI.

    Here’s what I posted on Corey’s blog, BTW…

    Any notion of absolute freedom untrammeled by utilitarian considerations is a rhetorical shell game employed for the sake of appearances: in the realm of economics no conservatives are arguing for a total government budget of $0, just as in the realm of speech no liberals are arguing for the right to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater, so it can all be reduced to a hollow tautological defense of “freedom to do anything that isn’t legitimately prohibited.” Everybody draws their lines *somewhere*, and pretending these lines don’t exist at all by simply shouting “FREEDOM!!!” at the top of one’s lungs is a piss-poor excuse for political science.

  18. Thanks for this post – I found it quite interesting and thought-provoking.

    I will start by saying that in general I support freedom of speech, and I would refer to Mill’s “On Liberty” for arguments in favor of freedom of speech even in the face of patently false or pernicious speech. Still, given that you have spurred me to thought, I wanted to return the favor by posing some answers to your questions and some modern dilemmas for freedom of speech.

    Suppose there was an organization that created an anti-vaccine campaign. Most people recognized this campaign as false and dangerous, but enough people failed to do so that the “herd immunity” of a particular group was compromised, leading to an outbreak of a preventable disease. This sort of thing has been in the news a lot lately – most recently I think it was measles in Brooklyn – so it is certainly plausible. At what point would a society be justified in asking its government to step in and legislate that spreading falsehoods about vaccines be made illegal? Who would get to make the determination of fact about a given claim about vaccines? Or would we simply require people to be vaccinated, regardless of objections brought about by the free speech of anti-vaccination activists?

    This example sheds light on a conflict between freedom of speech and right to life – a conflict that is also embodied in America’s ban on yelling “fire!” in a crowded theatre, in asking for a bribe, in contracting a murder, or in any other speech act that has been rendered illegal if it endangers lives or incites otherwise dangerous or illegal behavior.

    As a social liberal, I am often troubled by the question of what role hate speech plays in violence against socially disadvantaged classes. In my adopted country of Georgia, an annual rally against homophobia was violently broken up for the last two years by a group of citizens who were agitated into a riot by a small group of socially and politically conservative priests. At the same time, the country has debated a law against speech that offends the feelings of the “faithful”. Thus I can see both sides: disallowing free speech would prevent priests from inciting anti-gay mobs, but it would also potentially have the side effect of silencing the gay rights movement entirely.

    So, to your questions:

    “Who gets to define acceptable speech?” – Legislators. This might feel uncomfortable, but it is already the reality. We just need to own the process.

    “How would laws against that speech be worded?” – Use the wording of existing laws, so that courts wouldn’t have to do a crazy interpretive dance. Use the “reasonable person” standard, for example.

    “Where does hate speech end and unpopular or controversial speech begin?” – There would have to be an element of subjectivity here, but hate speech might be speech that a reasonable person would interpret as inciting violence or as likely to incite violence.

    “How would these laws be enforced?” – Use existing enforcement mechanisms. If the criminal speech incited violence, use criminal courts and have local DAs prosecute. If the speech did not incite or result in a crime, use civil courts and require the aggrieved party to sue.

    “How severe would the punishments be?” – Use existing RICO, libel, conspiracy, and incitement laws as a model. These laws all criminalize some form of speech. Perhaps err on the side of fines rather than prison, because prison is already unjust for various reasons.

    “Where would the right to express unpopular speech continue to exist?” – Surely the internet, with its anonymous or pseudonymous culture, could serve as an area in which certain laws were relaxed, either in statute or enforcement. For example, I would hope that 4chan would continue to produce a stream of racist, sexist, psychotic nonsense unabated, perhaps with some disclaimer that the speech contained within was not regulated by law. Legally, the distinction could consist of some kind of “opt-in” clause, or occupy some sort of international space (sort of like how gambling becomes legal after your boat gets a certain number of miles from shore).

    “What level of force would the police be allowed to exercise in preventing unpopular speech?” – Police already use too much force, so, less than they do now, but as much as they should. Still, if a judge issues an arrest warrant based on hate speech, the police can bust into your house with guns. It’s an unfortunate requirement of our system of law enforcement.

    “How much would the carceral state grow in response to these laws?” – One would hope not at all – clearly most of these offenses would be better redressed through restitution, fines, and/or court-ordered sensitivity classes.

    “What would be the long-term consequences of further aligning the social justice movement with the violent apparatus of the state?” – Unknown. The state could get better, or social justice could suffer. But until someone figures out a way around the violent state problem, we have to include democracy in our toolkit of ways to pursue social justice.

    “What is the potential for unforeseen consequences?” – Large, but we would hope that courts and legislators would mitigate this issue.

    “What guarantee is there that the public won’t move to ban speech we on the left would like to express?” – There are no guarantees, but allowing judges/courts some autonomy to interpret the laws (using, i.e., the “reasonable person” standard) would potentially rescue them from the whim of a vindictive public.

    “Why do we need to ban hateful speech, when examples like the Westboro Baptist Church and gay rights demonstrate the capacity for free expression of hateful speech to result in progress?” – Maybe progress would happen faster if the potential for violence or threats thereof was taken entirely out of the equation. This year, the gay rights organization in my adopted country of Georgia has canceled their anti-homophobia demonstration because several religious organizations have issued credible threats of violence, for a third year in a row. Perhaps if these threats were prosecutable offenses, we’d have a rally this year.

    Just something to think about. Thanks again for the post.

  19. Thanks very much for writing. I’m with you on about half the things listed in the Update section. Hooray for a country that lets us freely disagree!

  20. I find it sort of interesting that you defend their right to speak about the issue, and then in the update you added to the end of the post, you basically said that their cause is an illegitimate one. Nice.

    1. I say that their cause is one I disagree with; I defend their right to advocate it. That’s what democracy is.

  21. Sifting through these comments, I am confounded by the almost fanatical attachment to philosophy and ‘logic’ steeped arguments about protecting/limiting speech. Many of you have created a calculus of “if this then that, therefore…” we must not limit “free” speech. Speech is not free if you actually scrutinize the context. Speech can also be an act of violence. The power of speech is also unequal, both on a grand scale and in the minutia of daily interactions. So what part of speech are we referring to when we say “free”. Only the most superficial and potentially powerless element in our modern democracies. The irony is fantastic since us powerless folk seem so intent on this token concession from powerful brokers in our society. I also feel that most people speaking here are White and come from or have attained some fair amount of security and privilege to speak with such authority (seemingly without actively participating in what you are critiquing. Armchairs are fun to lean on in moments of insecurity).

    In American society, the speech of White people is more valuable than Peoples of Color, the speech of people identifying with mainstream ‘American’ politics are more “reasonable”, “moderate” than speech not identifying with that mainstream, left right down up, what/wherever. This fact seems to elude the conversations here.

    To the writer who brought up advertisers, this interest group represents the most salient example of what speech is today in America (and increasingly across the world). Advertisers are the poster childs of neoliberalism, the postmodern chimera willing to try, say, and do anything in any way to take your precious money. Speech is a tool for them, and it can be a tool for ‘the people’ too. But to call speech “free” is to mistake it as anything but a phenomena in the daily war of social, cultural, political, and economic definition. We are being assaulted by free and POWERFUL speech, often without our own means of recourse.

    I personally like Linda Alcoff’s take in “The Problem of Speaking for Others”. It gets to the heart of speech. She’s a philosopher so many of you may feel the simultaneous vindication and erotic stimulation of your masturbatory intellects.PEACE

    1. I’m not entirely sure what your ultimate point here is, because I don’t think you brought yourself to commit one way or the other — though I do get an overall hostility to free speech.

      Are you for or against restrictions on speech? Put it simply, and describe when/where/how.

      1. The ultimate point is that everybody from the most orthodox Marxist-Leninist to the most ardent Millian liberal is for at least some restrictions on speech. In this specific case, the identity-politics-driven liberal left seems to have taken a view that much of the speech accepted as normative within reactionary U.S. political culture in effect constitutes verbal abuse against marginalized subgroups, and that curtailing such speech within broader political discourses is a utilitarian imperative necessary for the institution of meaningful democratic pluralism. This is not a theoretical disagreement over the abstract ideal that tolerable speech should be unrestricted (an ideal which many in U.S. political discourse have enshrined alongside a particular definition of “tolerable” as representing “free speech”), but an empirical disagreement over which speech is tolerable and which is intolerable. In principle, neither side can lay greater claim to “free speech” than the other: the task is to decide through empirical argumentation where the boundaries between free and unfree speech should be drawn, but nobody disagrees that there should be boundaries between free and unfree speech at all.

        1. I asked Kez what HIS point was, and indeed, if he draws a line, where. He has yet to answer.

          But I’ll ask you the same thing — you appear to be in favor of restrictions on speech, so where is YOUR line? Who/what/where/why? Specifics; examples.

      2. DJ1706,

        I’ll give a simple example to help along this process. Alcoff offers a rape survivors support group as a space to conceptualize the power of speech. Let’s say one of the participants makes a statement to the group that minimizes the impact of the attack on her person. This person also questions why others aren’t able to “move past” their own experiences of violation. Free speech, right? Yet just the act of this person’s admission functions to silence others who may be made extremely uncomfortable by their perceptions that the space is not safe for them to be honest and open with their ‘speech’.

        Speech is constituted by power and privilege, and can be violent. Naturally, those who are less vulnerable in society are more ‘free’ to say what they want without repercussions. Which is why I can so easily speculate to many of your color, gender, and access to privilege. Many of you are speaking without vulnerability nor an awareness about vulnerability. You can afford to talk in abstracts about what is “right” and what is “wrong”, because what is “wrong” in this world doesn’t affect you viscerally.

        1. You didn’t answer my question, Kez. You just gave an example of something you considered to be silencing someone else’s speech, and then said some people just don’t understand.

          So, I’ll ask again:

          Are YOU for or against restrictions on speech? Put it simply, and describe when/where/how.

  22. You missed the point entirely, bro. There is no such thing as free speech, unless we view the concept in an ethereal world. Free speech is a figment. I guess that by refusing to accept an idealistic definition, my stance makes me ‘hostile’ to it. Yet by calling speech ‘free’, you engage in a linguistically hostile act of subversion and bias. Forget reality, don’t you like freedom? The sheer weight of a statement beginning with “you’re against free” a priori places anyone you speak with at an inferior position. That other people are conditioned to agree with your linguistic biasing makes the speech anything from free. You can’t separate the act from the context.

    Think about the context that speech occupies (any and every context), there are always power differences and dynamics between the receiver, sender, medium, etc. To worry about free or unfree speech is to miss the point. I suggest again that you read Alcoff, or Gloria Anzaldúa, “Wild tongues can’t be tamed; they can only be cut out…On one side of us, we are constantly exposed to the Spanish of the Mexicans, on the other side we hear the Anglo’s incessant clamoring so that we forget our language.”

    It’s funny how “critical” thinkers are so oblivious when the axioms of their logic are challenged. “Put it simply”. I ask you to make it complex, not simple. Simple is for politicians, not life.

    1. Since you’re doing a bunch of “you should reads”, here’s one for you. You should read some Wittgenstein on the philosophical confusions that entail when language is misused and abstractions begin taking on lives of their own as they’re yanked from their very limited natural contexts.

      It’s literally impossible to determine if paragraphs like the ones you just wrote have any reliable mapping to the world, or, similarly, (which is basically the exact same argument with the words slightly renamed) a conservative christian claim that we need to guard against bad speech because it will promote sin – there’s no way to determine if those words have any reliable mapping to the world there either. I don’t believe in sin, and I don’t believe in your closed system of jargon, which to me has an existential status not too far from sin.

      But maybe I’m wrong! Maybe sin exists. Or maybe what you just said actually has something resembling truth value, whatever that would even mean. For me, the only way to continually wrestle with those possibilities is to keep my values oriented aggressively pointing towards supporting the procedural values around free speech, free inquiry, and free discourse as much as possible.

    2. Kez, you have no provided a whit of detail as to where you draw any lines on where free speech ends. You appear not to want to be pinned down to anything.

      1. DJ1706,

        You are asking me where I stand on free speech, and I respond there is no free speech. I refuse to have a conversation on terms that I disagree with. There is no “free” speech so I am not going to argue about where it begins and ends.

        People’s ability to speak is always limited by consequences, and people who are more vulnerable in society face greater consequences for exercising speech. Attaching the word “free” to speech is as problematic and hollow as nationalist howls of “freedom”, “liberty” and “democracy”.

        To call everyone’s access to “free” speech as equal is to completely ignore how speech is constituted by power (insecurity, violence, benefit). The rape survivors group is an example, but every act of speech is an example. There is never a context where speech is not governed by the social conventions of a society, including racism, sexism, etc.

        I have read Wittgenstein. I don’t believe I am speaking in some abstract that requires us to evaluate the connections of language to life any more than you are. That is very convenient and childish to equivocate my words to conservative Christians, whereas your procedural justice is the tops, man. I am pointing out real issues that affect people’s access and engagement to what you are calling “free” speech, “free” inquiry, “free” discourse. Your “procedural” approach ignores power differences.

        1. No, KEZ; I asked you specifically where you draw your lines.

          As you believe there is “no free speech,” and free speech “doesn’t exist,” then would you be OK with the government silencing speech you disagree with? If not, why not, and, again, *where is your line*? Who/what/when/why?

          Note: I am not in any way attempting to suppress your speech. Quite the opposite, in fact.

          1. Quite simply, in the United States by law there is something called “freedom of speech,” so anyone contending there isn’t such a thing is trying to talk about something else. There is also an implicit right to privacy, by the way, though I similarly run across efforts to wave that one away as well. So it seems to me that since these things exist by law we ought to be discussing their scope and limits.

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  24. Ha. Over the years I commented on various blogs: left, right, and liberal. The left and right guys, sometimes they find my comments objectionable and ask me stop. And I stop. Liberals are different. Recently they banned me – with great pomposity – from CT for suggesting that insults to women in comment threads should be considered in the context of the comment thread insults in general. A few days later I tried to post an innocent comment on Corey’s blog and he blocked my IP. Just like that, just because it was me, known enemy of the people.

    Now, I’m not saying that my freedom of speech has been violated. Their blogs, their rules. Technically, no issue. But it gives you an insight into their mentality. They (quite of a few of them, anyway) are the new pharisees: dogmatic, sanctimonious, narrow-minded jerks. IOW, decisively illiberal. Coincidentia oppositorum, I suppose.

  25. “Greetings to the conservatives who have found this post. I appreciate your readership.”

    Hi, Fred. Nice to meet you.

    “I hope you will also join me in defending the Fourth Amendment rights of black and Hispanic against unreasonable search and seizure,”


    “the rights to privacy and equal treatment under the law for Muslims,”

    Yes. Although when it comes to religious believers, it’s more often the case that THEY are the ones looking for exceptions and exemptions from the law. As an atheist, I’m as vigilant about the 1st Amendment as I am about the 4th, 5th or 14th.

    “the privacy rights that protect a woman’s sexual and reproductive freedom,”

    I’m pro Roe v. Wade (Pro v Wade?) but I admit there are sincere people on both sides of the matter. Should I take the wording of your comment as a desire to definitionally de-legitimize any manner of opposition to the Roe verdict as an assault on “privacy?” There are Pro-Life Liberals, you know.

    “and the same free speech rights that are constrained when conservative students try to have liberal professors punished for their own political beliefs.”

    Absolutely. I don’t care if my geology prof is a Trotskyite so long as he does his job and teaches me about rocks. I’ll hang around after class if I want to talk politics; if he doesn’t waste class time – and my money, I’m paying tuition after all – reading aloud articles from The Militant, we’re going to get along just fine.

  26. I didn’t even read the post before I commented. It’s worse than I thought.

    “Triggering” is reflex. Using it as a defense is claiming of an inability to control your own behavior. “Under these circumstances I am not a conscious agent.”

    And if the state is meant to protect you from that, and from yourself, what becomes your relation to the state? The state, in loco parentis. So much for democracy.

    If she stood by her actions as civil or even uncivil disobedience that would be another thing entirely. If the “Irvine 11”, who shouted down Michael Oren are had simply said they had no regrets that would have been fine. But to claim the legal defense as free speech is absurd.

    Sometimes it’s more important to break the law than follow it. That will always be the case. Laws and procedures are necessary oversimplifications not Platonic truths.

    I posted a list above of college professors opposed to free speech who don’t understand what it is. People seem to want to protect others as weak or to claim weakness and need protection. It’s all doms and angry subbies, technocrats and their beloved or not so beloved children. It’s a perfectly perverse relationship.

    And the new fiasco, #cancelcolbert. How are Tiger Moms less offensive than Dragon Ladies? Asian voters just defeated affirmative action in California, and still this. The politics of spoiled children screaming for affection and affirmation from authority.

  27. Heliopause,

    Every state has laws that they write, the laws they follow, and the laws when they follow them. To talk about the books is, again, to speak in abstracts, because these laws in books function as much as tools of supression as they do a corpus of ‘rights’. That is how many Occupy protests could be dismantled (and the first amendment with them) using local vagrancy laws, as though these laws in books trumped the law in our national constitution. Rather than debate words on a page, I’d rather focus on the practices of the state. Stop and frisk, random car stops, and immigration check points all contradict our highest laws on the books. Assassinating Al-Awlaki in Yemen (and his non-complicit children a few weeks later), for example, was an attack on the “free” speech of a US citizen from the highest officer, President Obama, in the land. Free speech is on the books, accept when it is dangerous to the state or closely vested interests. Yes there is something called “freedom of speech” in the books, but so is there a “Department of Defense”, which hasn’t done much defending, only attacking, in many decades. Am I supposed to submit to an Orwellian vocabulary because you are living a literalist’s fantasy?

    1. I’m not sure what you’re driving at because you seem to be reinforcing Freddie’s point. The state and other powerful actors will always press their advantage, yes; so who do you want to empower to enforce restrictions on “hate” speech, “trigger” speech, or whatever?

      1. Heliopause,

        I conceive of speech and all action as more an engagement with varying conditions of freedom and not. There are places, times, and contexts which enable or disable the various efficacies of speech. To speak of a government document enshrining rights is to ignore the fact that that document is only followed by its government or powerful interests in contexts where they wish the document to have levity. You are confounding the government, its documents, and the people by talking about free speech. That is a powerful and I believe unprovable statement. Interested and powerful actors will act as they will, because they view speech and all action as war for their interests. We view the same actions as exercising “free” speech, partly because we’ve been had, and partly because we lack access to the very spaces where speech is expensive, forceful, and totalizing. You can have your “free” speech, I prefer to talk about powerful speech, which is not here. So good day.

        1. I don’t necessarily disagree with your observations but still fail to see the relevance to the original post. You can argue in the abstract that speed limits don’t exist but you’re still going to have to decide how fast to drive. Free speech exists by law, so we’d better work through its scope and limits and how we can make it redound to the benefit of all citizens.

    2. KEZ does not appear to want to commit to anything, as I’ve asked him several times as to whether he favors restriction on speech, and if so, when/what/who/how/why.

      The only consistent idea he’s returned from post to post is that he objects to what he perceives as “privilege.” How exactly that relates to freedom of speech, and what should be done about it, he’s been far less than forthcoming about.

  28. “I wish this didn’t need to be said, but apparently it does: this is not OK. It is not OK to attack protesters. It is not OK to try to silence people whose views you don’t like. It’s immoral, and it cuts directly against the very human rights that are the foundation of feminism, the campaign against racism, and the campaign for gay rights. That this could be possibly in question among self-defined members of the left demonstrates how unhealthy the left has become. ”

    Helena Cobban is a journalist and Quaker peace activist, who’s on good terms with members of Hamas. Compare your earnest quasi Christian politics with her hardened Christian realism.
    “When I got to the bottom of my incoming mail pile on Sunday, I found a charming, Christmas card from Walid– featuring a photo he had taken of the snow-covered steps of his family’s feudal home in Moukhtara. Maybe I should have a conversation with him about Jesus’s teachings on nonviolence sometime?”

    ‘Walid’ is Walid Jumblatt.

    Another comment on “triggers”. When the ACLU defended the Nazis in the Skokie case it wasn’t about the right to march but the right to march in a town full of Holocaust survivors.

    All of this now is about the right or the demand to be treated as children.

  29. Frederik (I hope this is posted as a standalone comment and not in line with the conversation I’m having with Erin), speaking of Gawker, I just read an article by Adam Weinberg in which he seriously suggests that “climate change deniers” should literally be arrested and jailed.

    “Free speech has never been absolute,” he says. And indeed, I’ve been seeing that more and more among “social justice” types, the absurd theory being that “bad” ideas are harmful, so they’re just like “yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

  30. “the privacy rights that protect a woman’s sexual and reproductive freedom”

    As a liberal, I am very suspicious of this phrase. What right to privacy is being currently infringed with regards to “woman’s sexual and reproductive freedom”?

    I’m … well, I’m actually quite dubious of “privacy rights” generally, but in this case, the only thing I can think of you might be referring to is abortion or contraception. And neither of these involve privacy rights in any way.

    1. MugaSofer, the entire underpinnings of Roe vs. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut are privacy rights. Without them, there’s no protection.

    1. I’d like people to behave more responsibly on the Internet, but why would anyone want it “reigned” [sic] in?

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