How Does the Government Curb Free Speech without Being the Government That Decides What Gets Curbed?

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“|W]e’ve reached the blue-state version of the End of History, where all important truths are agreed upon, and there’s no longer need to indulge empty gestures to pluralism like the ‘marketplace of ideas.’”

NPR is now pushing for free speech restrictions. Matt Taibbi breaks it down: straw men arguments, name-calling, disingenuous analysis.

“The guests for NPR’s just-released On The Media episode about the dangers of free speech included Andrew Marantz, author of an article called, “Free Speech is Killing Us”; P.E. Moskowitz, author of “The Case Against Free Speech”; Susan Benesch, director of the “Dangerous Speech Project”; and Berkeley professor John Powell, whose contribution was to rip John Stuart Mill’s defense of free speech in On Liberty as “wrong.”

“That’s about right for NPR, which for years now has regularly congratulated itself for being a beacon of diversity while expunging every conceivable alternative point of view.

“The essence of arguments made by all of NPR’s guests is that the modern conception of speech rights is based upon John Stuart Mill’s outdated conception of harm, which they summarized as saying, “My freedom to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose.”

“Because, they say, we now know that people can be harmed by something other than physical violence, Mill (whose thoughts NPR overlaid with harpsichord music, so we could be reminded how antiquated they are) was wrong, and we have to recalibrate our understanding of speech rights accordingly.”

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“Eleanor Holmes Norton [said] ‘It is technically impossible to write an anti-speech code that cannot be twisted against speech nobody means to bar. It has been tried and tried and tried.’

“The most important problem of speech regulation, as far as speech advocates have been concerned, has always been the identity of the people setting the rules. If there are going to be limits on speech, someone has to set those limits, which means some group is inherently going to wield extraordinary power over another. Speech rights are a political bulwark against such imbalances, defending the minority not only against government repression but against what Mill called “the tyranny of prevailing opinion.”

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“It was all a near-perfect distillation of the pretensions of NPR’s current target audience, which clearly feels we’ve reached the blue-state version of the End of History, where all important truths are agreed upon, and there’s no longer need to indulge empty gestures to pluralism like the ‘marketplace of ideas.’

“Mill ironically pointed out that “princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all subjects.” Sound familiar? Yes, speech can be harmful, which is why journalists like me have always welcomed libel and incitement laws and myriad other restrictions, and why new rules will probably have to be concocted for some of the unique problems of the Internet age. But the most dangerous creatures in the speech landscape are always aristocrat know-it-alls who can’t wait to start scissoring out sections of the Bill of Rights. It’d be nice if public radio could find space for at least one voice willing to point that out.”