My Thoughts on “Free Speech”

Last Wednesday, I did a brief Interview with Ezra Levant on his Rebel Media show, on my book The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree (2015).

Here it is:

Ezra has had a lot of trouble of late because of his commentary on the horrific riots in Charlottesville Virginia. I can’t go into that in detail here, but he was perceived to be excusing racism and violence, etc., whether or not that was his intent.

However, I think much of his trouble arose simply because he has always tried to defend “free speech.” I especially admired the way he single-handedly defended himself against Canada’s outrageous so-called Human Rights Tribunals, which are in fact just kangaroo courts set up to control what people say, and even how they think (by mandating “re-education” courses for offenders, etc). But in such “courts”, truth is no defence (which fact ought to offend everbody!) and I for one never thought the Western world would stoop to such draconian extra-legal totalitarian procedures. Shame on us all for not breaking up and ruling illegal and offensive to every civilized bone in our body politic, these mewling and smelly little procedures.

Free Speech is a Western concept that rests on the modern libertarian (and formerly, but no longer, on the classical liberal) notion of the “harm principle” which, from its origins in ancient thought, found expression in modern times in Articlel 4 of The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, and then, most famously, in John Stuart Mill’s little booklet On Liberty, of 1859. It is also found, though not in such words, in the First Amendment to the American Constitution (which forms part of the US Bill of Rights) of 1791.

The core idea, is that you should be able to say whatever you want in public as long as you do not incite rioting or directly harm someone else. And of course, the normal laws of libel and slander always apply.

My personal belief, however, is that the notion of “free speech”, whether in the USA or Canada or anywhere else, was always, until very recently, intended only to allow decent free speech by any citizen in a civilized context. It was never intended to include breaking windows, damaging private property, hooliganism, shouting vile, hateful, or vulgar slogans or threats in the public square which others cannot escape hearing, and so on. In other words, it was intended to allow the free expression of, and protesting in favour of, alternative, and even distasteful moral or political ideas and ideals.

The key to what I am arguing here, is that you should be allowed free speech in civil conditions, but you should not be allowed to impose it on me, in any manner you please. I should not have to put up with pushing my way through a crowd of angry Marxists or Nazis or socialists with loudspeakers and clubs every time I leave for work in the morning. That kind of “free speech” makes the enjoyment of a free and settled life impossible.

So … In the context of what I am seeing now in the USA, and have seen before in Europe (such as during the May 1968 riots in Paris) and the earlier 1966 riots at Stanford University and Berkely (again!), I, like many others, am in search of a solution, and here is what I propose…

Unlimited Free Speech in Limited Spaces

I believe all citizens should be allowed to think and say whatever they wish, any time they wish, but that their thoughts and feelings should not be imposed on others who don’t wish to hear them. Free speech should be a voluntary expression, but also a voluntary experience, and not an imposed one.

So … a solution that would preserve total free speech but limit its deleterious and unpleasant or dangerous immediate consequences would be to quarantine the spaces for free speech.

Free Speech Parkettes and Facilities

What about every city and town setting up as many Free Speech Spaces at it might want, where any citizen could go to express his or her ideas to whomsoever might want to go and hear them?

I am imagining a sizeable city setting up a dozen or so small parkettes outdoors, and/or equivalent indoor spaces with some seating, where citizens could go to hear anything fom sensible to completely outrageous speeches. Debates could also be scheduled in such spaces.

If a particular city had so lost its sense of civilized discourse that violence was a possibility, such spaces could easily be policed to prevent violence and the shutting down of opinion.

The advantage of such an arrangement is that we would have unlimited free speech in a civilized context that would be voluntarily enjoyed rather than imposed on anyone, and violence and public vulgarity could be controlled.

That’s it for today …

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