In this article I rebut ten anti-free speech arguments succinctly. I consider them to be either facile, disingenuous, misleading or a combination of any of the aforementioned.
Some of these arguments are an attempt to either justify censorship or to avoid having to justify censorship. Others do not support censorship, but they are anti free speech in the sense that they undermine the teleological justification for free speech, namely the free exchange of ideas. They usually have the effect of deflecting from the substantive issue that is being discussed and thus undermining the purpose of free speech.
- Hate speech etc. is not speech
Speech or communication should be defined factually – it refers to the physical act of speaking or communicating; one knows what it is without me having to define it herein.
Once speech or communication is properly defined, the onus is properly placed on the person advocating any restriction, to justify the same. To say that hate speech is not speech is self-evidently false and is designed to avoid the need to have to justify hate speech laws. Incitement to murder would amount to speech or communication but is rightly prohibited and the prohibition is easy to justify.
- Freedom from speech is not freedom from consequence
This phrase is vague and fatuous. As with the first argument, it is often used to avoid having to justify the relevant ‘consequence’.
For example, whether a person should lose their job for what they have said outside of the course of their employment, is something that should be debated on its merits. Using the above phrase in that context would simply amount to a tautology which adds nothing to the debate.
- Public office
During the Sabisky affair, it was said thar Mr Sabisky was free to express his views on the links between race and IQ test scores and on eugenics, but that such views disqualified him for public office. The same was also said during the Scrutton affair.
However, it is never made clear in these situations precisely which views will disqualify an individual from public office, how recently such views need to have been expressed or what if any connection is required between the statements and the relevant role. Nor is it clear, which types of government paid positions they should be disqualified from, would this for example include, a rubbish collector, hospital doctor or a civil servant of any grade?
Both Scrutton (while he was alive) and Sabisky are required to fund the government through taxation and to obey all laws passed by the government yet apparently, they should be disqualified from working in a government position.
It is not clear to me why this should be the case. It would appear, that the intention is to make those who have expressed certain views permanent pariahs in order to deter others from expressing the same or similar views. This presupposes that such views are wrong and that it is immoral merely to express them. Even if one accepts this without there being a substantive debate (which undermines the purposes of free speech), why are other forms of immorality not punished in the same way? Should a known adulterer be permanently disqualified from holding public office? Those who would support the disqualification of Scrutton and Sabisky do not state this and would be unlikely to.
Furthermore, it is doubtful whether those who would support the disqualification of Sabisky and Scrutton from public office would oppose them being dismissed for the same views from a private sector position. Consider the example of Tom Dupre’ formerly of Generation Identity, who was dismissed from Standard Chartered Bank.
- Personal attacks against speaker
An argument should be capable of being assessed, independently of the person expressing it. Attempts to undermine the character of the speaker, simply deflect from the issue being discussed.
- Motives of the speaker
It may be genuinely interesting to understand the psychology behind certain ideologies and any connection between personality types and philosophical or political views. However, an idea can be assessed on its merits without any regard to the motives of the speaker.
Normally an attempt to impute motives to the speaker, amounts to an attempt to distract attention from the issue being discussed.
It is sometimes argued or implied that due to events that occurred during the Second World War, the debate on certain issues is closed. The is not based on any informed historical analysis.
Furthermore, it is irrational to equate certain ideas with genocide just because they may have some similarity to the views or policies of the NSDAP.
- Prevention vs deterrent
The fear of losing employment or facing economic sanctions for expressing certain opinions, amounts to a deterrent against expressing such opinions rather than a prevention.
There is a tendency amongst some commentators to disregard the former and merely point out that the relevant individuals are not being prevented from speaking. This is one aspect of the ‘freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence’ platitude.
The existence of these deterrents should be evaluated and require justification. It should not be acceptable to simply pretend that such deterrents are not a threat to freedom of speech.
- Freedom of speech does not equate to a right to a platform
This may be true in some circumstances, but it is a phrase often used to avoid the need for justifying censorship. Putting pressure on social media to ban a person’s account or pressuring a University to cancel a speaking engagement are attempts at censorship which are at odds with the teleological justification for free speech.
One should be required to provide a precise moral justification for such actions rather than simply making the above statement. If the argument is based on the perceived content of the speech, for instance that it is hateful, why should others not be entitled to hear it and make up their own minds?
- Equating speech to prevent expression of ideas with the expression of ideas
Calling for a person to be dismissed from their employment because of opinions they have expressed, disrupting a speech or pressuring advertisers to withdraw from a newspaper because of its content, may amount to speech but such actions are not equivalent to expressing an idea. These actions undermine the teleological justification for free speech, as they are designed to prevent ideas from being expressed, not to refute them or to express alternatives.
- Emotive/personalized arguments
During the Sabisky affair there were some examples of people referring to their own family members with serious genetic disabilities. I am not suggesting that one should not be permitted to use personal or emotive anecdotes, but often such anecdotes are deployed to engender sympathy, bypass reason and to distract from the substantive ideas that have been expressed.
Many de-facto opponents of free speech claim that they are not opposed to the concept of free speech. Aside from those who support censorship, there are those who should be regarded as enemies of free speech because they undermine the free exchange and analysis of ideas, either by engaging in obfuscation or by deterring others from expressing their opinions, so that such opinions can receive public scrutiny. This article was designed to expose the cant and humbug often used by the enemies of free speech.