Still A Conservative: Free Speech

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” is a famed phrase by one of Britain’s most quoted authors, Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He also popularized “the great unwashed” and “pursuit of the almighty dollar.” As a playwright and novelist who often focused on political events, he understood the value of words.

The right of free speech is clearly delineated within the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” This is as close to an absolute as can be found in the law, in that it holds for so long as that right doesn’t interfere with another right; at that point, the courts are expected to decide which inherent freedom is dominant.

The conflict between rights can lead to some restrictions on speech (or, as has become accepted as having a nearly identical meaning, expression… to include artworks and metaphor), as can state and local laws. This is understood. The ideological questions, then, are not whether speech can be restricted but in what limits are acceptable and how to enforce them.

Philosophically, the choice of conservatives should be to hold as closely to absolute freedom as possible. In practice, that has not been the case.

Complaints about obscenity have led to challenges of what can be said (or worn) in the public square. Flag-burning and other acts of defiance have been measured against the level of seditious behavior allowed. The intimidation manifested by marching groups has been tested against the rights of people to assemble and speak. In each of these instances, some thoughtful conservatives and liberals alike have set themselves against the principle of free speech in order to attempt to preserve society.

In most of these cases, free speech has won in courts… and this should be celebrated, particularly as we are seeing both assaults on speech and abuse of personal freedoms today.

Speech codes have developed on campuses and at businesses because of fear of potential offenses ranging from unintentional microaggressions to sexual harassment, to where a simple complement on personal attire has become a minefield. The necessary and right protection of people from attack and oppression has been in some cases transformed into an extension of progressive viewpoints on what constitutes equality. That leads to a stifling of conversation and a more fractured society. As a conservative, I believe it should be rejected.

Simultaneously, many have decided that they can claim authority to supersede the voices of others. This has happened in public venues where “trolling” has become a commonly accepted and encouraged activity; it has been seen in bullying and harassment campaigns; and it is now being manifested in its ultimate expression, a nationalist attempt to vacate the votes – the voices – of millions of their fellow citizens because they don’t like what was said. These, too, must be rejected.

A foundational concept regarding free speech should be that hateful and offensive speech must be curtailed not through legal action but through social development. The law is to be brought in when conversation fails, not before conversation begins. We should be attempting to engage in respectful discourse between a variety of viewpoints. This is where free speech has been demonstrated to be an instrument of significant boon both socially and economically.

The greatest and most offensive assault on speech which we face, however, has recently been promoted by Republican politicians with some of the farthest left Democrats giving them support. The recent efforts to restrict Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act by the Trump administration are a repudiation of the concepts behind the First Amendment. They are attempts to stifle conversation between people by controlling the venues which facilitate discussion.

In this case they are telling property owners what they can and cannot do with their property because too many people are saying things they don’t like. Anyone who defends it is not a conservative and not a Constitutionalist. They are nationalists (of whatever political stripe) attempting to expand their power and they must be fought.

The mechanism used to fight them? Speech. Conversation. People recognize the value in exchanging ideas, and when they confront the fact that the voices being restricted won’t simply be the ones they dislike but their own, they are likely to stand up against attempts to undermine our freedoms. Politicians can say anything they want; they can lie to promote themselves and expand their fortunes. The best weapon is a voice in opposition.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.