Noam Chomsky on Free Speech

“Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”

-Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, 1992

The ACLU’s Slow, Sad Turn Away from First Amendment Advocacy

The New York Times recently published a profile of the American Civil Liberties Union’s gradual turn away from being the pre-eminent defender of freedom of speech in the United States.

The change in the organization is punctuated by Ben Wizner, the head of ACLU’s free speech, privacy and technology project. Referencing the rise of the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education’s nonpartisan, uncompromising defense of free speech on campus, Wizner tells the Times,

FIRE does not have the same tensions. At the A.C.L.U., free speech is one of 12 or 15 different values.

Too often, free speech at the ACLU seems like McDonald’s Shamrock Shake–something brought out for a few days a year to appease hardcore fans, even though the franchise itself has long moved on.

Salman Rushdie on Freedom of Thought

The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.

-Salman Rushdie, Do we have to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again?, 2005

Jonathan Rauch On Engaging People Who Won’t Listen

The December 2020 issue of Reason contains a wide-ranging interview of Jonathan Rauch by Nick Gillespie. Part of the interview touches on how and why to engage with people who are not necessarily interested in listening with an open mind.

Gillespie: What’s the appeal to people? Obviously I agree with you when you talk about a liberal society being a good one. The idea of intellectual or ideological pluralism, I’m all in. But people who are saying, “That’s a false front for a system that is rigged against trans people, against black people, and against other types of racial, ethnic, ideological, or sexual minorities”—how do you engage them when they are not interested necessarily in hearing what you have to say?

Rauch: How do you engage with them? The single most common question I get when I talk about free speech and open inquiry on college campuses comes from a student—usually it will be a freshman, sometimes it’s a sophomore—who says, “What do I say, Mr. Rauch, when I try to speak up in a conversation and I’m told, ‘Check your privilege. You can’t say that.’ What do I do when I’m disqualified from the conversation because I don’t have the minority perspective?”

I used to try to say all kinds of things that they could say: “Try this. Try that.” That wasn’t a good answer. Then I began telling them, “Well, you figure it out. You know how to talk to your generation. I don’t.” That wasn’t a good answer.

The answer that I finally settled on—though the first two were also partly true—was: “It doesn’t matter all that much what you say to them, because they’re not listening. That’s what they’re telling you. They’re not listening. What matters is that you not shut up. They do not have the power to silence you if you do not allow yourself to be silenced. Insist on your right to continue the conversation to say what you want to say. Don’t slink away. You won’t necessarily persuade those people, but, as we found in the gay marriage debate, your real target is that third person on the periphery of the circle of the conversation who is seeing one person acting rationally and reasonably and other people acting irrationally and unreasonably. You’re probably winning the heart and mind of that third person, so don’t shut up.”

Ralph Nader’s Censorious View of the State

Ralph Nader thinks the state should punish NPR and other radio stations for interrupting or failing to broadcast Donald Trump’s November 5 election speech. In his speech, Trump repeatedly lied about the election results.

This sort of censorship is the inevitable outcome of the regulatory overreach that Nader has advocated for all his life.