“Free Speech” became a political issue around 2014 if memory serves. Before that, if you had asked Americans whether they believed in Freedom of Speech, the answer would be yes with no hesitation. Now in 2021, if you are on a college campus advocating “free speech” you are inevitably categorized as being “conservative” or “on the right” - whatever that means. When I was loosely associated with liberty minded groups at university, they would encourage people to hold “free speech events”, and I would listen to content creators on YouTube and elsewhere describing themselves as “free speech absolutists.”
It’s a strange turn of events to see the way Free Speech like most things have become partisan in their nature, and given that big tech companies are doing the bidding of national politicians - the cry for freedom of speech must once again be understood. There is no better document where the freedom of speech is enshrined than the First Amendment to the United States Constitution1, let us review:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
If you’ve never taken a course on the Constitution, allow me to briefly point out there are 6 rights enshrined within the first amendment, they are (in particular order)
the Right to your own religious beliefs
the Right to practice your religion
the Right to free speech
the Right to a free press
the Right to peaceably assemble
the Right to petition Government when they’ve wronged you
I want to focus on #3 today, and think a little more deeply about why a freedom of speech is enshrined, but first allow me to remind you of what I have written previously, the Constitution has never stopped a major overreach of government. This included the first amendment, and most Americans accept it as a necessary abridgement
Fire! in a crowded theater
Ask most Americans and they will say something to the effect of “we have freedom of speech, but of course you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater - that’s an incitement to panic” This seems to pass the sniff test, obviously we don’t want people to abuse a right and cause a stampede that will hurt or maim another person for no reason. Of course sometimes there are fires in crowded theaters, and I for one would certainly like to be notified of this should it occur. Clever rhetorical tricks aside, when we examine the root of this case, we see the way in which individuals within the government will almost inevitably give the government more power when given the choice - especially during war time.
Schenck vs United States2 was adjudicated in 1919. The facts of the case from Oyez.org:
During World War I, socialists Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer distributed leaflets declaring that the draft violated the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition against involuntary servitude. The leaflets urged the public to disobey the draft, but advised only peaceful action. Schenck was charged with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act of 1917 by attempting to cause insubordination in the military and to obstruct recruitment. Schenck and Baer were convicted of violating this law and appealed on the grounds that the statute violated the First Amendment.
Calling someone a socialist in 1919 is different than that socialists of today. Then they didn’t know any better, but Scenck and Baer certainly knew that war is a bad idea. Moreover, they believed (rightly) the government should have no right to compel someone to kill another, and that this constitutes slavery.
Of course, the justices all disagreed with your humble author, maintaining instead a “deference” to government is preferable in wartime and therefore these individuals were guilty of the crime they were convicted of.
It is here we get this supposed “reasonable exemption” to the first amendment. Two individuals handing out fliers protesting war. I don’t know about you, but that gives me pause about the people today (ironically some socialists) who question the validity of freedom of speech
What Freedom of Speech is really about
Many would argue, and I would agree, that an open and free society should welcome debate over every topic imaginable. By doing this, the best ideas will inevitably remain, and the bad ideas will fall away. This is the danger of tech censorship, as it radicalizes and removes people from “the conversation.” The freedom of speech though, isn’t even so broad. I practice methodological individualism3, and as such I understand only individuals can act. It follows from this, only individuals can speak, and as such only individuals can think. For me, the Freedom of Speech has always been the recognition that try as it might, a government cannot silence the minds of free men and women. Those who choose to remain free, will always have their mind and their voice. The tyrants and thieves who refuse to accept this are left with only one option - violence.
So take heart and remember that for most of human history, we could not communicate so easily. And while they may take away your profile, they can never truly take away your voice.
original source https://mises.org/library/human-action-0/html/pp/643