I’m really starting to like some of the things I’m hearing out of our cousins down-under. First it was them calling out homeopathy for being a fiction, and now this from their attorney general, George Brandis:
‘Because’, he says, ‘if you are going to defend freedom of speech, you have to defend the right of people to say things you would devote your political life to opposing. Your good faith is tested by whether or not you would defend the right to free speech of people with whom you profoundly disagree. That’s the test.’
Hallelujah! Finally a western politician who is willing to stand up and defend Free Speech the way it was originally envisioned by Locke, Mill, Jefferson and Voltaire. In recent weeks there have been numerous examples of those who believe themselves to be on the “right side of history” arguing that restrictions on free speech should be imposed to prevent people from presenting or discussing views they don’t agree with. Rather than win a debate the old fashioned way, these individuals, would rather stifle dissent and shut down debate. Whether it be on university campuses such a Brandeis backing down from letting the great Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak because it might make some people “uncomfortable”, or people writing to the the House of Commons at Westminster asking for restrictions on unpalatable speech, it is reprehensible.
One of the comments on the site cited above scared me especially:
There is no utility in having people express views that are false in fact, nor free of consequence. The classic example is freely shouting “fire” in a theatre.
Egads – conflating yelling fire in a crowded theatre with expressing views that are “false in fact” depends on someone being the absolute arbiter of “truth”. Reminds me of things that were done under Stalin! Of course, most of the people expressing this view today don’t see themselves as totalitarians – because they are expressing their view out of genuine belief that you can have such limits and control on society without being totalitarian. Unfortunately that belief is false. The success of western civilization over the past four hundred years comes from our freedom to think, speak, print and debate. And to figure out that sometimes we are wrong, whether it be about science, social ills, or economics.
Andrew Coyne expressed this very well in a recent National Post column:
The idea that the state should refrain, as a rule, from regulating speech, the willingness of the public to legislate restraints on the state’s ability to do so, the readiness of those in power to be so restrained, all are born of a climate of opinion that recognizes the intrinsic value of speech, even or perhaps especially where it offends.
So far as we follow the opposite impulses in our private interactions with each other, so far as we attempt not to argue with others but to intimidate them, so far as we indulge the toxic nonsense that there is a right not to be offended, we undermine that consensus, and so in turn weaken our defences — intellectual, political, legal — against the government doing likewise.
As did Mark Steyn from the Spectator:
Free speech and a dynamic, innovative society are intimately connected: a culture that can’t bear a dissenting word on race or religion or gender fluidity or carbon offsets is a society that will cease to innovate, and then stagnate, and then decline, very fast.
But I await such candor and backbone from a Canadian politician, of any stripe.