February 2, 2011

"Very few people are really supportive of free speech, whether they're liberals or conservatives..."

"... The First Amendment for many years played the role, when it triumphed in the courts, of protecting the speech of people who tended to be on the left—so it was minorities or the powerless in our society. The liberals on the Supreme Court today would still protect those people and their rights... What's changed is that conservatives found some causes which they have used to vindicate genuine First Amendment rights."

So said the great First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams — in an interview, a year ago, with James Taranto, who just emailed me, a propos of my blog post today, "When did the left turn against free speech?"

67 comments:

dont tread 2012 said...

How can you say that?

mesquito said...

On the contrary, professor. Almost every college-educted conservative in America has passed through at least on liberal-controlled institution. We learned in these places that certain opinions are forbidden. A contemptuous view of the value and justice of, say, affirmative action is treated as a hate crime.

It is possible -- nay, likely -- that a middle-aged liberal could have passed through his whole life without having to engage a conservative idea.

As a result, conservatives are much more tolerant and accepting of pluralism.

edutcher said...

The First Amendment cases of 50 years ago had less to do with "minorities or the powerless" than pornographers and anti-America types who wanted to burn the flag.

Lucien said...

Yet it seems that enough people on any given issue are supportive enough of free speech, or know that they should be, even if they don't feel like it, that it is pretty hard to formally and successfully prosecute adults for things they say.

Students get a bit of a tougher time, whether their offence is writing a short story fanatasizing about machine-gunning their classmates, or waving a sign that says "Bong Hits 4 Jesus". This is too bad, but also another reason why it's often better to be an adult. Still a lot better than the laws in say, Denmark.

Saint Croix said...

It's the difference between genuine liberals--like Hugo Black--and leftists. Leftists never believed in free speech, or democracy. They simply use free speech to attack democratic societies. When they get power, watch out.

Leftists believe in unelected government. Leftists believe in the Supreme Court dictating rules. Leftists believe in the Administative state, in unelected bureaucrats issuing orders. They believe in "experts" and think a small number of people can and should run a society. Leftists also believe in violence, institutional violence. They will calmly talk about removing or killing people, and talk about reeducating them. Leftists are totally cool with defining human beings as commodities and making the unwanted ones disappear.

Liberals still believe in free speech. But socialists and marxists and progressives do not, and they never did. And yes, Hitler was a socialist, a racist version of one.

Coketown said...

Floyd Abrams and James Taranto just made the list of people who need to STFU RIGHT NOW.

But really, on principle I think if several diverse factions both love and hate something--like the filibuster, first amendment, or Oops! All Berries Cap'n Crunch--the thing itself is worth preserving. It's like what Wilde said about critics and art...or something. It was a good sentence of his, but obviously didn't make Fish's idiotic list.

roesch-voltaire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mc said...

I think what we are currently experiencing has it's origins in the innate immaturity of the Baby Boomers. When they were young it was "don't trust anyone over thirty" and flipping the bird and communes. Then they hit an ethical adolescence where they were in positions to make decisions for themselves and society on a more impacting level. They couldn't stop staring at themselves in the mirror and sold their parents efforts, factories and concerns for pocket cash, but still felt the need to be social bullies. They never made it off of the playground and the country is going over the cliff at the end of their run. Banning an emotion, "hate"?, how childish! Yet such self esteem, Obama size self esteem. Which they have brainwashed their progeny into, sadly.
Overly simple, but sheesh, worst American generation and political/university class by a huge margin.
They felt it was cool to hate Western values, including tolerance of anything but their leftist views. Oikophobes.

That excludes the patriotic ones, but they were too busy working to poison our media and schools.

roesch-voltaire said...

I was impressed by the interview he did on this topic with Bill Moyer, but think the jury is still out on whether or not " Citizens United advances rather than hinders democracy." From my experience in academia folks can say outlandish things like Hitler was a socialist, as long as they back it up with data-- say maybe how once in power he broke all his promises to labour abolishing trade unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike, all things alive in the social democracy of Europe.

Fen said...

Very few people are really supportive of free speech, whether they're liberals or conservatives...

Take your false equivalence and shove it.



mesquito:
On the contrary, professor. Almost every college-educted conservative in America has passed through at least on liberal-controlled institution. We learned in these places that certain opinions are forbidden. A contemptuous view of the value and justice of, say, affirmative action is treated as a hate crime.

It is possible -- nay, likely -- that a middle-aged liberal could have passed through his whole life without having to engage a conservative idea.

As a result, conservatives are much more tolerant and accepting of pluralism.


Spot on.

ampersand said...
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Chris said...

Well, count me among the few then.

Chris said...

Well, count me among the few then.

virgil xenophon said...

I'm surprised that in this and Ann's previous post here today on this subj. that no one has yet quoted J.S. Mills' little tome "On Liberty"--the basic thrust of which was/is that the worse the idea the more it should receive the widest possible dissemination in order that the general populace should come to know/realize how truly awful it really is.

Cedarford said...

mesquito's point is excellent.

I know the reaction I have encountered with college educated adult liberals is many are devoid of knowledge of classic "conservative arguments" advanced by the likes of Hobbs, Rousseau, Edmund Burke. Or opinions of men like Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, Jefferson that are at odds with post 60s activist judiciary thinking.
Or even know that arguments exist to contemporary liberal beliefs because their profs smugly asserted that "debate by wise Elites" had resolved them and no need to rehash the arguments of Faux and the Hating Haters of conservatism in college.

Thus, a system of liberalism ungrounded in historical arguments, belief-based vs. fact based - that one hears from the Left and "Big Gov't gives us mo' stuff!" blacks.

Poor critical reasoning skills.

That said, that does not make conservative arguments right. Conservatives have their unreasoning Reagan is God sorts, an ill-educated Southern Religious Right base. Tell a true believing Right-Winger obsessed with "purity" against the RINOs that Reagan supply side economics didn;t work as advertised, that we cannot afford the Neocon vision of America as Global Empire, and Free Trade is not "win-win" for both sides - and they react like the worst liberal products fresh out of college.

Synova said...

I think that the statement that few people really support free speech is likely true enough even though I think that nearly every instance of "sure, liberals do it too, but most of the (incivility, etc., etc.,) is on the right" are nearly always ridiculous and willfully ignorant statements.

And whoever mentioned that the righties *here* tend to have a strong libertarian streak is certainly right about that. It seems that on the internet generally, conservatives tend to be strongly libertarian. And of course this makes the charges that any given person espousing conservative values must certainly be stupid/racist/uneducated/theocratic pretty stupid, too.

But in the end there are people who really *do* support free speech, have considered the issue and the necessity to tolerate speech that is offensive, dangerous and wrong.

Does anyone have an obligation to give someone else a platform from which to speak? No, of course not. But anyone has the *right* to give someone else a platform from which to speak and those who feel the need to try to coerce another citizen into making a different choice should consider just how much social pressure and harassment they are willing to advocate as justified.

Is it really okay to harass people at work and try to get them to lose their jobs, just because it's not the government acting like a thug? Is it really okay to show up in front of someone's house and harass and intimidate their children, just because it's not the government acting like a thug?

But even aside from people's bad behavior, is it even a good idea to try to "win" by using any tool to shut up those with bad ideas?

"The answer to bad speech is more speech" is a cute slogan, but it's also wise. Because we know what oppression brings us and more often than not it isn't the triumph of good ideas and freedom. Where in the world has it ever worked to try to shut up those with bad ideas? The ideas don't go away, they just become legitimized and empowered.

Kirby Olson said...

It's probably the middle classes that believe in free speech, just as it is the middle where they believe we can meet.

The far left speaks for the poor, and wants everybody else to shut up.

The far right speaks for the right, and wants everybody else to shut up.

As long as we have a strong middle class, we will have free speech.

The left wants to make everybody poor, so that they can rule.

The left began to ban freedom of speech at least as early as 1932 in the USSR. In China, freedom does not exist. In Cuba, you get four years in prison if you have a computer that is not listed with the state, and only the state is permitted to use them.

There's the only leftist rule that they cannot have a dictatorship if 5% of the people have telephones. That rule still holds.

They need to operate in total silence, and always have. Even if it means reducing the middle classes to zero in killing fields.

jimspice said...

Perhaps it's selective attention or retention on my part, but I'm not aware of any efforts on the part of the left to make any speech illegal. Now, wishing certain people would just shut up? Sure, I'll plead guilty myself. Believing these people are detrimental to the general welfare? Ditto. But pick a random good old fashioned book burning, and dollars to donuts there's a conservative behind it.

Shanna said...

Almost every college-educted conservative in America has passed through at least on liberal-controlled institution. We learned in these places that certain opinions are forbidden. A contemptuous view of the value and justice of, say, affirmative action is treated as a hate crime.

It is possible -- nay, likely -- that a middle-aged liberal could have passed through his whole life without having to engage a conservative idea.

As a result, conservatives are much more tolerant and accepting of pluralism.


This. So much.

folks can say outlandish things like Hitler was a socialist

Yeah, why would anyone call someone who joined and lead the national socialist party a socialist! Outlandish!

Freeman Hunt said...

Jim, Fairness Doctrine.

Freeman Hunt said...

University speech codes.

Shanna said...

Perhaps it's selective attention or retention on my part, but I'm not aware of any efforts on the part of the left to make any speech illegal. ...But pick a random good old fashioned book burning, and dollars to donuts there's a conservative behind it.

A bookburning has nothing to do with making any speech illegal either, so that's a false comparison. At least if you book burn (which hardly anybody does, honestly, so it's stupid that people always bring it up), you are burning, presumably, books you own. You are making a point that you dislike something, and even if it's a stupid way to make it I don't think you've really hurt anyone.

Where I think some liberals get into trouble is more that they just plain don't want to hear anything conservatives have to say. Maybe they don't want to outlaw it, they just want you not to say it. I really don't think most conservatives are nearly so bad at wanting to shut down liberal speech, at least that's been my experience. They generally just want to argue their point.

Synova said...

"But pick a random good old fashioned book burning, and dollars to donuts there's a conservative behind it."

Perhaps you could list some "good old fashioned book burnings".

There was that guy going to burn the Koran to make a point about his freedom, but he, like his freedom, got... squelched.

Fen said...

The Left has been trying to supress my speech for as long as I can remember. In fact, most the Lefties I knew growing up were only "liberal" because of peer pressure. So I'm not suprised to discover that most people today adopt "liberal" values as a brand: to network with the right people, to get invited to the right parties, etc. They've been co-opted by their own desire to conform. Its also why most of them can't explain themselves out of a paper bag when confronted with a media venue that allows for direct feedback.

One instance of Lefty suppression stands out for me: protesting at the Vice Presidents House druing the 2000 Florida Recount and the media coverage of it. If you don't remember, the media "narrative" at the time was the same as today - "the right is angry and poised for violence". As Noonan explained: the election was being hijacked by the Dems, and MSM was trying to take out the critics of the hijacking by marginalizing us as extremists.

At the protest, on the street corner opposite ours, the Left had assembled its union goons to counter-protest. All the media were there, and our protest leaders warned us that if physically attacked, not to fight back - because the media was eager to fake shots of encounter and frame it with their "violent radicals on the Right" narrative.

Several times the Union Goons charged across the street and got into our faces, trying to start a fight. Every single time, the MSM rushed in beside them to get the shot. We disappointed them.

But midway through the protest, during a calm point, a 12 year old girl using the crosswalk was shoved to the pavement by the Union Goons (who wrongly thought she was one of ours).

As a group, the MSM cameras all turned away. Not a single one attempted to catch it on film.

That way the day my contempt for the MSM turned into hate.

Anyways, I only provide the anecdote as an example of how long this tactic has been in the media's playbook. And to explain why I'll be drinking champagne if the NYTs/CNN/etc are ever destroyed.

Alex said...

Certain opinions are forbidden lest you risk your very career, academic or professional. F.e., if you say you agree with "The Bell Curve", that's an instant professional/academic death sentence.

Alex said...

The last "book burning" in America was in 1966 when the South burned Beatles records due to Lennon's "Beatles are bigger then Jesus". Has anything happened since?

Fen said...
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Alex said...

Maybe we should adopt European laws. You know where it's illegal to "lie". Who gets to decide the truth - well the state of course.

Alex said...

Fen - lefties can cite facts but they can never connect the dots. Glenn Beck can and does on a regular basis. That's what enrages them. That Beck educates lower middle class folks on what the left-wing forces are up to.

Eric said...

But pick a random good old fashioned book burning, and dollars to donuts there's a conservative behind it.

Sure, Jim, that's why all the well-known conservatives have lined up behind banning books like Huck Finn.

Fen said...

Its also why most of them can't explain themselves out of a paper bag when confronted with a media venue that allows for direct feedback.

The commenter Eponym is a perfect example of this in the "When did the left turn against free speech?" thread.

He damns Glenn Beck by assertion, demanding he be punished. He claims the evidence of guilt is obvious, but refuses to provide it. Apparently, he can't translate the last 2 Minute Hate session into his own words.

Finally, after much prompting, he supplies as his "proof" a link to an opinion piece from Media Matters, a left-wing propaganda rag funded by Soros and specifically directed to demonize Glenn Beck.

At least the irony was delicious.

Ralph L said...

Rousseau made conservative arguments?

Are you old enough to remember the 70's and its pervasive (and accurate) "America is in decline" mentality?

Fen said...

Libtard: But pick a random good old fashioned book burning, and dollars to donuts there's a conservative behind it.

Thats rich, considering that conservatives had to start their own publishing house to get their ideas on the market.

And course, the only reason AM talk radio exists is because liberals shut conservatives out of the media, so we had to start up a parallel venue to express our speech.

David said...

If flag burning is symbolic speech, why not book burning?

Hagar said...

Free speech is for me, but not for thee.

Synova said...

Can't even cite banned books. There aren't any.

The display of "banned" books for banned books month at the library somehow actually contains each book. So it's got to be "banned or challenged" books and what counts is any book that people have fussed over forcing school children to read.

It's like hunger in the US. We have the "hungry" and then we have to count the "food insecure" who aren't hungry but worry about buying groceries the day or two before pay day, just to get the numbers up high enough to be a crisis.

Synova said...

Funny though...

I don't recall hearing much about food insecurity lately. With unemployment the way it is and this economy you'd think we'd hear more about it.

G Joubert said...

I'm just not getting this effort to equalize the left and the right as both being opposed to free speech. It's like the big lie: keep repeating it and it's assumed to be true, mainly because it just seems so fair. Smacks of the fallacy of the golden mean.

Bottom line: I've never seen conservatives silence liberals, or even try to do so. It's always the other way around. And particularly nothing of the sort like the systematic effort made by liberals with their political correctness, speech codes, etc. I'm open to somebody making a showing otherwise.

And what mesquito said above is 100% accurate: Almost every college-educated conservative in America has passed through at least one liberal-controlled institution. We learned in these places that certain opinions are forbidden. And that was true even way back in the 70's, when I went to college.

Fen said...

I'm just not getting this effort to equalize the left and the right as both being opposed to free speech. It's like the big lie: keep repeating it and it's assumed to be true, mainly because it just seems so fair. Smacks of the fallacy of the golden mean.

Red: Blue Team is cheating

Blue: Red Team has been cheating too!

Partisan Masquerading as Ref: Both sides have been cheating.

Partisan Sports Analyst: Since both sides do it, Blue Team is excused from cheating. Again.

Red Team: [....]

Beldar said...

Abrams is a leftie, but a helluva good lawyer and -- especially for a New York lawyer of his prominence -- an amazingly approachable and unpretentious person. I worked with him once in the early 1980s, and have corresponded with him a couple of times since then, and although we haven't always agreed, I found it very easy to like him.

Patrick said...

Coketown: "Floyd Abrams and James Taranto just made the list of people who need to STFU RIGHT NOW."

Even if that is in jest, it's sort of funny that your instinct is to repress speech. Why do they need to STFU? If it so obviously is stupid, wouldn't it help you if they said it louder and more often, thus showing themselves to be fools?

Who is the fool?

WV: undyn. Althouse's love for free speech and Meade is undyn'

Synova said...

I thought that Coketown was employing sarcasm.

Joe said...

(The Crypto Jew)
But pick a random good old fashioned book burning, and dollars to donuts there's a conservative behind it.
Well Jim-bo, why don't you just whip out the last good old book burn'in' you dun herd of...jest whip the date, time an' place owt, why doan yah? Ah'm shure you kin dew that AN' name the KKKonservuh-tiv who wuz behine the book burn'n.

Patrick said...

Perhaps Coketown was projecting the left's version of who should be on the stfu list? I tried to make room for that with the "even in jest." Didn't work I guess, but it wasn't clear.

How do I get on that list? Maybe coketown can add me!

AJ Lynch said...

Jimbino:
Libs tend to suppress "incorrect" speech by using lawyers, boards of insiutions etc. IOW, libs do it quietly and sneakily.

As to the book burnings you mentioned, can they be done quietly and sneakily? If so, how'd you hear about it?

Conservatives 4 Better Dental Hygiene said...

Liberals are downright mean and anti-free speech for asking ardent conservative activists to back up what they say with facts and competent reasoning!

How do you expect conservatives to make money and gain wealth and power and access if they're doing pansy things like engaging in "ideas" at things called "universities"? Jerk!

AJ Lynch said...

Fen:
Take this as a compliment. I never took you for a turn the other cheek, non-violent protestor type.

Conservatives 4 Better Dental Hygiene said...

Most people who resort to publicly burning books aren't usually interested in leaving any of the offending editions left. They tend not to do it for the symbolism of it.

AJ Lynch said...

Ritmo's frequent appearances here are evidence that conservatives tolerate free speech no matter how uninformed and unintelligible it may be.

Conservatives 4 Better Dental Hygiene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Conservatives 4 Better Dental Hygiene said...

I appreciate your tolerating my speech, A.J.

If only you could then figure out how to respond constructively to it.

;-)

mc said...

No doubt we've all chuckled at Mr. Bierce's definitions before:

CONSERVATIVE, n.
A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

I for one believe in the enlightenment notion of a set of human tendencies which can be used to provide a decent landscape to live in, without changing it all.

and:

CONVERSATION, n.
A fair to the display of the minor mental commodities, each exhibitor being too intent upon the arrangement of his own wares to observe those of his neighbor.

Why mention? Maybe it's the cocktail but it seems a synthesis between those two notions arrives at what is at the center of the whirlpool here.

Or not.

http://www.alcyone.com/max/lit/devils/c.html

PaulV said...

I think Bill Veech (as in wreck) was behind the burning of disco records at an Indians ball game. To be fair it went wrong.

Charles said...

PaulIV-

"Disco Madness", that would be the White Sox...

Cleveland was 10 cent beer night versus the Rangers. I was there for that gem.

Fred4Pres said...

Most people are supportive of it, till you say something they dislike.

Fen said...

AJ: Fen, Take this as a compliment. I never took you for a turn the other cheek, non-violent protestor type.

I was back then. But the hatemongering and violence from the Left has radicalized me.

Blue@9 said...

It's probably the middle classes that believe in free speech, just as it is the middle where they believe we can meet.

The far left speaks for the poor, and wants everybody else to shut up.

The far right speaks for the right, and wants everybody else to shut up.

As long as we have a strong middle class, we will have free speech.


This is exactly right, I think, and it's consonant with the reason that America has stayed politically stable for so long.

Despite the fact that many deplore the lack of viable third parties in this country (a result of the winner-take-all system in our Constitution), the two party system has created a very politically moderate country. The two parties remain relatively moderate because to lurch toward extremism would result in disaster. Unlike in Europe, no serious far left or far right party can challenge the two big tent parties.

If you think about it, this near parity between the two major parties has also created a liberty-rich environment. Unlike some curmudgeons, I tend to think we're freer as a people than we've ever been.

Lisa said...

As I understand it, people have free speech not organizations.

If GE or GM have free speech, then can they be drafted, can they be tried and imprisoned?

mesquito said...

As I understand it, people have free speech not organizations.

Geez Louise.

Jay said...

When did the left turn against free speech?"

There was no "turn"

The left is not in any way in favor of "free speech."

As evidenced by the fact the call for Fox News to have their broadcasting license revoked. The same for Limbaugh. The leftist commenters on this blog also were quite supportive of NPR firing Juan Williams.

I also remind you of this:
Sens. Reid, Durbin, Stabenow, Schumer, and Dorgan sent a letter to Disney today containing the following passages:

We write with serious concerns about the planned upcoming broadcast of The Path to 9/11 mini-series on September 10 and 11. Countless reports from experts on 9/11 who have viewed the program indicate numerous and serious inaccuracies that will undoubtedly serve to misinform the American people about the tragic events surrounding the terrible attacks of that day. Furthermore, the manner in which this program has been developed, funded, and advertised suggests a partisan bent unbecoming of a major company like Disney and a major and well respected news organization like ABC. We therefore urge you to cancel this broadcast to cease Disney’s plans to use it as a teaching tool in schools across America through Scholastic. Presenting such deeply flawed and factually inaccurate misinformation to the American public and to children would be a gross miscarriage of your corporate and civic responsibility to the law, to your shareholders, and to the nation.

The Communications Act of 1934 provides your network with a free broadcast license predicated on the fundamental understanding of your principle obligation to act as a trustee of the public airwaves in serving the public interest. Nowhere is this public interest obligation more apparent than in the duty of broadcasters to serve the civic needs of a democracy by promoting an open and accurate discussion of political ideas and events. [...]


Conservatives may clap & cheer when someone like Olbermann is fired, but they don't try and silence him.

There is a huge difference between the left and right on this issue.

Jay said...

Conservatives 4 Better Dental Hygiene said...

Liberals are downright mean and anti-free speech for asking ardent conservative activists to back up what they say with facts and competent reasoning!


Laugh out loud funny.

You are a bad parody.

Jay said...

But pick a random good old fashioned book burning, and dollars to donuts there's a conservative behind it.


You can't cite an instance of "book burning" in America in the 21st century, clown...

dont tread 2012 said...

@C4BDH

"Most people who resort to publicly burning books aren't usually interested in leaving any of the offending editions left. They tend not to do it for the symbolism of it."

Wow, what to do with that 'statement'. Were you on your 3rd or 4th merlot?

'Most people'? So you actually know a group of book-burners? Do tell. 'Aren't usually'? you mean, sometimes they are? '..leaving any of the offending editions left'? Offensive to whom? Leaving, left - dept. of redundancy dept.

'They tend not to do it..' - do they? Who? Does what? What 'symbolism'? Of what? Burning books, or leaving some behind?

If I may, I would once again like to quote Jay:

You are an idiot.

tim maguire said...

It may or may not be true that "very few people are really supportive of free speech, whether they're liberals or conservatives," but it is true that nearly all the people who really support free speech are conservative.

Freeman Hunt said...

Don't tread, the reference was to book burnings with the goal of censorship, not symbolic book burnings akin to flag burnings. In book burnings to achieve censorship, people try to wipe out certain books entirely by burning all copies of them.

A list of book burnings.

Robert Cook said...

"...it is true that nearly all the people who really support free speech are conservative."

Citation, please.

jimspice said...

"You can't cite an instance of "book burning" in America in the 21st century, clown... "

I would like my public apology now: http://bit.ly/burn-potter

I'll back off my statement though. Let's change "burn" to "ban" (including removing from library shelves) and I'll stick with that one.