With that out of the way, I want to take up this statement by Minnie Quaich, writing at FIRE's The Torch:
Again and again, we find that anything that can be offensive, inappropriate, and counterproductive ravings to some might very well be provocative, useful, and critical discourse to others. The widely differing and competing reactions to even the most controversial expression like Churchill’s prove how vital it is to protect freedom of speech in this country, on campus, and beyond.Wonderful. But what about speech that fosters the restriction of speech,* if not the wholesale suppression of liberty? Suppose that a compelling speaker is able to convince a supermajority of the populace that it's dangerous to have people running around saying certain things in public? Suppose that supermajority is able to pass a constitutional amendment that restricts speech? Or just suppose that government -- acting at the behest of "the people" -- effectively does the same thing by statutorily restricting certain forms of speech (as in campaign-finance "reform")?
In other words: Free speech cannot flourish unless government is restricted to its "nightwatchman" role. Yet free speech seems inevitably to produce an intrusive government.** And an intrusive government seem inevitably to issue restrictions on speech, among other forms of liberty.
Before you draw the wrong conclusion, consider this: If government could declare certain topics (e.g., the role of government) off-limits in the name of liberty, I have no doubt that government would be even more intrusive and restrictive of liberty.
*To be clear about it, I don't consider the following to be improper restrictions of speech:
- non-governmental criticism of speech
- non-governmental ostracism of persons or entities whose speech is disagreeable
- the owner of private property dictating what may be said on his property
- disciplining an employee for saying things that may damage the employer's business
- prosecuting directly injurious speech (e.g., slander, libel, and intimidation).
Favorite Posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech