Look around for the best case against free speech. You’ll find that the best cases against such a notion, especially “Free speech absolutism”, is essentially the fact that it allows for what one might call “hateful” to be allowed. Not accepted necessarily but allowed. While this is true, we are coming up to the big problem here; namely, who gets to decide what hate speech is? We have differing opinions regularly being shut down as “hate speech”. A 2017 article from the Atlantic asks “Why isn’t expression that shames or demonizes a speaker not a legitimate form of counter-speech.” When positing that “It doesn’t address the merits of the argument”, the writer says that idea reflects “a rather narrow view of what counts as the merits. To argue that a speaker’s position is racist or sexist to say something about the merits of her position.”
Here’s the problem with that, racism and sexism are now used as weapons to silence debate on a given subject outright. It’s what led to the destructive protests against Milo and Shapiro. To be fair, the writer decries physical violence as an illegitimate mechanism. However, what leads many to violence now is the “threat” of a differing viewpoint. We have the idea “Speech is violence. The riots and other forms of disruption, or as Ben Shaprio calls it “The heckler’s veto” could in that context be considered “pre-emptive self-defense”. More charitably, it is suppression or censorship.
The best cases for free-speech often accept that there may indeed be “indecent” or even dangerous words. The primary issue is who gets to define what is indecent or dangerous. Christopher Hitchens’ incredible defense of free speech (required viewing for anyone who wants to know what they’re up against) sees the late writer and thinker rail against the idea that anyone who wants to give themselves the right to censor other people creates a rod for his own back.
A few more thoughts on this issue. The first comes from my experience watching the gun control debate. I’d argue that most who argue for restrictions of a constitutional right are more concerned with the result of that right being used in a way counter to what they’d prefer than respecting the freedoms they are calling for boundaries on. The “opposite of what they’d prefer” on one end, may be murder, on the other “hate speech”.
We would prefer that, while there is a right to firearms, they not be used to commit evil. Because they are used to commit evil, the activist would rather they be heavily regulated. Conversely, one might prefer someone else not use one word, and instead use another (this is seen in the gender fluidity discussion. Gender, by the way, now seems to resemble pokemon; there is for no biological reason: a new batch every year.). Because this person refuses to use the “prefered” word, it is seen as a form of hate speech. The preceding situation is taking place in Canada as we speak.
I need to stress this point: I am not saying that murder or hateful speech is something to be lauded or celebrated. I am saying that the mere fact that a right is used improperly is not a useful justification to set boundaries on that right. Especially when we can’t define what an “assault rifle” is, and when there are hundreds of definitions of what hate speech is, up to and including “anything I disagree with”. Moreover, as discussed in Burke, one who advocates restriction seems willing to sacrifice the good that comes with a right and may change nothing about the condition they’re using as justification for the sacrifice. Rarely are gun control or anti-free speech advocates asked to explain the good their sacrificing. What does the gun control advocate say of the defensive gun uses in America? Even the ones involving AR-15s. What does the one advocating restrictions on speech have to say for their methods being used to silence debate?
Additionally, the forced imposing of a restriction on a right should be proven to reduce the irresponsible use of a right before it is enacted. A gun law should first be proven empirically to have worked elsewhere before it is brought to a nation where the right to bear arms “shall not be infringed. A free-speech law should be proven to maintain freedom of expression. If you cannot prove to me that a gun law will reduce crime, or that a speech law will not incite violent protest as a form of speech in place of using language. but I can prove the opposite to both, who is it that “supports violence”?
I fail to see how restricting speech will lead to a better world. It is no longer right to see the “logical extreme” of censoring a joke as some hyperbolic pipedream of the free-speech side. That actually happened with the Count Dankula case. Comedian Jonathan Pie decided to test the waters as well, and London police encouraged his offended character to file an official offense report.
One last thing, to those who say that what is happening in London “will never happen here”, how can you be sure? What is it about the existence of the microagression, the safe space, the national “victim culture” climate that is rampant especially on campuses where everyone is a Nazi/racist/bigot/homophobe gives the idea that what is happening in London isn’t already gestating here? We should not entertain the idea that some kind of restriction cannot happen in America because it just can’t, when that restriction is already law in other Western nations.
So, is free speech worth the necessary evil of hateful speech? Or is it so dangerous that one can justify even filing a police report over the slightest possible offense? Those who fall into the latter category must be especially careful of what they say. For the mechanism they install to restrict speech (usually the speech of others) can be used against them. If they are not affected by the law, they advocate from a very safe, likely ignorant, cowardly position.