Another day, another progressive effort to erode pubic support and understanding for the First Amendment. This is at the root of America’s current ethics conflict: a perverse and puckish God has made one of the most unethical and least reflective of public figures the crucial bulwark against a massed and relentless assault against core national values.
The New York Times, taking a hand-off from its ideological twin the New Yorker, has published an attack on free speech from New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz. Even though he is a professional writer, he has managed to complete an elite education (Brown, NYU School of Journalism) without managing to grasp the essence of freedom of speech, and why it is the structural load-bearing beam that allows our democracy to exist.
Marantz simply doesn’t get it, or he does get it, but would love to see less liberty and more enforced line-toeing by those lesser intellects and deplorables who cannot accept the inherent rightness of the progressive view of the universe. He writes, for example,
Using “free speech” as a cop-out is just as intellectually dishonest and just as morally bankrupt. For one thing, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies. Even the most creative reader of the Constitution will not find a provision guaranteeing Richard Spencer a Twitter account. But even if you see social media platforms as something more akin to a public utility, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment anyway. Libel, incitement of violence and child pornography are all forms of speech. Yet we censor all of them, and no one calls it the death knell of the Enlightenment.
I guess Brown has no mandatory course in government theory. The Constitution is the enabling document of the U.S. mission statement—you know, the one that begins by announcing that there are inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That such a governing document that could only limit government restrictions on free speech also stood for a cultural, societal and ethical norm that freedom of speech was central to the Declaration’s summary of human rights would normally be clear to anyone who bothered to study the two documents as well as research the relationship between law, morality and ethics. It’s true that Richard Spencer can’t be assured of a Twitter account, but a society that denies him one is chopping at that load-bearing beam.
I can’t be guaranteed the right to link to Ethics Alarms on Facebook, either, but the fact that Facebook blocks ethics analysis that people like Marantz find “offensive” ( as in “inconvenient”) is something no friend of democracy would extol.
A little bit of legal comprehension would be a useful condition precedent to blathering on about what is free speech, but then intellectually dishonest advocates like Marantz wouldn’t be able to make his anti-speech arguments so we could understand what the totalitarian Left is up to.
For example, libel is defamation, which is a tangible harm that can be inflicted on an individual or organization by maliciously or negligently spreading untruths. The courts have ruled that one can still lie with impunity in the U.S., as long as the lie doesn’t cross into crime, like fraud, or tort, as with defamation. Using defamation as an analogy to justify prior restraint of opinions and advocacy, which is what Marantz is trying to do, is logically, factually and legally unsupportable.
As Libby Emmons and Barrett Wilson point out in their debunking of Marantz’s screed, incitement to violence is a crime, and one that is still considered problematical from a speech perspective. They write, “The cases of Schenck v. United States (1919), Gitlow v. New York (1925), Whitney v. California (1927), Dennis v. United States (1951), Yates v. United States (1957), Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), Hess v. Indiana (1973), and Stewart v. McCoy (2002), show that the Supreme Court, and the American public, are trying to figure out where to draw the line between an incitement to violence such that there would be jurisdiction over preventing it, and free speech by individuals and groups who are working hard to make their points and wishes heard.” This is because Marantz and his fellow totalitarians know if sufficiently strong warnings against their agenda inspires the conclusion that basic freedoms are in danger and may need to be protected by force, their stealthy, bloodless coup may become messy. The same anti-First Amendment activists are inevitably anti-Second Amendment as well. It’s no coincidence.
Child pornography is an anomaly, not treated as speech by the law because it is treated as evidence of a crime. Again, no analogy with the kind of speech Marantz thinks should be regulated is valid.
Like all ideological censors, the Times’ anti-speech champion begins with the false premise that those who determine what is acceptable speech can be trusted not to abuse that power to acquire more. They cannot. Moreover, the very fact that they make the kinds of arguments made in the Times op-ed is signature significance for minds that neither understand America nor respect the nation’s historic priorities, which elevates personal liberty above all other considerations.