Quote of the Day:

If the criterion for censorship is that nobody’s feelings can be hurt, we are finished as a free society.

–Niall Ferguson in the Boston Globe

In a Boston Globe oped headlined "The Biggest Threat to Free Speech? It's the Left," historian Niall Ferguson quotes this intriguing reflection on free speech from a professor of comparative literature at New York University:

“The idea of freedom of speech,” wrote[Ulrich] Baer, “does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. . . .  Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute. [I]t requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters.”

Except that that Baer's definition of free speech is diametrically opposed to the usual definition of free speech as enshrined in American law and tradition. Describing himself as a free-speech absolutist, Ferguson shoots back that freedom of speech actually is an unchanging absolute.  Ferguson says that he will defend the professor's right to publish drivel and his own right to say it is trash.

Ferguson notes that the Trump-as-tyrant fantasy is not quite panning out as the Resistance sold it, given that the president is facing all sorts of challenges. But Ferguson says this is no reason to stop worrying about loss of a basic freedom–but it won't come from Trump–it would come from the post-Trump world:

[T]he worst thing about the Trump presidency is that its failure risks opening the door for the equal and opposite but much more ruthless populism of the left. Call me an unreconstructed Cold Warrior, but I find their tyranny a far more alarming — and more likely — prospect.

With few exceptions, American conservatives respect the Constitution. The modern American left, by contrast, thirsts to get rid of one of the most fundamental protections that the Constitution enshrines: free speech.

The vigilance about parameters and rejection of freedom of speech as an abslute Professor Baer praised can be seen in the anti-free speech eruptions on American campuses. Though it is mostly conservative speakers who have been shouted down, even those who are not conservatives are no longer able to exercise the right to say what they please on campus. Oxford zoologist and atheist standard bearer Richard Dawkins, for example, was disinvited to speak at Berkeley. According to a Berkeley spokesman, Dawkins was cancelled Dawkins because “he has said things that I know have hurt people." (This likely referred to Dawkins' criticism of Islam, a big free speech no no.)

How do we lose freedom of speech? Ferguson explains:

Freedom is rarely killed off by people chanting “Down with Freedom!” It is killed off by people claiming that the greater good/the general will/the community/the proletariat requires “examination of the parameters” (or some such cant phrase) of individual liberty. If the criterion for censorship is that nobody’s feelings can be hurt, we are finished as a free society.

Where such arguments lead is just a long-haul flight away.

The regime of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, in Venezuela, used to be the toast of such darlings of the American Left as Naomi Klein, whose 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine” praised Venezuela as “a zone of relative economic calm” in a world dominated by marauding free market economists. Today (as was eminently foreseeable 10 years back), Venezuela is in a state of economic collapse, its opposition leaders are in jail, and its constitution is about to be rewritten yet again to keep the Chavista dictatorship in power. Another regime where those who speak freely land in jail is Saudi Arabia, a regime lauded by Women’s March leader and sharia law enthusiast Linda Sarsour.

Mark my words, while I can still publish them with impunity: The real tyrants, when they come, will be for diversity (except of opinion) and against hate speech (except their own).

Finder's Fee: Hot Air