20 February 2006
How essential is freedom of speech?

Oh , it’s essential to me, of course, but then I am a libertarian.  But what about Western civilisation in general?  I ask because it occurs to me that freedom of speech has had a hard time of it over the years.  If one thinks back to the Medieval period it was not pleasant to be a protestant in a Catholic country.  And then, during the Reformation, it wasn’t so hot to be a Catholic in a (by then) protestant country.  Hey, it wasn’t so great to be the wrong sort of protestant.  During the 1820s all sorts of efforts were made to suppress seditious publications.  And, as recently as the 1970s, Gay News was prosecuted under the blasphemy laws.

And yet, despite all this Western civilisation has gone on.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am four-square behind the publication of the Danish cartoons.  I think this is likely to be the defining moment in the clash of civilisations.  I very much hope that someone will explain to me that, yes, in fact, freedom of speech, or something pretty close to it, really is essential, but, well, you know, sometimes it’s worth playing Devil’s Advocate.

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  1. The reformation happened, because people believed so strongly in their cause, that they were willing to die for it.

    What this meant was a pretty bad time for those who made the stand, but a much better future for their Co Religionists.

    That fight for freedom of religious conscience, which is basically the foundation of our modern freedoms, was a process that we would be stupid to reverse, bearing in mind the suffering.

    The mere fact of two competing Christianities in Western Europe, made further discussion much easier, a foundation of the enlightenment.

    Western Civilisation advanced because, in general the supporters of freer speaking and thinking prevailed. The trend was important, not particular freedoms at specific times.

    This history of ours makes the current problems even more relevant. We are being asked, in effect, to reverse the process of Freedom of Religion, the basic foundation of all of our other freedoms. The fact that the party requesting this is guilty of complete disregard for this freedom, wherever they hold sway, just adds insult to injury.

    Posted by EU Serf on 20 February 2006 at 05:27pm

  2. Perhaps it’s the nature of offense that needs to be considered.  Blasphemy, obscenity, profanity, have been considered bannable because they offend, they irritate.  No one seriously contends that they cause physical harm.  Any civil disorder that results is because of the irritation, the offense.  They’re not that different, then, from cigarette smoke, other recreational drugs, loud music, dirt (non-poisonous), neon signs and mismatched clothing.

    The genius of Western society is that it has recognized that offense is not always to be taken seriously and catered to.  Limits have been put on causes for complaint.  Now the Muslims and the PC crowd have ganged up on freedom in the name of some absurd non-offensive utopia.  I bet Mohammed never wore perfume.  But he sure had a lot of offensive ideas.  Oh and I forgot “Smileys”  Boy do those things offend me!  I bet they’re haram!

    Posted by Robert Speirs on 22 February 2006 at 07:27pm

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