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josie's avatar

Can free speech exist unchained?

Asked by josie (28861points) January 18th, 2011

This oddly Orwellian question is asked by Simon Jenkins, a writer for the UK’s famously leftist paper, The Guardian. (Guardian of what?)
Anyway, is Simon correct? Does free speech need to be placed in chains in order to remain free?

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12 Answers

TexasDude's avatar

Liberty is a tough pill for some to swallow.

Fuck institutional restraints on free speech (I don’t care what private groups do i.e. Fluther writing standards, etc.)

CaptainHarley's avatar

I would rather give up the right to a trial by my peers than give up freedom of speech. I would rather go back into the military and fight to preserve the freedom of speech than continue to live the retired life. I would rather take up arms and fight to preserve liberty than continue to watch both major political parties nibble away at our freedom and rights like rats at a block of cheese.

marinelife's avatar

Free speech has always had and will always have limitations.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Of course. Limitations like the oft-repeated “you cannot shout ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theatre,” Or being prohibited from making substantive threats to public figures, etc. Those are acceptable “limitations.” Limiting what people can say on the issues on their own radio station, for example, should NEVER be limited.

And while we’re on the subject, what about that flaming idiot “professor” in… I think it was NYC… publically calling for the total extermination of the entire white race? That’s not “hate speech,” but Sara Palin drawing crosshairs on a frikkin MAP is??? WTF???

mattbrowne's avatar

To me it makes a lot of sense to limit hate speech.

CaptainHarley's avatar


1. What is “hate speech?”
2. Who defines “hate speech?”
3. How do we separate “hate speech” from all other speech?
4. What if someone who indulges in “hate speech” turns out to be right?

Freedom of speech is intended ( in part ) to allow the clash of ideas free reign in the expectation that we will wind up with a fully informed citizenry who can sort the wheat from the chaff. To make a priori assumptions about limiting people’s right to say what they think, we are once again making an assumption that people are incapable of deciding correctly on their own. This is anit-democratic.

wundayatta's avatar

Are there limits to freedom of speech? My inclination is to say no. I don’t believe it is practical to constrain speech. People will always find a way to speak out, no matter how many rags you try to stuff in their mouths. It’s better we know who is speaking what, then to let them use untraceable proxies to propagate their ideas.

I agree with Sir Kenneth Clark about courtesy. That’s what we need to keep on solving our problems without so much rancor. We need to ask as if we are all sitting at the same dinner table, asking someone to please pass the butter. If you can pull back far enough, you can actually see that we are all partaking of the same banquet.

If we had a nation… or a world, for that matter… of people who can politely ask for and politely pass the butter, we will go a long ways towards getting everyone to dance to the same tune, partnered with anyone on the dance floor.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I agree ( with perhaps a “concurring opinion” of my own ). : )

mattbrowne's avatar

@CaptainHarley – Lawmakers. The German penal code (Strafgesetzbuch) establishes that someone is guilty of Volksverhetzung if the person in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace:
1. incites hatred against segments of the population or calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them; or
2. assaults the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming segments of the population

I’m aware that American and German mindsets are incompatible in this respect. But American laws are not the benchmark for the entire world.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Never even implied that they were.

josie's avatar

@mattbrowne And the Germans (and any one else who creates “anti-hate speech” laws) are making a serious mistake.
Volksverhetzung clause #1 implies that people must respond by necessity to calls for violence or arbitrary measures against people. In fact people can, if they choose, ignore such appeals, or even publicly denounce them.
Volksverhetzung clause #2 is nothing more than a (futile) attempt to legislate good manners.

In either case, such laws do not prevent the behavior.
The laws merely drive the behaviour into the underground, where it festers and becomes more virulent, because reasonable people do not know it is there, and thus they do not speak against it.
When it finally reappears, it is organized and has momentum and then it is too late. There is a problem.
And it seems to me that the Deutsh Nation, of all people, should already know that.

mattbrowne's avatar

@josie – I’m aware there are pros and cons. Here’s one of the pros:

Islamist imams in Germany engaging in hate speech brainwashing frustrated young people are arrested, tried and sent back to their countries of origin. This doesn’t happen in the UK or US. All you can do is sending undercover journalists filming hate speech in mosques and putting the videos on YouTube.

In fact, had the hate speeches in Hamburg, Germany been discovered in 1999 or 2000, people like Muhammad Atta might have pursued a career as an engineer (which was his plan) instead of becoming a suicide bomber steering airplanes into skyscrapers.

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