May 29th, 2016
What is going on with the left and free speech?
Decades ago self-described liberals were consistently in the forefront of defending the right to free speech and the first amendment.
Lenny Bruce was the poster boy/martyr for this cause. Liberals defended pornography and communists. They consistently said “the answer to speech you don’t like is more speech” – not controls on speech.
The ACLU became famous for defending unpopular speech, even to the extent of defending the right of neo-Nazis to march though the largely Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie.
But in recent years it seems the situation has turned 180 degrees. The #1 cause célèbre among all my left-of-center friends is reversing Citizens United. Campus protests demand censorship and “safe spaces”, and aim to drum professors advocating politically incorrect views out of the academy.
And then we have:
This all seems a very long way from the impassioned defense of free speech the left (in the US) used to stand for.
What happened? Why?
I asked an insightful slightly left-of-center friend, who said,
“Liberals will care about free speech if and as it fights harm and oppression and advances equality. There are a handful of people who care about free speech as an end in itself, but not many.”
I’m not sure if that’s correct. But if it is, what does that say about the contemporary left?
If the left of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s thought that free speech would advance its goals, helping to undermine the status quo, does it now oppose free speech because it sees itself in a position of power, able to dictate what are and aren’t acceptable ideas?
When and how did that change? Did the fall of the Soviet empire strengthen the left in the west, instead of discrediting it?
I’m confused. But as someone who really does care about free speech, it’s terribly disappointing.