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Anarchism and Freedom of Speech

Oppose the State's Right to Censor, or Just Oppose the State?

By Punkerslut

By Duncan C.
Image: By Duncan C, CC BY-NC 2.0 License

Start Date: February 18, 2013
Finish Date: February 18, 2013

Freedom of Speech and the Democratic Tradition

"I am sensible that the voice of one philosopher is too weak to be heard amidst the clamours of a multitude, blindly influenced by custom; but there is a small number of sages scattered on the face of the earth, who will echo to me from the bottom of their hearts."

--Cesare Beccaria, 1764
"Of Crimes and Punishments," Chapter 28
     One of the most important aspects of Democracy has always been Freedom of Speech. Democracy itself is a society where the people themselves rule. If the people cannot discuss and argue about what they want for a social organization, then the decisions they make won't really reflect the desires of the people. The people acting as a collective decision-making body won't act very wisely if they are prohibited from discussing what will be the most beneficial options for society to choose. How could the majority know that its decisions were right unless they first talked about it?

     With the most pressing issues banned from discussion, any type of decisions such an organization would make would probably be according to the will of whoever had the power to ban discussion. In general, then, Democracy is often measured not according to the equal right to participation in the government of each member of society -- but according to the equal right to unrestricted opinion and speech. This is not the most accurate measurement of Democratic tendencies within society, but it is very useful to determine the true freedom of the individual.

     The decision-making of the majority is wiser according to how much members of society are allowed to talk about serious, social issues that effect them. But besides just effecting the majority, Freedom of Speech is cherished all the more by all groups that exist outside of mainstream society. Whether the revolutionary movement is struggling for Civil Rights, for Environmentalism, for Peace, or for Human Rights, every organization existing outside of the established norm has advanced itself through Freedom of Speech. These ideals have become accepted into the norm of human thinking very much because there was an open river of thought between society's members.

Why Not Break the Law if Crime is Convincing?

Sherlock Holmes: "You don't mind breaking the law?"

Dr. Watson: "Not in the least."

Sherlock Holmes: "Nor running a chance of arrest?"

Dr. Watson: "Not in a good cause."

Sherlock Holmes: "Oh, the cause is excellent!"

--Arthur Conan Doyle, 1891
"A Scandal in Bohemia"
     There is a difficulty that comes with so strong an acceptance of Freedom of Speech. What happens if someone makes a convincing argument, but the government refuses to accept this argument? What happens when new evidence and new thinking is met by established authorities with silence or repression? What happens when the citizen gives a good reason for their right to liberty but the government and its allies never provide a reason against it? If you can make a convincing argument for what is right, true, just, and compassionate, then why should we do the opposite only on account of the command of the law? Why should those with insight, wisdom, and forethought allow themselves to be controlled by those who refuse to think and discuss rationally? Why should any citizen be bound to the laws of the state?

     Democracy is established essentially on the principle of collective decision-making. That often implies that once the majority has made a decision on an issue, then it is a decision that has been made for those who disagree as much as it is for those who agree. Yet Freedom of Speech is considered to be just as essential to any type of genuine Democracy. In that case, citizens are expected to hear reasonable, logical arguments that convince them to think or act a certain way, and then to behave in the most irrational, illogical manner believable. This is the message of the state that describes itself as a Democracy: "You are free to investigate the laws and explain in perfectly fine detail exactly how wrong they are, but even if you have the mind of a rational creature, we expect you to have the will and desire of unthinking stone."

     What argument could be made for someone to disobey truth and to follow error? Wouldn't that argument work itself out with reason, logic, and thinking? There are a thousand arguments for government: if we start breaking this one law because it is wrong, what's to stop anyone from breaking any law that they believe to be wrong? Of course you could try to make some sort of reasonable argument on why you should follow the rules of the government, even if you question them. But that argument essentially is essentially saying, "Listen to my rational thinking when I tell you to obey; Ignore that other rational thinking when you're convinced to resist the established order." Or, perhaps even shorter, the state's only argument could be, "I am trying to convince you to ignore a perfectly sound idea when it comes to your own personal life."

By Andreas Berg
Image: By Andreas Berg, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License

The Anarchist Approach to Freedom of Speech

"It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right."

--Henry David Thoreau, 1849
"Civil Disobedience"
     Censorship is and always has been a tool of the state, whether that state calls itself a monarchy, a church, or a republic. Prohibiting ideas and arguments is the only option for those who can't offer any valid reasons for opposing the new thoughts. And if the government cannot find a way to legitimize the oppression of its opponents in thought, then it will simply build its own universities, craft its own scholars, and send its professors, the missionaries of the state's ideal, to debunk, dispel, and ridicule anyone who opposes the will of the government.

     If the government cannot convince the public that Cannabis is unhealthy, then it will devote research grants to attempting to prove that Cannabis is unhealthy. If the government cannot disregard the idea of Civil Liberties, then it will fund news agencies that do disregard the idea of Civil Liberties. Those states who have Freedom of Speech written into their constitution are never slow in trying to find ways to circumvent it. The state fully armed with its sages and its court-approved philosophers feels no regret in pushing aside protests with water cannon and teargas. Repression happens in every government where there is a law defending Freedom of Speech; and so even speaking the truth is criminal.

     The victims of the police state get coverage from Amnesty International and Human Rights groups when they occur in Africa or South America, but never when they occur in Europe or North America. There is an established mainstream within all governments that not only endorses state oppression but implicitly denies Freedom of Speech. Those with the new idea must face both the state's police and professors -- the new idea, which teaches us that the laws of the government are wrong and must be disobeyed, can be so reasonable and logical that the state has no option but to ban it. If there is any Freedom of Speech left, its best use is in criticizing and resisting all forms of domination and control in society; and the most concentrated form of vicious thought and action today is the State.
"I believe that free speech and press mean that I may say and write what I please. This right, when regulated by constitutional provisions, legislative enactments, almighty decisions of the Postmaster General or the policeman's club, becomes a farce."

--Emma Goldman, 1908
"What I Believe"

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