Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Free speech is more than just a value

UK: In response to the ‘Trojan horse’ schools scandal, in which academies in Birmingham were caught inculcating in pupils something possibly Islamist, education secretary Michael Gove asserted that everyone in British society must start promoting British values. But given that the lustre of God, Queen and Country has dimmed somewhat since Victoria popped her clogs, defining what exactly British values are has proved rather difficult. Which is why UK pollsters ComRes decided to ask the British public what they thought.

And what did the public say? Warm beer and village cricket? Winding roads and red pillar boxes? Monarchy and a sense of humour? No, the overwhelming winner of this contest was free speech. That’s right: at a time when other voguish but nebulous ideas on ComRes’s list - such as equality, fairness and tolerance - are parroted by a seemingly endless supply of quangocrats and hackademics, 48 per cent of those surveyed still opted for freedom of speech as the most important ‘British value’.

It’s a pity, then, that British politicians are seemingly incapable of heeding such a positive public sentiment. Of course, they say they support free speech; and they never shrink from an opportunity to associate themselves with it. But they don’t really believe in it. Free speech is great, they think, just so long as what is being said or expressed is within certain acceptable boundaries.

But free speech is not a value in the politicians’ sense. It is not quantitatively commensurate with ‘protection’ or ‘tolerance’; it is not capable of being part-exchanged with other so-called values. Properly speaking, free speech is not really a thing to be distributed, calibrated and balanced by the state at all. It is simply not the state’s to divide. Rather, it is a fundamental freedom, a lived liberty, that allows individuals the space to think and speak for themselves, without external compulsion. The point about free speech is that it is speech free from external compulsion; the state’s role in free speech is to guarantee its own absence, not assert its presence as some sort of values accountant, totting up the worth of each idea, and balancing the intellectual books.



Anonymous said...

Governments and more particularly bureaucrats rarely understand the concept of "free".


stinky said...

The greatest political divide in the world is the same in every corner of the globe: it's between the minority of micro-managing PC'ers vs the bulk of the people.

The people have the numbers ... but the PC'ers have more leverage positions; centralized power is their friend.

Anonymous said...

There is currently an outcry in my country about the jailing of a journalist in Egypt for reporting 'false news'.
Our government is deeply concerned that he would be locked up for reporting a message the Egyptian government didn't like - but even here our Government(s) locks people up for saying stuff they don't like.
Britain is perhaps even worse in this area.

Bird of Paradise said...

Liberals reject any forms of Free Speech unless it pertains to them alone