The myth of the free speech crisis - 2019-09-03
This is the myth of the free speech crisis. It is an extension of the political-correctness myth, but is a recent mutation more specifically linked to efforts or impulses to normalise hate speech or shut down legitimate responses to it. The purpose of the myth is not to secure freedom of speech – that is, the right to express one's opinions without censorship, restraint or legal penalty. The purpose is to secure the licence to speak with impunity; not freedom of expression, but rather freedom from the consequences of that expression.
The myth has two components: the first is that all speech should be free; the second is that freedom of speech means freedom from objection.
The first part of the myth is one of the more challenging to push back against, because instinctively it feels wrong to do so. It seems a worthy cause to demand more political correctness, politeness and good manners in language convention as a bulwark against society's drift into marginalising groups with less capital, or to argue for a fuller definition of female emancipation. These are good things, even if you disagree with how they are to be achieved. But to ask that we have less freedom of speech – to be unbothered when people with views you disagree with are silenced or banned – smacks of illiberalism. It just doesn't sit well. And it's hard to argue for less freedom in a society in which you live, because surely limiting rights of expression will catch up with you at some point. Will it not be you one day, on the wrong side of free speech?