Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Free Speech Facade

By Paul Gottfried, American Mind

The Left’s support for civil liberties has always been contingent on its own relative strength or weakness.

In a thoughtful commentary on “The New Normal and the Assault on Reason,” Glenn Ellmers makes this historical observation:

For several centuries, at least since John Stuart Mill, the Left has defined itself by its commitment to freedom of speech. This was practically the sine qua non for calling oneself a liberal. Yet some time around 2019-20, in the historical blink of an eye, free speech was simply . . . dismissed. It became obligatory on the Left to support systematic control of our public discourse by a handful of massive tech companies, in cooperation with the government.

Professor Ellmers is correct that the Left, especially that part of it that has described itself as democratic, has traditionally flaunted its “commitment to free speech.” The American Civil Liberties Union, since its founding in 1920, has urged its members “to defend and preserve the individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the land.” And some of us are old enough to remember when the ACLU came out in support of the right of Nazis to march in the heavily Jewish community of Skokie, Illinois. A defense of that march, which took place in 1978, was interpreted as the reductio ad absurdum of the Left’s commitment to expressing unconventional views, a freedom that was to be exercised even if it produced an inexcusably insensitive outcome.

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