The Dueling Narratives on Free Speech

Publish Date
Principles Series
We spent the last few days establishing a baseline for how to think about “narratives.” While not essential to this, they may be worth a look. But today we’re going to talk about the dueling narratives around Free Speech.
The dominant narrative for a long time has been that free speech (and other freedoms more generally) is needed to protect against dictatorship and pursue happiness. This was certainly true at our founding, and it has received booster shots as we watched the rise of fascism in Europe during World War II, and through other historical events.
But we’ve also seen several alternative narratives crop up from time to time. There was enough support to pass the Sedition Act for a time. This criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government. In the 1950’s we saw McCarthyism rise in response to Communism. It led to few arrests but also created a climate and culture that was anti-free speech for a time, ironically doing so in the name of protecting our culture from the Communists.
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More recently, we have seen a rise of an anti-free speech movement on the political left driven largely in the name of “inclusivity.” While we haven’t seen anyone jailed for their speech in the U.S., we have seen tech platforms openly censoring content, people losing their jobs and being blackballed, and a culture where many people are afraid to say certain things. The U.K. is a different story: they are arresting 9 people per day for online speech deemed offensive.
While today’s leftist iteration of McCarthyism is complicated by the internet and our social platforms, the underlying ethos and narrative is the same. Today’s narrative follows the same line of McCarthyism. Instead of protecting “our culture” from “Communists,” it’s protecting “inclusivity” from “sexist-racist-homophobes.”
As with McCarthyism, today’s leftist version of it is similarly misguided, but we’ll have to get to that next time!