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Free Speech Rots from the Inside Out Literatedog - 22/01/2003 08:59:54 AM

By Jonah Goldberg
The American Enterprise
January/February 2002

There’s a TV commercial currently running in Washington, D.C. and, for all I know, nationally. It features a bunch of young hipsters using everyday trash as musical instruments. “Never throw away anything you can use to express yourself!” says the voiceover. That pretty well sums up the state of today’s culture.

This fetishization of free expression also shows up in the white-knuckled phobia of censorship that has permeated our media and institutions. From the American Library Association’s insistence that every branch library must allow unfettered access to Internet pornography, to the propagandistic “Read a Banned Book” T-shirts sold by activists, to the ponderous newspaper editorials which butcher Martin Niemoeller’s “first they came for the Jews” warning every time a museum is criticized for another dung-and-urine desecration of the Virgin Mary, America has convinced itself that we are a hair’s breadth away from Fahrenheit 451. Among elites, unfettered self-expression is the highest good, and even the most innocuous forms of censorship are presented as evil by definition.

It’s understandable that people in the First Amendment business would be protective of their franchise. And, yes, free expression is good and nice and important. But, the entire culture, particularly the media, has been brainwashed to believe that censorship is always and everywhere a threat to our very freedom. When I tell college audiences that I favor censorship, the gasps of shock from liberal and conservative students alike nearly suck in the walls and pull the ceiling down.

I ask these kids “Do you think ABC should be allowed to run triple-X porn on Saturday morning?” Well, if you say no, then you believe in censorship.

Similarly if you think strip clubs can be zoned, kiddie-porn banned, and copyright laws enforced, you support censorship. (Copyright laws are one of the oldest forms of censorship: They bar people from disseminating someone else’s work without permission. Try to release a movie starring Mickey Mouse or Snoopy and you’ll see how quickly a court orders you to stop.) And, once we establish that you support some censorship, the question isn’t whether you are for or against it, but how much censorship you want and where you want it.

The fact is that the Founding Fathers were not “against” censorship. The First Amendment is a prohibition against the federal government restricting a free press. Few if any of the Founders would be troubled by obscenity laws. The problem today is that the First Amendment has been thoroughly butchered, with editorialists at the New York Times swinging some of the biggest cleavers.

Consider these editorial positions which reflect the general schizophrenia regarding free expression and censorship. The New York Times is in favor of the federal government forcing tobacco companies to pay for speech that is directly inimical to their interests. But when the Clinton administration wanted to reward TV networks for running anti-drug messages, the Times declared: “In allowing government to shape or even to be consulted on content in return for financial rewards, the networks are crossing a dangerous line they should not cross. On the far side of that line lies the possibility of censorship and state-sponsored propaganda.”

Censorship today is simply defined as censorship we don’t like. Censorship we do like is “responsible policy.” This kind of thinking is a cancer on the very idea of free speech. The Times (and the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, et al.) favors campaign finance laws which sharply regulate the only speech the Founders considered sacrosanct—political speech. Today, anonymous political speech is called “stealth advertising” and the Times wants it banned. The Federalist Papers were anonymous. Tom Paine’s Common Sense would have to be filed with the FEC today. Yet while the big media companies (and the Democrats) claim that such draconian regulations are vital to the existence of the republic, they champion an absolutist right of free expression in matters of culture. Cuts in subsidies for “performance art” or feces smeared on canvas are seen as, gasp, “censorship” by a bunch of fascistic prudes.

Americans generally protect fringe freedoms in order to keep core freedoms safe. But here we treat the fringe as the core and the core as the fringe. Vile obscenity is a testament to the beauty of free expression, but free democratic debate is to be censored. Free speech in America is rotting from the inside out.

If It Makes You Happy

Frankly, I don't know why anybody listens to actors about anything other than acting. Since when does the ability to fake emotions on cue like a sociopath make one an expert on anything?

Free Speech Rots from the Inside Out

Free Speech Rots from the Inside Out
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Free Speech Rots from the Inside Out - 22/01/2003 08:59:54 AM 209 Views
i am against all forms of censorship except - 22/01/2003 09:06:57 AM 51 Views
Re: i am against all forms of censorship except - 22/01/2003 09:12:34 AM 26 Views
I agree with Greg. - 22/01/2003 09:20:58 AM 48 Views
you miss the point.... - 22/01/2003 09:26:17 AM 22 Views
No, I got the point... - 22/01/2003 09:51:09 AM 23 Views
ah, okay. *is dumb* *NM* - 22/01/2003 09:55:29 AM 3 Views
I saw that video - 22/01/2003 09:32:25 AM 25 Views
Re: i am against all forms of censorship except - 22/01/2003 01:28:01 PM 10 Views
youre wrong - 22/01/2003 08:37:41 PM 8 Views
Re: youre wrong - 23/01/2003 01:28:02 AM 25 Views
sorry, but that's crap - 22/01/2003 09:07:28 AM 37 Views
i'm sorry, but its not, you've missed the point - 22/01/2003 09:11:25 AM 25 Views
to which I say...... - 22/01/2003 09:15:52 AM 26 Views
of course its about where you draw the line - 22/01/2003 09:20:15 AM 17 Views
I don't agree - 22/01/2003 09:27:49 AM 17 Views
Indeed! - 22/01/2003 10:39:24 AM 13 Views
Wow this guy is wrong. - 22/01/2003 12:47:00 PM 44 Views
LOL! poor keith - 22/01/2003 02:00:26 PM 22 Views
But I DID read the whole thing... - 22/01/2003 03:28:15 PM 15 Views
Argue? With what people? - 22/01/2003 03:39:40 PM 16 Views
i understood - 22/01/2003 04:23:37 PM 9 Views
For the heck of it. - 22/01/2003 03:40:32 PM 16 Views
Because An admissions office won't answer the goddamn phone, A reply. - 22/01/2003 04:03:03 PM 11 Views
Re: Because An admissions office won't answer the goddamn phone, A reply. - 22/01/2003 05:59:35 PM 12 Views
Re: Israel - 22/01/2003 11:24:22 PM 8 Views
That's not exactly true - 23/01/2003 11:42:57 AM 7 Views
Re: Free Speech Rots from the Inside Out - 22/01/2003 01:08:08 PM 22 Views
Re: Free Speech Rots from the Inside Out - 22/01/2003 06:39:28 PM 6 Views