Monday, April 17, 2017

Nick Cohen on Free Speech

Nick Cohen wrote an excellent article last year in defence of free speech. I linked to a version of this at the time but I think it is worth reading and reminding people about again. Here is the conclusion:
"When I argue for freedom of speech at student unions, I am greeted with incomprehension as much as outrage. It’s not only that they don’t believe in it, they don’t understand how anyone could believe in it unless they were a racist or rapist. The politicians, bureaucrats, chief police officers and corporate leaders of tomorrow are at universities, which teach that open debate and persuasion by argument are ideas so dangerous they must be banned as a threat to health and safety. Unless we challenge them in the most robust manner imaginable, whatever kind of country they grow up to preside over is unlikely to be a very free one.
To fight them, you must emphasise censorship brings the hypocritical observance of conventional pieties. You must welcome, rather than mock, feminists and so many others, who have seen the speech codes and restrictions they once espoused boomerang back to hit them. You must emphasise that censorship demeans the censor. And point out that, once you let go of the old constraints, and grant vague powers to censor on the grounds of “safety,” “dignity” or “offence,” no one is safe.
Censors never confine themselves to deserving targets. The record shows they aren’t snipers but machine gunners, who will hit anything that moves. Give them permission to shoot, and one day they will hit you."
You can read the full article here.

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