On the “Consequences” of Free Speech


Liberal extremists often make the argument that freedom of speech means that the government can’t jail you for what you say. If you are not in jail for something you said, they argue, then your free speech hasn’t been violated.

How simple this seems, how clear.

Yet, in making this facile argument, liberal extremists obfuscate the many actions they take against anyone who dares to articulate a perspective that differs from their ideology. Liberals are becoming extremely violent – though thankfully they haven’t killed anyone, yet. However, there are many ways – far less dramatic than violent demonstrations – in which extreme liberals, who dominate academia, prevent speech from even happening. Academics who have non-liberal perspectives are afraid of their academic careers being destroyed.

Liberal extremists make the argument that if someone is promoting what they consider to be “hate speech” – despite the fact that there is no universally agreed upon definition of hate speech – then action must be taken to shut down that person’s speech. The logic here is that hate speech can cause violence to others, and so speech that is hateful must be silenced. Some liberal extremists even defend violence as a means to support the end they seek: silencing what they call “hate speech.” For example, a recent flier found on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus threatened violence against supporters of President Donald Trump.

Liberal extremists don’t seem to care that using violence in the name of possibly preventing violence is a circular argument that violates common sense and, by the way, basic moral principles.

What I find perplexing is that liberal extremists are not considering an obvious response to speech they find hateful: more speech. Why are they not focusing on speaking in ways that counter speech they find to be hateful?

Liberal extremists love to talk about the fact that speech happens in a context, and that people are free to speak, but that there are consequences for speech. This argument sounds reasonable on the surface, but of course it depends on the type of consequences that liberal extremists allow, enable, and promote. Yes, there are indeed consequences for actions, yet that does not make those consequences wise, rational, proportionate, or just.

Since liberal extremists care so much about the fact that there are “consequences” for the action of free speech, let’s consider how liberal extremists consider the consequences for actions in another realm: actions that are against the law.

What do liberal extremists want to be the consequences for someone who has violated the immigration laws of our country? Amnesty for “undocumented immigrants!” “No human being is illegal!” Anyone who supports enforcing immigration laws is a “Racist!”

What do liberal extremists want to be the consequences for those who have committed crimes? They love to rue the unfairness of the criminal justice system. For example, many argue against mandatory minimum sentencing and advocate for more lenient punishments.

Laws exist in order to maintain order and to protect people’s rights. Punishments for breaking laws are a necessary consequence for actions that violate laws. Yet, liberal extremists only care about consequences that threaten their ideology. If the only response you can muster to speech you find problematic is to silence – sometimes violently – those who disagree with you, then there are serious problems with your ideology.