The superstition of free speech

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”

Social conservatives should stop banging on about free speech.

Any traditional worldview, including even the tepid conservatism that dominated Western culture before the 1960s, would involve vastly more restriction on free speech than currently exists.

Every society in human history, bar none, has tried to suppress speech that threatens the social order; contemporary liberal society is no exception. But liberalism is constrained in both the extent and the methods of its suppression by its own internal logic. There is a difference between being executed for real blasphemy, as happens in some actually existing traditional societies,  and being publicly shamed or pressured into resigning your job for blaspheming against the LGBT.

Moreover, when social conservatives had power this was an actual reality, and when we lost power, the restoration of former speech codes was a key demand.

One of the founding texts of  the modern conservative movement was William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale”, subtitled “The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom””, in which he argues that alumni should use their financial power to force professors to teach Christianity and anti-Communism. In Britain, the rise of the “permissive society” is linked to the acquittal of Penguin Books for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  The novel’s criminality? Containing positive portrayals of extra-marital sex.

This makes the left’s view of conservative “free speech” look rather plausible. As they see it, it is nothing but the demand by former people for the restoration of privilege. Given how we used that privilege against them when we had it, they surely have a point.

It is alleged, though, that debate is being “chilled”; that we cannot campaign for faith and family because the left will punish and persecute us as much as they can. This is a cowardly argument.

All the great social movements of the twentieth century–civil rights, anti-Apartheid, decolonisation–faced inconceivably greater repression. Bullets and tear gas and decades in prison did not stop Mandela or Gandhi. We are not wrong to compare the cause of family values with these movements. Sexual liberation is a monumental evil which castrates children, slaughters millions of the unborn, and destroys the foundations of man’s happiness in this world (the family) and his success in the next (religion). The moral urgency of fighting back cannot be overstated.

What a joke, then, to complain about being banned from Twitter or ostracised by your work colleagues. The children whose heads are torn off by pincers don’t have the luxury of caring.

The worst case scenario is that we soon reach a point where most people can no more understand the pre-1960s view of sex as they can the pre-1960s view of race. This is not so bad. Overt racialist movements exist and run in general elections in European countries with vigorous “hate speech” laws. The level of repression is pretty mild.

I don’t wish to belittle real concerns about religious freedom. Problems like the imposition of trans ideology in schools are real threats to the ability of believers to raise their children in faith. But we have, to liberalism’s credit, more than enough democratic freedom to contest these policies, and in some cases the battles are winnable. The trap we should not fall into  is making libertarian arguments about “free speech” which are inconsistent with our own values, and known to be by our opponents.

Our opponents faced greater repression in the 1950s than we do now. Bertrand Russell, in one his celebrated essays on sexual liberation, commented on a pamphlet which had advised women on how to experience orgasm during sex with their husbands, and which the courts had ordered pulped for obscenity. Rather than whining, however, he and his allies simply got on with using the freedom they did have to change the world.

Social conservatives need to toughen up. If we want to change society as a witness of God and truth, we have to be prepared to suffer a little. Don’t let the history books record how
liberal activists endured the slings and arrows of tyrants while the cause of life and family surrendered to a barrage of snide remarks.

Will this be the way the world ends? Not with a bang but with a mean tweet? Please don’t let it be so.