“Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage,” observed Winston Churchill.
And, may I add, that the one outraged is transformed into a tyrant when he yokes government power to his outrage.
This summer, we witnessed months of violence called speech, presaged by higher education’s obsession with micro-aggressive speech and our nation’s obsession with the virus of fear, and premised on the false belief that government can, and must, keep us safe from all discomforts and all potential harms.
We now see that the fruits of such false hopes are a direct assault on freedom of speech and freedom of thought.
America once believed its adherence to individual liberty was strong enough to hear the wise while giving the fool his soapbox. No longer.
America is fast losing faith in freedom, and many Americans long ago lost faith in each other.
The American mind has been closed and history repeats with calls for silencing dissent accompanied by the proclamation that liberty of speech is the enemy of society. This rests on the presumption that fellow citizens represent the greatest threat to the state and society.
Speaking from the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Rice Garland of Louisiana bellowed that recent speech is “unprofitable” and escalates “heartburnings, jealousies, and alienations” such that “this House and this nation are blown into flame.”
Rep. Francis Rives of Virginia added that such rhetoric “agitating on a subject of this kind [causes] great personal discomfort,” and that his colleagues who insisted on this debate were “aggressors, [and wrongly] claimed for [this House] new powers.”
To “permit th[is] incendiary [speech] with treason in [one’s] heart, and a lie on [one’s] tongue, to…day after day, vilify, traduce, and…let loose in this hall to assail, with all the weapons of falsehood and vituperation, [is to assault] the institutions and interests I am here to maintain and defend. No sir,” pledged Rep. Edward Black of Georgia.
And Congress, from 1836-1844, found the arguments persuasive and silenced the reading of petitions to Congress from “school misses and factory maids” calling for the abolition of slavery. Such speech was too incendiary and dangerous to entertain.
Today, we are again being told that addressing divisive issues is “insurrection, incited by the President of the United States” (Senator Mitt Romney, R-UT) and that “members of Congress who have incited this domestic attack through their attempts to overturn an election must face consequences” (Rep. Cori Bush, D-MO). President Trump’s words “represent a threat to both our Constitution and Democracy,” caterwauled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, although both the speech and the challenge are supported by the Constitution that Ms. Pelosi claims to protect.
I suppose we are to take comfort that Ms. Pelosi believes it necessary to justify her assault on speech as a defense of speech because even she believes the heart of the American people will recoil at an undisguised assault on the Constitution.
Yet such sophistry only obscures her motivation, not her conduct. The fact remains that Ms. Pelosi and some of her colleagues are seeking to criminalize speech. This is accomplished by shifting the focus of criminal law from conduct to thought. Such an objective is revealed by the weeks of violence this summer, which Ms. Pelosi described as protected speech.
Rather than view the Constitution as a great guarantor of individual freedom, Ms. Pelosi employs the document as a protector of the state against the individual.
Government protecting itself from “dangerous” ideas is neither “progressive” nor “woke.”
People gathering to “paralyze government” is a “subversive act,” explained Hong Kong’s Secretary of State as pro-democracy demonstrators were rounded up and arrested for “subverting state power and jeopardizing national security,” according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
History is not the story of the individual’s tyranny towards the state, but rather the state’s tyranny against the individual.
Where are the great civil libertarians of today? Have they lost their voices for fear of identity politics and doxing? Or are they fearful that the left’s intolerance in the cause of tolerance will cause a loss of professional licensing, or the inability to participate in our high-tech economy?
Preserving one’s liberty has always exacted the cost of preserving the liberty of those with whom you disagree, perhaps especially so.
Perhaps our nation has lost these important voices amidst our great self-absorption and focus on our own immediate needs. Maybe, after our culture’s destruction of moral truth, this is all that is left.
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Phill Kline is the Former Kansas Attorney General. He currently serves as Pulpit Pastor of Amherst Baptist Church, a law school professor, and director of the Amistad Project of The Thomas More Society. Previously, he served as president of the Midwest Association of Attorneys General, was on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, and was co-chairperson of the Violent Sexual Predator Apprehension Task Force. He was a Kansas House member for eight years where he chaired the Appropriations Committee and the Taxation Committee and authored victims rights laws and welfare reform.