Freedom of speech


David Davis

Despite the lapse of the 1695 Licensing Act, the “press” in Britain, although being called “free”, has enjoyed a large but nominal degree of freedom, limited by such ordinary and perfectly reasonable devices such as the libel laws, and so on.

Fraser Nelson of the Spectator wrote something apposite just now.

However, “la Trahaison des Clercs” has now finally got a jaw-grip into people’s ankles, and recent assaults on the doings of MPs, footballists, “famous actors” famous for being famous, have galvanized the legislature into wanting to “regulate”. I bet it’s for “social” reasons…as Enoch Powell once stated, putting the word “social” in front of another word would (on purpose) completely reverse that word’s meaning.

Perhaps we all ought on here to comment on what we think about the clear desire of this administration (but I guess it wouldn’t matter what political colour it was really) to “regulate” published speech.

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7 responses to “Freedom of speech

  1. Enoch Powell was taking the experience of Germany (as reported by Hayek, Mises and others – it is often forgotten that Enoch did not even have to read their books, although he did, because he was a member of the same society and heard it from them personally).

    During and after the First World War (long before the comming to power of Hitler and co in 1933) developments long underway in German legal thought took control.

    The old legal safeguards defending civil society, personal liberty, were destroyed – again this was long before the Nazis came to power.

    Some people protested against the end of the “rule of law” – to which the authorities replied (both under “War Socialism” during the First World War and under the Weimar Republic) “this is not the end of the rule of law – this is the social rule of law”.

    The word “social” (yes David) robbing the term “rule of law” of its traditional meaning (see Hayek “Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty”).

    Thus also does the “weasel word” social also rob the word “justice” of its meaning – turning the protection of the property of individuals and groups (clubs, churches, companies, associations….) into an attack upon their property.

    I am prepared to forgive someone like Captain Ian Duncan-Smith for using the term “social justice” as if it was a good thing (infantry tactics manuals are not known for giving people an education in political philosophy), but I will certainly not forgive (or forget) the “treason of the intellectuals” (specifically of self described “libertarian” intellectuals) who use “social justice” (i.e. the collectivist enemy of justice) as if it was a positive term.

    As for freedom of speech……..

    Eveyone now says they support “freedom of speech”.

    But it turns out that the powers-that-be (and their academic and other supporters) mean they support “freedom of speech we agree with”.

    They certainly do not support the freedom of “racist” speech, or “sexist” speech, or “homophobic” speech or……

    All such speech must be banned for (yes again) “social” reasons.

    The hypocrisy sickens me.

    If people oppose the principles of the rule of law they should say so – not say they support the “social rule of law”.

    If people oppose justice and want to plunder (to rob and murder) they should say so – not say they support “social justice”.

    And if people oppose freedom of speech they should say so – not go on about the “social” reasons they have for banning opinions they do not like, whilst still claiming to support “freedom of speech”.

  2. I thnk Ian Duncan Smith has resolutely gone over to the Dark Side.

    As to “freedom of the press”, I cannot see it surviving and it is hard to justify why it should, in an otherwise un-free society. The Press present themselves as noble speakers of truth, whereas I think the reasonable perception of most people is that they are scumbags. There are one or two genuine “investigative journalists”, for instance on the Left, John Pilger, but they are needles in a haystack of crap.

    The problem is one of epistemology; journalism doesn’t by its nature do “truth seeking”. It does “storytelling”. It seeks those “truths” it wants to seek, and ignores those which don’t fit a desired “story”. To me, the reality is that the yellow press have been a major constituent in the coalition that has destroyed liberty, with perhaps the Daily Fail as the market leader in that regard. Where were the press demanding freedom of speech and expression when they were screeching for the banning of horror films, based on a lie that one had caused a murder of a child, for instance?

    I am against the regulation of *all* speech and expression. But I am in a tiny minority in that regard, and a large reason that that minority is so tiny is down to the constant drumbeat from the gutter press demanding regulation of everyone and everything else. It is hypocritical in the extreme for them to expect to remain a solitary isolated group who still have a right to “free” speech when it has been taken from everybody else, often at their urging, and especially when they have used that freedom, consistently, in such an obnoxious manner. They have made their own bed, as the saying goes.

  3. John Pilger – “Pilger is a verb – to pilger is to lie” A. Waugh was correct.

    Ian Duncan-Smith.

    He reminds me of Pope Paul VI – he looks tortured (all the time).

    People around him are doing terrible things that he does not really understand, but he does know that something terrible is going on. But he also believes that he can not walk away.

    Of course the “not walking away” (the failure to denounce the whole thing – to give it cover by staying with the people doing it) is itself wrong.

    Profoundly wrong.

  4. David – An excellent post. L. Neil Smith will bring out my own essay on the same on Sunday. My view is, like Ian B, that the press has done nothing to deserve the defence it will get from us. It will get that defence. But a more willing accomplice in the destruction of our freedom, and the covering up of ruling class scandals, was barely ever seen.

    Christopher Booker, Jon Pilger, Robert Fisk, and a few others – these have done their best to find and publish the truth as they see it. For the rest, it’s just a long roll call of Phil Space merchants and ruling class propagandists. Little wonder most circulations have collapsed.

  5. A more willing accomplice in the destruction of our freedom, and the covering up of ruling class scandals, was barely ever seen.

    I’ve an urge to write that in letters 20 feet high down the middle of Fleet Street.

  6. Pilger is a shameless liar, Robert Fisk often writes things that are false – but whether he actually knowns they are false is another matter (with Pilger all benefit of the doubt died decades ago).

    But this does not alter the principle – the principle of freedom of speech.

    If Pilger wants to pretend that the capital of Britain is Madrid, and that Adolf Hitler was a servant of big business, and if Rober Fisk wants to pretend that Muhammed and his followers were, and are, nice trustworthy people with no violent intentions – well that is up to them.

    I would not dream of buying a newspaper or magazine that published their socialist (sorry “liberal”) crap, but I would not dream of banning or censoring such a publication either.

  7. You can of course revert to civil war rather than press freedom. Why wouldn’t that be a fine and dandy idea? This is all bosh (a common legal term of art), such tender moral morsels the lot of them fearing the fire of publicity and criticism. So now we should have press regulation and bang goes Private Eye leaving us with no more commentary and scurrilous revelations of malfeasance or criminality amongst the ruling elite. That would never do would it? Does anyone think that a “Public Eye” magazine would emerge from the fray run by libertarian public servants? Really! Mandarins for Liberty I hear them calling.

    So who do we, the John Q Citizens, report to then? The ministry of choice as per the subject matter of a complaint, better still an MP or councilor? Are these people serious? If so they are just plain…….. *%&&$%, expletive of your choice.

    The MPs’ expenses row was a good example of why a free press is needed and now the enlightened ones may require us to grin and bear any abuses of power without the liberty of trenchant commentary. The old adage “sticks and stone will break my bones but words will never hurt me” rather suggests that words are better than stones in settling matters of dispute be it about governance or anything else for that matter; in short being stoned out of your skull is preferable to having a hole in it.

    Over here my fellow inhabitants take great pride in the 1st amendment though they don’t seem to cotton on to just how invasive political correctness has become in stifling free speech without legislation and rule making by the diktat class. Though there is a clear motivation here, as there is in the UK, to restrict freedom of speech by any means disregarding of course our US constitution as outmoded and simply more dead white male stuff. We now have “protected speech” whatever that means. The will of the ruling class to avoid hindrance in their mission is thoroughly laudable to them but scary for the rest of us.

    Perhaps the nearness of the odious EU is beginning to infect the minds of the elected dictatorship cognoscenti, those somewhat feared by the late Lord Hailsham so many years ago in the 1980s, who warned against encouraging “them” to deplete even more of our liberties. Why am I not surprised by any of this?

    Perhaps after all “they” need to remember the 5th of November 1605 about how a bunch of Catholics wanted to send the king into orbit to ensure the disestablishment of the protestant faith. The English civil war is very instructive to those who care about these things. Intolerance can lead to bad things if it is expressed in violence; a free press is an essential valve to discharge odious passions in the least harmful way. Do we really need to be reminded of this? Obviously some of us do. The ruling elite never seem to learn; I guess that the repetition of history is in order at some point in the future.

    Freedom of the press and commentary for all in open discourse is essential with the right of free assembly and protest; all fundamental components of a civilized polity. To live in a world where fly by night graffiti and Molotov cocktails as political commentary or worse is not a pleasant notion. One thought not directly connected with press freedom, and that is about elections, these need to be by ballot not by computer screen. Liberty is a frail entity when men of limited vision and close to zero tolerance abound. Over here the guilty secret of concern is about computer voting machines that just select one candidate irrespective of a vote cast for the opposition. There does not appear to be a proper audit trail in these clunkers either. I wonder why? So there you go, more trimming of liberty not just of speech but secure and proper elections too. What more do they want to abolish of our liberty? No wonder some libertarians are despairing of the cause. Saul Alinsky did advance the idea that you should ridicule your opponents, perhaps some of these parliamentary and council folk want to head that off at the pass as soon as possible.

    The spate of law making is out of order with the advent of Adobe pdf software; laws can now roar out of the legislative mill in milliseconds…..scary stuff. Worse still we can’t get rid of them. My next book is “Getting Rid of Laws and Lawyers” which will discuss the idea of recalling laws not just politicians. We need a system to remove laws by petition not to have to wait decades or even lifetimes to knock them off. Press restriction laws would not see the light of day were there a popular repeal process whereby a law can be petitioned to be brought for trial before a Grand Jury style panel of citizens (not MPs). The panel would hear both sides for and against keeping the law then they decide to keep or repeal it. This proposed daft press restriction legislation is a prime example of why there is a need for a balance of power change in legislative business. Law recall is a needed concept. A sound threat of repeal before legislation gets on the books would limit the urge to control so much of our lives, press freedom included.