Speech Controllers Out of Control - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Speech Controllers Out of Control

Whoever makes the calls in the Biden administration has put the “Ministry of Truth” on hold. The reigning culture, the same class that brought us privatized censorship powerful enough to deplatform a sitting president, wanted to enshrine their right to decide what is acceptable speech beyond the reach of Elon Musk or any Musk wannabe.

As delicious as it is to caricature these censorious wokesters, it is most likely a waste of time to do so. They caricature themselves without our assistance. Better to spend our time understanding where this urge to control speech comes from. Falsehood always latches on to some truth. We can disarm it by setting that truth free.

(A deep breath.)

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are bundled together in the First Amendment. Those two freedoms are interrelated in several ways.

One interrelation is that religion is simply an important subset of speech. It is speech of a certain kind that is considered by its speakers to be of deepest significance. It is a speech with a history of being suppressed when it is considered hostile by governments.

As some have noted over the years, many of the Bible’s commandments are given over to the heart completely and there is no way to enforce them through the courts and the power of enforcement.

I am more interested, however, in another kind of connection between speech and religion, one that is necessary to grasp in order to understand what forces were behind the paused Biden “Ministry of Truth” and why we remain vulnerable to it or something like it.

While freedom of speech is a great good, it, like all freedoms, can be misused. Edmund Burke stated it well when considering the violent chaos of the French Revolution: “The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.”

We do not find it surprising that such a caution applies to the freedom of the marketplace. We do not expect that every enterprise launched in our free economy will succeed. Some businesses established under this good system fail and spread loss or even financial ruin to investors, management, workers, and customers alike.

Some businesses fail because of dishonest, criminal dealings. We have laws about fraud, embezzlement, and the like, and we do not feel that such laws contradict the basic free market premises of our economy.

Some businesses fail just because they were poorly conceived or their business plans were incompetently executed. There was no criminality, just poor ideas or poor execution, or even just bad luck.

Even in progressive circles, we have not yet heard that we could better our economy by making poor business plans illegal. We depend, rather, that those in business find the motivation to learn the best way and each apply what they have learned to their enterprise.

Apply the same to the freedom of speech. Not all words spoken under this liberty are beneficial. We do have constitutional laws that restrict the worst kinds of speech. We make conspiracy to commit crime a crime itself, and the same is true of speech that threatens violence. We even restrict speech that we do not deem criminal by exposing the speaker to civil liability for things like slander and libel; these laws are in every state and they have met the constitutional test.

But there is also speech which is neither criminal nor libelous, yet is hurtful and harmful. We generally concede that words said to hurt, careless gossip, mere insensitivity, and distorted or untruthful words, while neither criminal nor civilly actionable, make life worse. Like a bad business, all would have been better had the enterprise not been embarked upon — but nonetheless, we uphold the liberty that makes such speech possible against any attempt by government to stifle it.

We are left to deal with the problem of bad speech in some way other than by law.

The practitioners of Bidentity politics say to us: C’mon, man! You know it’s a problem. We’ll fix it because you will give us the power to control it. We’ll tell you what is untrue and save you the problem.

What could go wrong with that?

Little imagination is needed to answer that question. One need only look at the public assertions made by Nina Jankowicz, for a few days our first truth minister, to answer that question definitively. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board summarized her views nicely on Thursday:

She hoped “the adtech industry stops placing ads for masks and worse (straight up disinfo!) on articles and info about coronavirus.” That was in March 2020 when masks were dismissed, shortly before they were required. She said Hunter Biden’s laptop should be seen “as a Trump campaign product.” In 2016 she tweeted this conspiracy theory: “Trump had not one, but two secret email servers to communicate w/ influential Russian bank. Unbelievable.” Disinformation doctor, refute thyself.

In short, it seemed reasonable to expect that the governmental cure would be worse than the disease.

Which brings us back to why freedom of religion is paired with freedom of speech.

A careful reader of biblical law will note that quite a few laws are unenforceable in human courts. Take laws such as “Do not hate your neighbor in your heart” or “Love your neighbor.” How does one testify about what went on in another’s heart? How can one be tested for internal emotions?

As some have noted over the years, many of the Bible’s commandments are given over to the heart completely and there is no way to enforce them through the courts and the power of enforcement.

The laws which are matters of the heart include the most fundamental laws, those upon which all else depends, such as love of one’s neighbor, deemed in Jewish tradition the great organizing principle of the Torah.

The Constitution is built on this fundamental religious thought — all ultimately depends on a commitment to the good that goes beyond anything a government can enforce. If the Creative Force of the universe teaches us that these matters are given over to our hearts, how could we humans even begin to think that we could enforce them without causing far more harm than good?

It is humbling and fearsome to realize that the success of our great experiment of government by the people depends on something so seemingly frail and helpless as the human heart. But every attempt to shortcut this and enforce goodness by laws and courts ends in disaster. The great good is never served, only the limited good of the ruler, a good which diminishes by the day into the mere maintenance of unaccountable power against an increasingly sullen, hostile, and unfree people.

Religion is meant to offer that internal judge who alone is fit to regulate our speech and keep it beneficial and truthful and loving. We cannot outsource that duty of the heart to a government. It is our duty, both as citizens of our human state and as individuals called upon personally and directly by the One whose seal is Truth.

Celebrate, then, the demise of this pipe dream of the would-be Big Brothers. It’s good for all of us. But don’t imagine they won’t try again if we ever lose sight of the rights conferred upon by the First Amendment and of the responsibilities whose faithful execution alone can justify our freedom before humanity and our God.

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