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January 26, 2015

The hard case for Free Speech

Envision a really strong case against Free Speech, understood in the sense of someone contracting with someone else to produce political propaganda. Envision the circumstances where the First Amendment has been abused and perhaps the laws should no longer countenance it.

Imagine a guilt-ridden old currency trader, emerging from the shadows of Cold War Eastern Europe, sick in his aged bones with ill-gotten gold, but still energetic and hungry; who decides upon a conspiracy to disperse large sums for peculiar institutional purpose.

He will sow racial discord in Middle America.

He will scratch at an old festering American wound, which none of his ancestors ever knew a thing about, but which always supplies ample vulnerabilities for the shrewd manipulator. In his designing illiberality, he will finance bitterness and exploit sorrow.

Imagine that our Eastern European billionaire, whose currency-trading brinkmanship threatened whole cities and states, has paid for outside agitators to show up at some tragic local dispute, and by their menace and wantonness, throw it into the cauldron of national politics, thereby ensuring greater rancor, mistrust, aspersions, incivility.

Now imagine the agitations and protests get out of hand. Violence erupts. His political speech, his contracting for political activity, has lit the fuse of riot and disorder. A community burns. Old local businesses, with evident roots and equally evident love for their neighbors, are laid to waste.

The political speech, contracted for by a foreign magnate with millions made in usury, has set an American town on fire.

Now imagine no one ever calls him on it, in the real rough and tumble of American politics. Neither politicians nor media, though long preoccupied with the town on fire, have taken notice of the magnate’s machinations. Their curiosity slumbers. His peculations rarely noted, even his funding of controversial agitation is observed in silence.

Those writers most often driven to distraction by the personalities and names of specific financiers of American politics, can conjure no interest in this man. This peculiar financier cuts no prominent figure in journalistic conjecture on Free Speech and Citizens United.

What might we make of this geezer of the hedge funds, this antiquity from the Cold War Left, who dares to finance blood libels on Americans, who dares to hire outside activists to plunder an American town? And what might we think of his cynical use of our free system of political expression?

I do not think we will think very highly of him or it at all. Many of us will feel an instinct to tell him exactly where to put his filthy money.

Here, then, is a very strong case against Free Speech. A foreign financier, fabulously wealthy, conniving at mischief, riot, turbulence, strife. Surely he should be stopped?

But no: in the end, deliberation’s cool effect having prevailed, most of us will in our calmness agree that after all George Soros should not be forbidden by law, from sowing racial discord in Ferguson, MO. Let him spend his millions as he wishes without molestation; let only the rioters and looters face the coercion of law.

Though perhaps Soros should have the decency to use some few of those millions, to make some burnt-out Ferguson businesses whole.