What’s Wrong with the World

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Conservatism Archives

April 9, 2014

Just Like Free Speech Blues Revisited


Now and then it is good to restate things of importance. The conservative view on Free Speech is an important thing, so here is my bald and hasty recapitulation of it.

As a generality conservatives are, by temperament, inclined to tolerate wide and eccentric opinion. Human variety perplexes or amuses them, but it does not alarm and agitate them. The censorious cast of mind is really quite rare among normal American conservatives. Only people who don’t really know any normal American conservatives can suppose otherwise. Conservatives are temperamentally tolerant in their approach to dispute and argumentation, especially once a rapport of professional or civil respect is established.

Put the other way, and much more polemically, the loudmouth inquisitors are preponderantly liberal or leftist.

A glimpse of conservative indulgence of dissent can be seen in the utter incapacity of the Right in America ever to achieve a working orthodoxy of political action. Not a few influential and brilliant conservatives refuse to vote in national elections at all, for instance. But Voting Conservatives are perfectly content to let Non-Voters speak their full mind, and vice versa.

Meanwhile liberals fly off in paroxysms of inquisitional tyranny every couple days. Social media has really accelerated these distempers, often to hilarious effect. Stephen Colbert was dragged toward the tweet-guillotine, and more conservatives came to his defense than liberals; who can satirize such marvelous irony?

But conservatives never imagine that their temperament might constitute a binding political principle. Orthodoxy does not emerge out of personality trait. Conservatives thus always do allow that, off at the end, necessity may include the suppression of dissent. Every sedition law, they do not suppose a reckless plunge into evil. Some such laws may be necessary and wise. So conservatives acknowledge and affirm that Free Speech cannot be absolute or universal.

It is possible to structure a formidable argument to the effect that American conservatives are too damned tolerant of too many damned things. Some might say the Non-Voters should shut their yappers until they can put their sovereignty where they mouth is. Others would have done forever with the Distributists, Agrarians and Crunchies. Interventionists and Noninterventionists are constantly at each others’ throats.

But it is part of my own loyalty to Conservatism that, in the end, most folks come around to tolerating even their most fearsome opponents in debate. Free Speech and Toleration, rightly understood, are principles worth fighting for, as comrades in arms against this betrayal by the Left.