As I’ve written before I am a fan of freedom of speech. However I also recognize the damage that can be done when that freedom is abused.
I am also aware of a strain of thought that posits, basically, if people don’t exercise freedom of speech then it doesn’t really exist. They praise those who test its limits by allowing us to re-affirm our collective belief in the need for this freedom.
For a variety of reasons over the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about this argument and determined I don’t agree with it.
Apply the same logic to other values- rule of law, for example. We have rule of law because we believe it to be better than mob justice or allowing whoever happens to be in charge to arbitrarily determine the fate of those who are accused of committing a crime.
Does this mean we should thank and people who commit increasingly heinous crimes because they are testing how far we will let someone go while remaining committed to the belief in rule of law? Should they be praised as “rule of law activists,” willing to push our boundaries? Does rule of law really exist if no one ever makes you use it?
While I do think it’s important to maintain freedom of speech to the fullest extent possible I don’t think it then follows that exercising that freedom is in and of itself a praiseworthy thing. And I’m putting this here as a reference point for the next time a free speech argument inevitably arises.
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