‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
-1st amendment to the Constitution.
Teresa Bejan’s ‘The Two Clashing Meanings Of ‘Free Speech‘ piece at the Atlantic:
‘Recognizing the ancient ideas at work in these modern arguments puts those of us committed to America’s parrhesiastic tradition of speaking truth to power in a better position to defend it. It suggests that to defeat the modern proponents of isegoria—and remind the modern parrhesiastes what they are fighting for—one must go beyond the First Amendment to the other, orienting principle of American democracy behind it, namely equality. After all, the genius of the First Amendment lies in bringing isegoria and parrhesia together, by securing the equal right and liberty of citizens not simply to “exercise their reason” but to speak their minds. It does so because the alternative is to allow the powers-that-happen-to-be to grant that liberty as a license to some individuals while denying it to others.’
Further exploration in the video below…:
My brief summary (let me know what I may have gotten wrong): Bejan appeals to two ancient and somewhat conflicting Greek concepts in order to define two types of ‘free speech.’
Isegoria: More associated with reason, argument, and debate. You may feel, believe and think certain things to be true, but you’re a member/citizen of a Republic and you’ve got to martial your arguments and follow the rules (not all people may be members/citizens either, depending on the rules). Many Enlightenment figures (Locke, Kant, Spinoza) appealed to reason more through isegoria according to Bejan (given the tricky course they had to navigate with the existing authority of the time). Think first, speak later.
Parrhesia: More associated with open, honest and frank discussion, and with much less concern as to consequences: ‘Say-it-all’ Socrates was voted to death by the People after all, despite his reasoning prowess. She brings up Diogenes (the lantern guy), who flaunted convention, tooks serious risks and even masturbated publicly. She brings up all the racy stuff even Quakers and various other sects said against each other in the early days of our Republic.
So, why create this particular framework, and why is it necessary to ‘go around’ the 1st amendment upon it in pursuit of Equality?: Perhaps one of Bejan’s aims is to resuscitate an American liberalism which would allow old-school liberals to appeal to young activists and a lot of young people influenced by activists, obliquely routing all back to the Constitution. Only through becoming aware of their own assumptions can liberals better address the ‘hate-speech’ concept (with no Constitutional basis) which has taken root in our universities, for example.
Bejan relies on some data and some anecdotal evidence from her own teaching experience to justify a potential shift in public sentiment, requiring of her approach. Such evidence might line-up with elements of libertarian/conservative critiques of liberalism, too, which tend to focus on liberals lacking a sufficiently profound moral framework to justify why liberals should make and enforce laws, and run our institutions, especially when those institutions are judged by outcomes, not intentions, bound as they are within a Constitutional framework.
So far, I’m not sure I’m persuaded by Bejan’s reasoning, for why not just stick to teaching, promoting and discussing the Constitution? Has Bejan really punched a hole back to the Greeks, or has she fashioned a tool-at-hand to grasp certain products of Enlightenment modernity to address more crises of modernity?
***In the video Bejan mentions, in non-Burkean, non-conservative fashion, our founding documents, the French Revolutionaries, and the U.N. charter as examples of rights-based thinking. Of course, beyond debates about liberalism, there’s quite a lot of dispute about where our rights might come from in the first place (from God, from a Deity, from Nature, from Nature’s Laws, from past Laws and Charters, from knowledge gained through the Natural Sciences, from the latest Social Science, from coalitions of like-minded people, from majorities/pluralities of people, from top-down lists of rights and ideological platforms etc.)
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
‘I keep hearing about a supposed “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, or statements such as, “This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech,” or “When does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” But there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas.‘
Yes, a modern Marxist: Brendan O’Neill At Spiked: ‘Why We Must Fight For Free Speech For People We Loathe:‘
‘A true devotee of freedom of speech says, ‘Let everyone speak, because it is important that all sides are heard and that the public has the right to use their moral muscles and decide who they trust and who they don’t’. The new, partial campaigners for friends’ speech effectively say, ‘Let my friend speak. She is interesting. She will tell the public what they need to hear.’ These are profoundly different positions, the former built on liberty and humanism, the latter motored by a desire to protect oneself, and oneself alone, from censorship. The former is free speech; the latter ‘me speech.’
“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’
‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ‘
‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘
And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”
-John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty: Chapter II-Of The Liberty Of Thought And Discussion’
On this site, see: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…
How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’
A Modern Liberal, somewhat Aristotelian and classical?: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’…Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder
Samuel Huntington was quite humble, and often wise, about what political philosophy could do: From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’