‘Who really opposes free speech?’

John Hood’s column this morning is instructive. The opening paragraphs:

In a free society, the right to express one’s political views without governmental restraint or reprisal ought to be sacrosanct. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Some politicians and political activists seem to believe that, because of a sense of moral superiority, they have the right not just to express their views but also to limit the right of others to do the same.

In today’s political environment, these enemies of free speech reside primarily on the Left side of the ideological spectrum. While their position lacks intellectual rigor or consistency, it is frequently and loudly asserted with an admittedly impressive amount of unmitigated gall.

I tend to think that the Left’s substitution of volume and outrage is purposeful, to distract away from the lack of intellectual rigor or consistency. As if the people would react to the tantrums along the lines of, Oh, well, if you strenuously object then I should take some time to reconsider!

For that reason, I welcome an oasis of respect for free speech among the Left. Consider, for example, this column about Mike Adams by Rebecca Schuman, education columnist at Slate. Schuman is certainly not a fan of Mike Adams, public servant:

He seems to me, in his public writings and attitudes, to be a virulently right-wing jerk. … my distaste for Adams’ dumb ideas about feminism, diversity, and homosexuality … repugnant … I find every sentence Mike Adams writes to be abhorrent.

Schuman is, however, a big fan of Mike Adams, leader of the fight for free speech and academic freedom. As she noted,

What is particularly important about this case is that, according to the legal finding, it was the “speech activity” of Adams’ public-engagement material submitted … that prevented Adams’ promotion. This excerpt of the verdict on Eugene Volokh’s blog gets to the heart of why the case matters:

[T]he plaintiff’s speech activity [was] a substantial or motivating factor in the defendants’ decision to not promote the plaintiff, [and] the defendants [would not] have reached the same decision not to promote the plaintiff in the absence of the plaintiff’s speech activity.

… Indeed, the outcome of Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina–Wilmington is a striking and unexpected victory for academic freedom in its final throes. …

As [Greg] Lukianoff writes in Unlearning Liberty: “We must learn to take a deep breath when we hear speech that deeply offends us and remember the principles at stake. Both the law and the theory of academic freedom accept that oftentimes a speaker’s entire objective is to be provocative. We must not punish such speech because it is successful in its goal of provoking.” So thank you, Mike Adams! You provoked me. You’re probably a jerk. But I’m glad you won your lawsuit. And today, I peer up from my copy of Gender Trouble and hoist my decaf almond-milk fair-trade latte to you.

Refreshingly, Schuman gets it. You don’t have to like Mike Adams to love freedom. But the same freedom that allows Mike Adams to say things you find repugnant also lets you say Mike Adams is abhorrent and a jerk — and it doesn’t matter which of you, if either, is correct. Under free speech truly respected, you can be polite and dead wrong, provocative and spot-on accurate, or even — especially even — provocative and wrong.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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