Freedom of Expression in Western Culture

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Throughout history men have fought for freedom of expression. Laws have been passed, wars have been fought, and lives have been lost over the right to express an idea publicly. Why should such a seemingly natural right have fomented controversy, even to the point of bloodshed? Why have societies, both past and present, found it necessary to restrict or even to prohibit the exercise of this right? Sometimes freedom of speech has been viewed as a privilege to be enjoyed. At other times it has been considered a problem to be dealt with by governments or religions. Freedom of speech today is understood as a multi-faceted right that includes not only the right to express, or disseminate, information and ideas, but three further distinct aspects: the right to seek information and ideas; the right to receive information and ideas; and the right to impart information and ideas (Schumpeter, 2008, pg. 128). Freedom of expression is so hotly defended in western culture by virtue of its implications in government, democracy and religion. Past leaders of government, like Stalin and Hitler for example, were dictators in favor of freedom of speech for views they liked only. Noam Chomsky states that: "If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like” (Maddox, 1996, pg.78). Western culture understands the importance of freedom and the implications that can arise when governments suppress these rights. That is why Western culture so fervently defends its right to expression. There are too many examples in history of governments abusing their power. Western society flourishes on their ideas and innovations, and thus have accumulated enormous wealth. Governments who suppress the citizen’s right to freedom of expression will never reach their full economic potential. Take China for example, here government censorship is pervasive and highly effective, and denies Chinese citizens the freedoms of speech and of the press guaranteed to them...
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