Freedom of expression - restricting speech for the sake of free speech

Tags: Liberty, Democracy, Freedom of speech

Restricting free speech for the sake of free speech
- Can speech ‘silence’, if so should it be restricted?


Freedom of speech is almost universally endorsed in western-liberal countries. Literally, speech refers only to the communication of thoughts in spoken words but more widely interpreted the concept also includes publications, television and the like. The intuitive idea of how to promote free speech is to allow more speech. Therefore, proponents of free speech oppose regulation and restriction of speech others advocate e.g. on grounds of public morality. But what if speech (e.g. hate speech) itself prevents speech, what if speech ‘silences’ (the voice of the victims)? The following paper argues that speech can silence, in a way that amounts to a violation of others’ freedom of speech. The case will be made that under certain conditions – an important reservation – restriction is appropriate, that indeed freedom of speech is promoted by restricting speech, and that liberals of each facet ought to concede this.1 How speech may silence

“[T]he free speech of men [producing and consuming pornography] silences the free speech of women”2 by making it difficult for women to voice their opinions, or preventing their views from receiving a fair hearing, or causing what they say to be misunderstood. So argues C. MacKinnon in her argument for the prohibition of (certain forms of) pornography. One must not accept her specific claim and demand to recognise that speech can have a silencing dynamic in the sense that it can disable, weaken or discredit a would-be speaker. Speech may drown out the voice of the disadvantaged; it may make it impossible for marginalized groups to participate in public debate; it may deprive words, when they are spoken, of their authority; it may constrain comprehension and consideration of what the victims say. The probably most traceable example of such a dynamic is racist hate speech that threatens a minority,...
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