The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“The Limits of ‘Free Speech'” – Josh Hammer in Newsweek

In a piece for Newsweek, Josh Hammer explores how conservatives should approach the issue of free speech from both a practical and philosophical perspective, in light of past comments made by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) that have recently surfaced. Although Hammer acknowledges the Left’s hostility to free speech, he cautions conservatives against appealing to free speech absolutism in all situations. Hammer does not agree with removing Greene from her committee positions, but he justifies this view on the basis of prudence rather than the idea that free speech is an “intrinsic good unto itself.” Rather, he affirms that free speech is a convenient instrument to be used in the “pursuit of genuine truth and knowledge.” Defending Greene’s statements on free speech grounds can only work against conservatives when they seek to promote valid, morally worthy ideas.

Some quotes from the piece:

“Every argument that begins and ends with cries of “free speech,” whether in opposition to the latest noxious manifestation of “cancel culture” or censorious Big Tech account ban, is necessarily an argument eschewing any focus on underlying claims to justice or truth.”

“The Left’s implacable obsession with insular intellectual gatekeeping and quashing of conservative participation in the public square does make necessary, to some degree, appeals to free speech. But such an intense focus on free speech as an intrinsic end is to engage in the very sort of moral relativism that conservatives rightfully decry. Worse, it misunderstands the historical understanding of free speech, which was not that of an intrinsic good unto itself but instead that of a merely convenient instrumentality in pursuit of genuine truth and knowledge.”

“Marjorie Taylor Greene should not have been formally punished by either the current House Republican minority or Democratic majority for her previous beliefs, no matter how noxious they may be. But it is imperative that we understand such an appeal for lenity as prudence—not myopic free speech absolutism.”

Read the full article here

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790