EXTENSIVE BACKGROUND INFO
: disagreeably harsh or strident : hoarse raucous voices
: boisterously disorderly
a … raucous frontier town — Truman Capote
WHAT IS CONSERVATISM?
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. By some definitions, conservatives have variously sought to preserve institutions including religion, monarchy, parliamentary government, property rights and the social hierarchy, emphasizing stability and continuity, while the more extreme elements called reactionaries oppose modernism and seek a return to “the way things were”. The first established use of the term in a political context originated with François-René de Chateaubriand in 1818, during the period of Bourbon restoration that sought to roll back the policies of the French Revolution. The term, historically associated with right-wing politics, has since been used to describe a wide range of views.
There is no single set of policies that are universally regarded as conservative, because the meaning of conservatism depends on what is considered traditional in a given place and time. Thus conservatives from different parts of the world—each upholding their respective traditions—may disagree on a wide range of issues. Edmund Burke, an 18th-century politician who opposed the French Revolution but supported the American Revolution, is credited as one of the main theorists of conservatism in Great Britain in the 1790s. According to Quintin Hogg, the chairman of the British Conservative Party in 1959, “Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself”. In contrast to the tradition-based definition of conservatism, political theorists such as Corey Robin define conservatism primarily in terms of a general defense of social and economic inequality. From this perspective conservatism is less an attempt to uphold traditional institutions and more “a meditation on—and theoretical rendition of—the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.”
WHAT IS LIBERALISM?
Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas and programmes such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, gender equality, and international cooperation.
Liberalism first became a distinct political movement during the Age of Enlightenment, when it became popular among philosophers and economists in the Western world. Liberalism rejected the prevailing social and political norms of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The 17th-century philosopher John Locke is often credited with founding liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property, while adding that governments must not violate these rights based on the social contract. Liberals opposed traditional conservatism and sought to replace absolutism in government with representative democracy and the rule of law.
Leaders in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution of 1776, and the French Revolution of 1793 used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of royal tyranny. Liberalism started to spread rapidly especially after the French Revolution. The nineteenth century saw liberal governments established in nations across Europe, South America; it was well-established alongside republicanism in the United States. Before 1920 the main ideological opponent of classical liberalism was conservatism, but liberalism then faced major ideological challenges from new opponents, fascism and communism.
During 19th and early 20th century, in the Ottoman Empire and Middle East, liberalism influenced periods of reform such as the Tanzimat and Nahda, and the rise of secularism, constitutionalism and nationalism. These changes, along with other factors, helped to create a sense of crisis within Islam, which continues to this day. This led to Islamic revivalism.
During the 20th century, liberal ideas spread even further as liberal democracies found themselves on the winning side in both world wars. Historian Martin Conway argues: “Liberalism, liberal values and liberal institutions formed an integral part of that process of European consolidation. Fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, the liberal and democratic identity of Western Europe had been reinforced on almost all sides by the definition of the West as a place of freedom. Set against the oppression in the Communist East, by the slow development of a greater understanding of the moral horror of Nazism, and by the engagement of intellectuals and others with the new states (and social and political systems) emerging in the non-European world to the South.” As a consequence, liberal values were acquiring a wider currency, transcending the limited contours of liberal parties and electorates, and becoming part of how West Europeans recognize and communicated with each other.
In Europe and North America the establishment of social liberalism (often called simply “liberalism” in the United States) became a key component in the expansion of the welfare state. Today, liberal parties continue to wield power and influence throughout the world. However, liberalism still has challenges to overcome in Africa and Asia.
The fundamental elements of contemporary society have liberal roots. The early waves of liberalism popularised economic individualism while expanding constitutional government and parliamentary authority. One of the greatest liberal triumphs involved replacing the capricious nature of absolute royal rule with a decision-making process encoded in written law. Liberals sought and established a constitutional order that prized important individual freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and of association, an independent judiciary and public trial by jury, and the abolition of aristocratic privileges.
These sweeping changes in political authority marked the modern transition from absolutism to constitutional rule. The expansion and promotion of free markets was another major liberal achievement. Before they could establish markets, however, liberals had to destroy the old economic structures of the world. In that vein, liberals ended mercantilist policies, royal monopolies, and various other restraints on economic activities. They also sought to abolish internal barriers to trade – eliminating guilds, local tariffs, the Commons and prohibitions on the sale of land along the way.
Later waves of modern liberal thought and struggle were strongly influenced by the need to expand civil rights. Liberals have advocated gender equality and racial equality in their drive to promote civil rights, and a global civil rights movement in the 20th century achieved several objectives towards both goals.
In Europe, liberalism has a long tradition dating back to 17th century. Scholars often split those traditions into British and French versions, with the former version of liberalism emphasising the expansion of democratic values and constitutional reform and the latter rejecting authoritarian political and economic structures, as well as being involved with nation-building. The continental French version was deeply divided between moderates and progressives, with the moderates tending to elitism and the progressives supporting the universalisation of fundamental institutions, such as universal suffrage, universal education, and the expansion of property rights. Over time, the moderates displaced the progressives as the main guardians of continental European liberalism. A prominent example of these divisions is the German Free Democratic Party, which was historically divided between national liberal and social liberal factions.
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights was originally proposed to assuage Anti-Federalist opposition to Constitutional ratification. Initially, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress, and many of its provisions were interpreted more narrowly than they are today. Beginning with Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court applied the First Amendment to states—a process known as incorporation—through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court drew on Thomas Jefferson’s correspondence to call for “a wall of separation between church and State”, though the precise boundary of this separation remains in dispute. Speech rights were expanded significantly in a series of 20th and 21st-century court decisions which protected various forms of political speech, anonymous speech, campaign financing, pornography, and school speech; these rulings also defined a series of exceptions to First Amendment protections. The Supreme Court overturned English common law precedent to increase the burden of proof for defamation and libel suits, most notably in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Commercial speech, however, is less protected by the First Amendment than political speech, and is therefore subject to greater regulation.
The Free Press Clause protects publication of information and opinions, and applies to a wide variety of media. In Near v. Minnesota (1931) and New York Times v. United States (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected against prior restraint—pre-publication censorship—in almost all cases. The Petition Clause protects the right to petition all branches and agencies of government for action. In addition to the right of assembly guaranteed by this clause, the Court has also ruled that the amendment implicitly protects freedom of association.
A Quizlet link with English to English vocabulary:
A Quizlet link with English to French: https://quizlet.com/_3k0skz
1. What is free speech?
2. What is censorship?
3. What is conservatism?
4. What is liberalism?
5. Who is a hypocrite?
6. What is intellectual inquiry?
7. What has The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argued?
Who’s Afraid of Free Speech?
If we conceive of free speech as promoting the search for truth—as the metaphor of “the marketplace of ideas” suggests—we should be troubled whether that search is hindered by public officials or private citizens. The same is true of democratic justifications for free speech. If the point of free speech is to facilitate the open debate that is essential for self-rule, any measure that impairs that debate should give us pause, regardless of its source.
What critics of campus protest get wrong about the state of public discourse.
Stephen Lam / Reuters
Thomas Healy Jun 18, 2017 Politics
Middlebury College’s decision to discipline 67 students who participated in a raucous and violent demonstration against conservative author Charles Murray brings closure to one of several disturbing incidents that took place on college campuses this semester. But larger disputes about the state of free speech on campus–and in public life–remain unresolved.
Many critics have used the incident at Middlebury, as well as violent protests at the University of California Berkeley, to argue that free speech is under assault. To these critics, liberal activists who respond aggressively to ideas they dislike are hypocrites who care little about the liberal values of tolerance and free speech.
“The left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down,” Milo Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook after protesters stormed a building at Berkeley where he was scheduled to speak in February.
Such criticism has not come solely from the right. Nor is it new. Over the past few years, a steady stream of commentary has deplored the state of free speech and intellectual inquiry on campus. The Atlantic has published a series of articles with titles such as “The New Intolerance of Student Activism” and “The Glaring Evidence that Free Speech is Threatened on Campus.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has argued that free speech in academia is at greater risk now than at any time in recent history. And the eminent First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams went so far as to claim (prior to the election of Donald Trump) that the single greatest threat facing free speech today “comes from a minority of students, who strenuously, and I think it is fair to say, contemptuously, disapprove of the views of speakers whose view of the world is different from theirs and who seek to prevent those views from being heard.”
The violence at Middlebury and Berkeley was troubling and should be condemned by both liberals and conservatives. But the truth is that violent demonstrations on campus are rare, and are not what the critics have primarily been railing against. Instead, they have been complaining about an atmosphere of intense pushback and protest that has made some speakers hesitant to express their views and has subjected others to a range of social pressure and backlash, from shaming and ostracism to boycotts and economic reprisal.
Are these forms of social pressure inconsistent with the values of free speech?
That is a more complicated question than many observers seem willing to acknowledge.
Much of the social pressure that critics complain about is itself speech.
A simplistic answer would be that such pressure does not conflict with free speech because the First Amendment applies only to government censorship, not to restrictions imposed by individuals. But most of us care about free speech not just as a matter of constitutional law but as a matter of principle, so the absence of government sanction hardly offers much comfort.
Many of the reasons why Americans object to official censorship also apply to the suppression of speech by private means. If we conceive of free speech as promoting the search for truth—as the metaphor of “the marketplace of ideas” suggests—we should be troubled whether that search is hindered by public officials or private citizens. The same is true of democratic justifications for free speech. If the point of free speech is to facilitate the open debate that is essential for self-rule, any measure that impairs that debate should give us pause, regardless of its source.
But although social restraints on speech raise many of the same concerns as government censorship, they differ in important ways.
First, much of the social pressure that critics complain about is itself speech. When activists denounce Yiannopoulos as a racist or Murray as a white nationalist, they are exercising their own right to free expression. Likewise when students hold protests or marches, launch social media campaigns, circulate petitions, boycott lectures, demand the resignation of professors and administrators, or object to the invitation of controversial speakers. Even heckling, though rude and annoying, is a form of expression.
More crucially, the existence of such social pushback helps protects Americans from the even more frightening prospect of official censorship. Here’s why. Speech is a powerful weapon that can cause grave harms, and the First Amendment does not entirely prohibit the government from suppressing speech to prevent those harms. But one of the central tenets of modern First Amendment law is that the government cannot suppress speech if those harms can be thwarted by alternative means. And the alternative that judges and scholars invoke most frequently is the mechanism of counter-speech.
As Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote in his celebrated 1927 opinion in Whitney v. California, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
Counter-speech can take many forms. It can be an assertion of fact designed to rebut a speaker’s claim. It can be an expression of opinion that the speaker’s view is misguided, ignorant, offensive, or insulting. It can even be an accusation that the speaker is racist or sexist, or that the speaker’s expression constitutes an act of harassment, discrimination, or aggression.
In other words, much of the social pushback that critics complain about on campus and in public life—indeed, the entire phenomenon of political correctness—can plausibly be described as counter-speech. And because counter-speech is one of the mechanisms Americans rely on as an alternative to government censorship, such pushback is not only a legitimate part of our free speech system; it is indispensable.
It’s worth asking, though, why expression that shames or demonizes a speaker is not a legitimate form of counter-speech.
Yet many people continue to believe that pressuring speakers to change their views or modify their language constitutes a threat to free speech.
Kirsten Powers makes this argument in her 2015 book, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. Discussing the case of author Wendy Kaminer, who elicited angry responses from students when she used the n-word as part of a campus forum on free speech, Powers writes that “rather than arguing with her on the merits, her opponents set about the process of delegitimizing her by tarring her as a racist.” Powers also complains that many liberals “instead of using persuasion and rhetoric to make a positive case for their causes and views, work to delegitimize the person making the argument through character assassination, demonization, and dehumanizing tactics.” These efforts, she concludes, “are a chilling attempt to silence free speech.”
It’s worth asking, though, why expression that shames or demonizes a speaker is not a legitimate form of counter-speech.
One possibility, as Powers implies, is that such tactics do not address the merits of the debate. But that reflects a rather narrow view of what counts as “the merits.” To argue that a speaker’s position is racist or sexist is to say something about the merits of her position, given that most people think racism and sexism are bad. Even arguing that the speaker herself is racist goes to the merits, since it gives the public context for judging her motives and the consequences of her position.
Besides, what principle of free speech limits discussion to the merits? Political discourse often strays from the merits of issues to personal or tangential matters. But the courts have never suggested that such discourse is outside the realm of free speech.
On the contrary, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that speech is valued both for the contribution it makes to rational discourse and for its emotional impact. As Justice John M. Harlan wrote in the 1971 case of Cohen v. California, “We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which, practically speaking, may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated.”
All counter-speech has a potential chilling effect.
Fine, the critics might say. But much of the social pressure on campus does not just demonize; it is designed to, and often does, chill unpopular speech. And given that courts frequently invoke the potential chilling effect of government action to invalidate it under the First Amendment, social pressure that has a potential chilling effect is also inconsistent with free speech.
The problem with this argument is that all counter-speech has a potential chilling effect. Any time people refute an assertion of fact by pointing to evidence that contradicts it, speakers may be hesitant to repeat that assertion. Whenever opponents challenge an opinion by showing that it is poorly reasoned, leads to undesirable results, or is motivated by bigotry or ignorance, speakers may feel less comfortable expressing that opinion in the future.
Put bluntly, the implicit goal of all argument is, ultimately, to quash the opposing view. We don’t dispute a proposition in the hope that others will continue to hold and express that belief. Unless we are playing devil’s advocate, we dispute it to establish that we are right and the other side is wrong. If we are successful enough, the opposing view will become so discredited that it is effectively, although not officially, silenced.
Such has been the fate of many ideas over the centuries, from claims that the earth is flat to declarations that slavery is God’s will to assertions that women should not be allowed to vote or own property. Each of these positions can still be asserted without fear of government punishment. But those who make them in earnest are deemed so discreditable that the claims themselves have mostly been removed from public debate.
This highlights a paradox of free speech, and of our relationship to it. On the one hand, Americans are encouraged to be tolerant of opposing ideas in the belief that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it in his landmark 1919 opinion in Abrams v. United States.
On the other hand, unlike the government, Americans are not expected to remain neutral observers of that market. Instead, we are participants in it; the market works only if we take that participation seriously, if we exercise our own right of expression to combat ideas we disagree with, to refute false claims, to discredit dangerous beliefs. This does not mean we are required to be vicious or uncivil. But viciousness and incivility are legitimate features of America’s free speech tradition. Life is not a debating exercise or a seminar room, and it would be naïve to insist that individuals adhere to some prim, idealized vision of public discourse.
This, one suspects, is what bothers many critics of political correctness: the fact that so much of the social pressure and pushback takes on a nasty, vindictive tone that is painful to observe. But free speech often is painful. It was painful to envision neo-Nazis marching through Skokie, Illinois, home to thousands of holocaust survivors, in 1977. It was painful to watch the Westboro Baptist Church picket a military funeral in 2006 with signs reading “Fag troops” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” In both cases, the speech was deeply offensive to our sense of decorum, decency, and tolerance. But the courts rightly concluded that this offense was irrelevant to whether the speech was worthy of protection.
Many critics, particularly on the left, seem to forget this. Although they claim to be promoting an expansive view of free speech, they are doing something quite different. They are promoting a vision of liberalism, of respect, courtesy, and broadmindedness. That is a worthy vision to promote, but it should not be confused with the dictates of free speech, which allows for a messier, more ill-mannered form of public discourse. Free speech is not the same as liberalism. Equating the two reflects a narrow, rather than expansive, view of the former.
Physical assault—in addition to not traditionally being regarded as a form of expression —too closely resembles the use of force by the government.
Does this mean any form of social pressure targeted at speakers is acceptable? Not at all. One of the reasons government censorship is prohibited is that the coercive power of the state is nearly impossible to resist. Social pressure that crosses the line from persuasion to coercion is also inconsistent with the values of free speech.
This explains why violence and threats of violence are not legitimate mechanisms for countering ideas one disagrees with. Physical assault—in addition to not traditionally being regarded as a form of expression —too closely resembles the use of force by the government.
What about other forms of social pressure? If Americans are concerned about the risk of coercion, the question is whether the pressures are such that it is reasonable to expect speakers to endure them. Framed this way, we should accept the legitimacy of insults, shaming, demonizing, and even social ostracism, since it is not unreasonable for speakers to bear these consequences. This is not to minimize the distress such tactics can cause. But a system that relies on counter-speech as the primary alternative to government censorship should not unduly restrict the forms counter-speech can take.
Heckling raises trickier questions. Occasional boos or interruptions are acceptable since they don’t prevent speakers from communicating their ideas. But heckling that is so loud and continuous a speaker literally cannot be heard is little different from putting a hand over a speaker’s mouth and should be viewed as antithetical to the values free speech.
Because social restraints on speech do not violate the Constitution, Americans cannot rely on courts to develop a comprehensive framework for deciding which types of pressure are too coercive. Instead, Americans must determine what degree of pressure we think is acceptable.
In that respect, the critics are well within their right to push for a more elevated, civil form of public discourse. They are perfectly justified in arguing that a college campus, of all places, should be a model of rational debate. But they are not justified in claiming the free speech high ground. For under our free speech tradition, the crudest and least reasonable forms of expression are just as legitimate as the most eloquent and thoughtful.
This article was written for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.