Government: Freedom of the Vicious

On the drive to work this morning, I was listening to NPR and there was a brief discussion of the current scandal wherein the Pentagon has paid Iraqi journalists to publish pro-American stories in Iraqi newspapers.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Freedom of the Press, like the right to vote, is a liberty that is inherently most likely to be used by those most likely to abuse it.

The thoughtful, the careful, the mature and concerned citizens are going to have a degree of self-control and reasonable restraint that will prevent them from ever remotely competing with the arrogant, brash, impulsive twits who rush out to impose their worldview on an undeserving public because it is their right.

Honestly, anyone who refers to his right in that tone of voice is probably insisting on his liberty to abuse a generous system.

I guess this gets back to the Active Way versus the Contemplative Way that I established in the KJW excerpt. I’m talking about the difference between Larry King and … I don’t even know any opinionators who I would hold up as a thoughtful and educated example. And this has nothing to do with Right of Left. Even the ones I agree with in principle, express their opinions in ways I could not condone and do so with the full protection of the State behind them.

But that’s what gets to me. I’m embarrassed to hear Hannity or Limbaugh say things that I basically believe about our government, because of the way they say them. But, as a student of history, it just burns me up to hear the sea of voices decrying our government and demanding that the same government protect their right to say it.

Why? Why should a government protect the power of its opponents? Admittedly, sometimes we do. We trained bin Laden, to fight the Russians. We armed Hussein, to fight Iran. These were short-sighted mistakes, and all of us now regret that we made them, but somehow we expect the State to provide its domestic enemies with the weapons necessary to wage a war against it? It’s absurd.

It’s guaranteed by the Constitution. Yeah, I get that. I understand why the American government protects freedom of speech now. I just stand opposed to the initial promise. It is wrong to protect speech, particularly politically-motivated slander.

There should be some level of oversight, some extent of control, and I accept the loss of liberty that goes with it, because (and listen closely here) living in a Governed Society means the sacrifice of some individual comforts for the sake of a strong (and, in theory, supporting) community.

It makes sense that individuals would want Freedom of Speech. And, moreover, it makes a lot of sense that a community founded entirely on scandal and slander (that is, journalists) would want Freedom of the Press, specifically. It also makes sense that a man would want his neighbor’s possessions, and human law is about subverting that individual desire for the sake of a community that offers security and order. We do not let men do whatever they wish — why would we dare let them say whatever they wish, especially since saying is so much easier than doing.

Free speech is the strongest weapon against established government — it is the foundation of Anarchy.

Now, Toby challenged me on this in one of my recent posts (for a given value of “recent”), and the same issue still stands: societies must choose the extent to which they are willing to sacrifice personal liberties for the sake of strong government. And, naturally, the government has as much capacity to abuse its powers as citizens have to abuse their liberties. These are real problems, and a totalitarian government like Hussein’s Iraq can use a State-run press in abominable ways.

But that is not the inevitable result of government oversight. I think that’s part of the problem with the American cultural conception of Strong Government — we believe any government power must necessarily end in totalitarian control.

Did you know England does not have a protected Freedom of Speech? Certainly the country has been affected by the pervasive American culture, but the government today does not recognize Free Speech as an inherent right of its citizens. Of course, this isn’t a huge surprise, since it was England’s totalitarianism we were rejecting when we penned the Bill of Rights.

Yeah. England. Not Iraq, not North Korea, but England. And you can see any day of the week that the English population still expresses dissent, that the government is not an iron-clad structure of favoritism and nepotism. It’s a free nation, a democratic nation even, but with a measure of reasonable restraint.

I’ve just read “V for Vendetta,” a graphic novel that Daniel got me for my birthday, and it mostly focuses on the collapse of British society into a police state following World War 4. So these topics are very much on my mind, and I’m seeing in graphic detail the objections some of you would raise, but I want to make it clear: all government is a sacrifice of individual liberties for the sake of security and order. And, as I said at the top of this post, Freedom of the Press, like the right to vote, is a liberty that is inherently most likely to be used by those most likely to abuse it.