Politics in Minutes (2016)

Freedom of speech

Adefining aspect of liberty is the freedom to hold an opinion and express it openly. Freedom of speech – and especially freedom to publish – has been considered the mark of a civilized society since the Enlightenment, when dissenting voices challenged the authority of the old order. This freedom highlights a fundamental problem of liberty in general: if it is permissible to say anything, then some people will say things that others will find unacceptable, summed up in Voltaire’s famous dictum ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ (actually written by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall). Oppressive regimes quash opposition by restricting the freedoms of the press, but even in societies that pride themselves on their liberal principles, there is often some form of censorship. This may be benign in intent, protecting minors or preventing incitement to violence, for example. More contentious are laws such as those banning Holocaust denial, or blasphemy. These ideas may cause offence, but is that sufficient reason to outlaw them?