For the most part, when people discuss free speech the situation involves mutual ignorance; and this is because what is meant by free speech has been manipulated and altered over the 20th century, particularly during the 1960s—although the distortion began long before. In the English common law tradition, free speech was taken to mean—for many centuries—a situation where the government did not interfere with the printing presses; specifically, “free speech” meant that the government sent no censor to stand over a printer at his press and created no impediments to someone who wished to operate a printing press (for example, no special licences).
This sense is preserved in the US Constitution in the First Amendment; yet it is only by metaphorical extension, thanks to judicial interpretation, that the First Amendment is about “free speech” in the sense that you can, supposedly, “say whatever you want”—although when people talk about free speech today this is roughly what they mean; and across Europe, especially in Britain, they will refer back to the First Amendment—and fair enough, since it derives from British common law anyway. “You can’t say that!” “I can say whatever I want; free speech, innit!”
When John Milton published his famous Areopagitica (1644), often cited as a classic statement that favoured free speech, the intention was to defend printers from government certification and regulation. The Englishman’s right to free speech was the right to have a printing press and not have someone—I imagine a Prussian here—stand over his shoulder ready to whisk the manuscript from his hands, burn it, and then wag a finger.
However, this right to a free press did not mean the right to publish whatever you wanted without consequence. The English common law granted “free speech” in the sense that the government would not regulate your press; you could print what you wanted without pre-approval—and that was where your freedom lay. Yet there was no freedom from consequences—and the consequences were often severe.
Aside from ordinary libel law—still a fairly fierce instrument in Britain—there also existed another category, seditious libel (and its twin, blasphemous libel), that covered anything that might incite public disorder, from insults to the Crown to suggestions that bread prices were too high—related laws pertained to obscenity and offences connected to public decency. The general spirit was summed up by a judge in 1819, during a trial over the disturbances in Peterloo that invoked the law over seditious libel: “My opinion of the liberty of the press is that every man ought to be permitted to instruct his fellow subjects; that every man may fearlessly advance any new doctrines, provided he does so with proper respect to the religion and government of the country…” This is a long way from, “Don’t tell me to shut up! It’s my right to say what I want. Free speech, innit.”
The penalties for seditious libel were severe; and so although you had every right, as an Englishman, to exercise your free speech the Crown had an equal right, if you like, to throw you in the dungeon on a bread and water diet for a long stretch if what you published outraged the public or was judged to be a threat to public order. Aside from seditious libel, obscenity laws, and ordinary libel there was also the chance that someone might hold you to account through a challenge to a duel—the only way to put skin in the game when it comes to journalism. Journalism has always been bad, but it would be somewhat better if people were still allowed to duel to the death over stories; yet in a time without honour and little interest in the truth such suggestions are neglected—even if a duel is much faster and cheaper than a libel trial.
In other words, the right to free speech was matched with consequences—with responsibility and a duty to be responsible as regards what was published. To the modern ear, this probably sounds impossibly harsh and restrictive and not what we mean by free speech at all, but that is just because we are all so soaked in progressive beliefs that we have lost any sense that the wider society in which we live has a right to be protected from sedition and obscenity; even terms such as sedition and treason are rarely used now, and people cringe at their mention. Yet if we accept that there are commonly agreed standards around decency and responsible behaviour among men it stands to reason that there are certain ideas and images that should not be published. “But, but…the right to free thought and free expression!”
Consider the Marquis de Sade: the Marquis was a clever man; he knew the stories he made up were generally considered outrageous and gross—actually, his stories are not even sexy or erotic; his tales basically bore, it is all heads pulled off so that someone can copulated with the raggedy windpipe—really peculiar material, frankly. The Marquis knew that most people did not find his material a titillation, and would simply be appalled; and yet he published nonetheless—consequences followed.
The modern looks back and says, “Seems a bit harsh; he should be allowed his ideas and fantasies.” He should be allowed them, but should he be allowed to continually distribute them? Ironically, the people who answer in the affirmative—basically progressive liberals—will insist that “education changes lives” and tell their opponents to “read a book”; yet if told that a book like de Sade’s could change someone—such as the child-murderer and de Sade fan Ian Brady—for the worse then suddenly “it’s just a book” again. Really, these people mean “indoctrination” when they say “education” and for you to read an approved book when they praise literature; being indoctrinated, they have no sense that books could really change people—after all, change only happens in an approved (progressive) direction; they are like a fish that cannot see the water in which it swims.
Under the old English tradition, you had every right to publish your obscene or seditious fantasies; the public and the Crown then had a right to pass judgement upon what you produced and act accordingly. You could still present outrageous and challenging ideas or images, but you did so at your own risk. Since, in fact, there is a common standard understood by most people as to what is obscene or seditious, generally it was unlikely that people would break the law unless they set out with the intention to do so. The ideas were not suppressed at all; it was just there was some recourse against irresponsible authors.
The situation described above basically constituted what was meant by free speech in the English-speaking world up until the 20th century. In the late 19th century, the law began to be challenged extensively, particularly by feminists and people who wished to promote birth control—they were joined by other groups, such as the socialists; effectively another side in the same general movement. At this stage, “free speech” began to mean something entirely different from what it had meant in the past; it was no longer about the right to own and operate a press without a government official over your shoulder—no, now the question was what should a person be permitted to print without consequence. The movement for “free speech” in this sense has been so successful that today when people want to “debate free speech” they really want to debate what it is acceptable to publish; almost nobody understands that the original legal definition never discussed the content—the right was to publish, not whether or not a person should be punished for what they published.
At most, people drag up John Stuart Mill’s stale example as regards whether a person should be permitted to shout “fire!” when there is no fire in a crowded theatre—almost everyone says the answer to this question is “no”. Yet you see the problem: the whole question is still framed so as to be about content; nobody understands what the right was about in the first place—the question we ask as regards free speech is merely about what content is acceptable, the premise that we should have an extremely large latitude as regards content as an inherent aspect to “free speech” is completely granted; and when we discuss the content the traditional means that were used to regulate content—sedition, obscenity laws, and duels—have all gone away; all that remains is Mill’s question as regards whether actual harm could come about from what has been published in an immediate way; and even then this is not very closely observed.
This is why conservatives—the right in general—are all at sea over free speech. In reality, there is always a speech regime; whether or not there is a formal law as regards seditious libel, obscenity, or blasphemy there is always an equivalent—and all that has happened is that what is considered seditious libel, destabilising to the state, has changed. The situation is analogous to “secularisation”; in reality, we cannot step outside religion—man is inherently religious. When Western societies became more secular, this meant that they swapped from traditional Christianity to progressive liberalism or socialism.
Millions believe in the state cult and participate in its rites—BLM protests; LGBT parades—and these beliefs are the de facto religion, otherwise know as “what educated and rational people believe”. The difference is that these beliefs exercise de facto and not de jure power; hence, technically, Britain’s state Church is the Church of England—except its personnel all believe in progressive liberalism. “What do you mean it’s a religion? It’s just what decent, good, and educated people believe…” The same process has happened with sedition, obscenity, and blasphemy; the crimes have been abolished, but all that has happened is that what it is de facto criminal to blaspheme about has inverted and changed (essentially, blacks and homosexuals and women—our holy groups).
So, for example, it is not seditious libel or considered obscene to publish pornography; it is not blasphemous libel to publish obscene attacks against Christianity; it is not seditious libel to promote ideas such as Critical Race Theory, ideas that stir up people to burn down cities—i.e. ideas for which the very notion of seditious libel was invented, to prevent printers from distributing material that disturbed the King’s peace and led to murder and mayhem.
No, these matters are not seditious libel—no consequences here. However, here are a few “uses of the presses” that are considered de facto seditious libel: publications that stir up strong emotional feelings about mass migration; publications that suggest women need to be owned or controlled by men; publications that insult Muslims or Mohammad; and publications that attack homosexuality and transsexuality in highly emotional terms—you know, if you pay attention, what is really considered seditious, blasphemous, or obscene to publish in the West; sure, nominally all those crimes have been abolished—really, the crimes exist in other forms.
Conservatives and rightists sometimes meet this situation, a situation whereby they are effectively muzzled while perverted ideas are given free rein, with the response that they are “free speech absolutists”’; by which they mean a person should be able to say or publish anything up to but excluding Mill’s “fire in the theatre” thought experiment—and sometimes so-called absolutists will even posture that it is acceptable to shout fire in a theatre when there is none. So a common conservative complaint, when someone is had up for an insult to Mohammad or similar, is to huff and puff and say: “We don’t have blasphemy laws anymore!” In other words, they are so owned that they use a leftist rhetorical point—an argument against blasphemy—to defend what is taken as a rightist point; they are merely conservative progressives—they want to be blasphemous to everyone, and they have taken the progressive contention that blasphemy should not be a crime at face value.
Of course, we should have blasphemy laws. Think about it for a moment: the right holds that there is such a thing as the sacred—and if there is to be a sacred it must be protected from violation and desecration and that is done by, well, blasphemy laws. The process by which blasphemy laws were removed is how we ended up with the current perverted speech regime; for to remove blasphemy laws merely inverted the situation, so that it is only permissible to dump on Christianity—and not permissible to insult the West’s old enemies, Judaism and Islam.
Once negated, laws do not vanish; rather, they reverse—for the blasphemy laws were laws designed to protect Western nations from their enemies; and to remove them merely established a shadow blasphemy law that does the opposite to those originally passed. Man is inherently religious; we still have state religions, our state religion is progressivism. Similarly, there is always a speech regime that penalises blasphemy, obscenity, and sedition; we abolished the old laws around those issues and established new sacred objects and new taboos with the same legal instruments, essentially the “hate crime” laws, under another name.
The “free speech absolutist” represents a type identified by Hoppe as decadent libertarians. You know the type; they hope to curry favour with the left, so they are keen to say that they are all for legal cannabis, pornography, strippers, and, hell, why not over-the-counter heroin as well. As Hoppe points out, real libertarianism—real classical liberalism—is not built on hedonistic excess. Britain in the mid-19th century exercised classical liberalism, but nobody thought liberty meant that pornography should be legal, drug consumption praised and encouraged, and that their daughters should be pimped out at strip clubs.
Liberty was defended by virtue: virtue meant effective action—and effective action required restraint, masculinity. Yes, the pharmacy might sell opium over the counter and brothels might be tolerated, but no free man would be addled on opium and a whoremonger—and certainly no free man would expect to live in a society where the newspapers promoted such activities as noble or romantic pursuits; and yet it is such a society we currently live in, i.e. not a free society. Societies such as these could tolerate the harmless opium addict who quietly addled himself in his study every evening and the discreet brothel creeper because the penalties for those whose indulgence stepped beyond self-regarding action were severe—so, for example, those who allowed their opium habit to put them on the streets as vagrants were swept up; and fathers were empowered to control and chastise their sons and daughters.
To publish articles that promoted opium addiction as glamorous or were pornographic was forbidden because it undermined the virtue upon which individual freedom depended; it encouraged men to undermine the self-restraint that granted them a capacity for autonomous action. Notice that the glamour around the drug addict and the promotion of pornography go along with an overextended state that claims to solve these problems but cannot, and in fact depends on a population that is enslaved to its vices—as opposed to a society that permits a man his vices, so long as he is discreet and not dominated by them. The state encourages drug abuse, with help from a media that romanticises addiction; and rather than an end to sexual quirks and unhappiness once “repression” was removed, as the left once promised, we see sexual anarchy and peculiar fetishes such as transsexualism promoted as normal and mainstream activities.
As progressives love to point out, pornography has always been produced and has always been available in some form—except it was produced for private clubs or between a few individuals; it was not a mass media industry. The obscenity laws did not apply if you printed a pamphlet for your friends—presumably dirty old men. Free speech: there was nobody who stood over your printing press to tell you what to do with it. There is a distinction between privately produced pornography and pornography as an industry, except progressives pretend there is no difference at all. Of course people will always visit prostitutes, be obscene, and experiment with drugs—always have done; the question is whether or not these activities should be portrayed as normative, desirable, and turned into huge industries.
As the “free speech absolutist” soon finds out, the left is not impressed by his commitment to drug legalisation, brothels, willingness to post obscene pictures of Jesus, or his generous line on pornography. This is because the left is not really about hedonism, as the decadent libertarian thinks; rather, the left is about moralism—it is just that the left can moralise in many different directions, as accords with its emotional whims; sometimes it moralises for pornography (“Masturbation is healthy; repression is bad! Sexual repression causes fascism and wars! Let it all out! Don’t be uptight, man”) and other times it spins on a dime: “Pornography is patriarchal oppression! It’s literally rape! Even looking at a woman in a certain way is rape, never mind RedTube!”. The reason for this is not hard to work out: the left is irresponsible, detached from reality, and relies on emotional rhetoric to convince people to do what it wants—when it tries to work out what speech should be considered “seditious libel” it produces odd and contradictory results; and, naturally, it denies that seditious libel even exists anymore—hate crimes exist, of course…
Basically, until the late 1950s there were strict rules as regards what could be published; in Britain, even plays were vetted for obscene or disruptive content. As already noted, you were perfectly allowed to print the play and even put the play on; it was just that the authorities could then shut it down and pulp what you had printed if it was deemed obscene or otherwise disruptive to the social peace. The situation was such that if explained to a student today they would probably say: “It was like total fascism and Hitler…” Indeed, there was a very great deal that would result in your prosecution. Now, in fact, by the 1950s much had already been undermined in this system—both in Britain and America—and “free speech” as we know it today was about to begin. On the Berkeley campus in the 1960s the Free Speech Movement was set up, and it was in substantial part dedicated to public performances that involved expletives, sexual commentary, and toilet humour—and this is what most people mean by free speech even today in ordinary speech; we live in Berkeley’s shadow.
It was at this moment that Lenny Bruce, an early stand-up comedian who died prematurely, started to “challenge expectations” with comedy acts that included generous dollops of obscenity—and yet also, as with the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, were highly political and included extensive commentaries on segregation and other issues from a leftist perspective. His premature death was characterised as being due to his persecution for exercising his “free speech”—here taken to mean a right to obscenity. Personally, I think all stand-up comedy as currently understood amounts to leftism—whether the comedian claims to lean to the right or not. It almost all involves leftist political values, and would probably be banned in a free society. Comedians tend to be among the most voluble leftist activists; and they are often acutely narcissistic and empty, being used to speedy mask production to manipulate a crowd for attention. There is little that is frank and straightforward about a comedian. Consider that Joe Rogan really became a stellar star for his no-nonsense interviews, not for his comedy; and this is because he is really a very physical guy—most comedians are not like that.
The Berkeley Free Speech Movement complained about loyalty pledges at the university—because they wanted students to be disloyal and be permitted to endorse Communism. As soon as they won their battle, the situation that existed was free speech for Communists and “no platform” for anti-Communists: there is always a speech regime. There are some people who think there can be a middle view, but the truth is that progressives do not tolerate the right; it is only the naïve centrists or conservatives, being more tolerant by nature, who think there can be accommodation—and yet, of course, they soon find themselves characterised as “far right” simply for the demand that a platform features a speaker who is not overtly leftist.
There can be no compromise with error; if you compromise, the gag will be on you; the left only ever intends to “tolerate” perverse speech; everything else will be characterised—to use a term coined by Herbert Marcuse, a professor at Berkeley when the Free Speech Movement was at its height—as “repressive tolerance”; an early spin on hate speech. What Marcuse argued, an argument still used today, was that genuine free speech meant to oppose racism, imperialism, and capitalism; in other words, he put forward his own law on seditious libel and blasphemy—and we live under his definitions today, more or less.
Incidentally, probably 85%—if not more—of what I publish on this blog would have seen me prosecuted, rightly so, under the laws as regards speech and obscenity in the 1950s; then again, I am a decadent product of a decadent time—what can I say?
In a point that demonstrates that postmodernism and “cultural relativism” are only tangential to the left, the final changes to the speech laws in the 1960s required politicians, judges, and lawyers to abolish an important concept in trials for obscenity, “the ordinary man on the street”. Basically, the standard by which publications were to be judged to be obscene or a possible disturbance to the peace was whether or not a notional ordinary person could be construed to be offended by the material. The left, in a move that we see today with ideas such as non-binary gender and transsexualism, argued for extreme atomistic individualism; in essence, they asserted that there is no such thing as a notional “ordinary person”—no commonly agreed standards as to what is tasteful or decent or a threat to public order; and they did so with no aid from postmodernism, a then non-existent concept.
The argument would run along these lines: Bertrand Russell reported that he masturbated to geometry problems—would the court, therefore, care to ban mathematics textbooks as pornographic? Ha. Ha. Ha. Please, we are sophisticated people. As Russell shows, it all depends on your perspective…anything could be pornographic and, therefore, nothing is; or, at least, it is all too complicated for the state to take a view. Similar arguments are put forward with regards to transsexualism today; an intersex individual—a true hermaphrodite—is put forward as a case where someone suffers unfairly because the law regards sex as binary; since intersex people exist, there is no binary sex division—and the state should rearrange itself to accommodate non-binary sex. Both tricks rely on exceptional individuals—Russell was a genius and geniuses are notoriously odd in many dimensions, sex included; and intersex individuals are a vanishingly rare phenomenon—in an attempt to say that since there are exceptions there is no norm; of course, the exceptional nature found in Russell and an intersex individual is, from another perspective, what makes the norm in the first place. Why should the norm be forced to change for the exception, and would that be a generally healthy thing for most people to do?
The left is a curious beast; it assets collective solidarity in one aspect, but in another it argues for the most extreme atomism, solipsism, and individual relativism—indeed, no countries were more atomised than the supposedly collective Communist countries. Revolutions pass through two stages: in the first stage there is a breakdown characterised by extreme solipsism, atomisation, and individualistic relativism; in the second stage, a new coordination arises to replace the organic bonds that were broken down in the first stage—and this new consciously-crafted coordination is more repressive than what went before. So the Russians passed through a phase in the 19th century known as nihilism; and this stage featured individualistic anarchist terrorism, novel religious views—such as Tolstoy’s pacifistic movement—and a general critique as regards everything that existed, with a scientific view as the main tool for critique.
Eventually, this facilitated a complete collapse of the Russian state and society and what followed was a movement, built from that severe critique, Bolshevism, that was far more arbitrary, homogeneous, and collectivist than what went before. The West’s sexual revolution and free speech revolution—really one moment—have trodden the same path; so at first there was a supposedly good-natured live-and-let-live “dirty books never hurt anybody” moment, broadly characterised as liberal. Yet now perversity has become not just tolerated but normative; and views that criticise perverse behaviour have become inadmissible—traditional morality is basically seen as obscene. So we have completed the same turn as the Russians: we had a time when there was a totally individualistic critique and now that has solidified into a highly restrictive and intolerant speech regime; just think about how careful a person has to be as regards what they say about transsexuals and how they say it. The revolution has already happened, in other words—conservatives who worry about “what might happen” are deluded; it has happened.
If the same argument were had today, I have no doubt that Derrida and Foucault would be dragged out to support the position that the “ordinary man on the street” is an oppressive logocentric heteronormative construction created by white legal structures and so quite invalid, but decades ago the left performed exactly the same operation without any help from postmodernism. My point is not that postmodernism is good, but rather that it is an incidental aid to what the left was doing decades—if not centuries—ago; it merely provides a slightly new rhetorical paint job—the rhetoric underneath is about the same and really all amounts to whether or not there is a commonly agreed upon reality, whether that relates to obscenity or binary sex divisions.
The left’s need to challenge these norms—particularly the liberal or decadent left’s need to do so—undoubtedly stems from its narcissism, from its need to feel special and unique; thus Russell’s unusual sex habits—being high status and novel—should be used to prove a general point, since the narcissist loves novelty that makes them feel important. Yet people are not really so different, for the most part—and they can agree when an image or document creates sexual stimulation, just as they can agree if they have just met a man or a woman.
Notoriously, during a 1960 obscenity trial over Lady Chatterley’s Lover—then not published in Britain under the obscenity laws—an ancient prosecutor enquired as to whether the book was fit to be read by a man’s wife or servant; even in 1960 this was seen as out of touch, the time when servants were regularly employed had passed—and wives were very independent, even then. Although his comment had no material consequence as regards case, it was seen to characterise the general situation: people who attempted to defend the obscenity laws lived in another time and place—men no longer protected their wives, nor did they have servants. So why do we have these laws, exactly?
Interestingly, this trial was under a new obscenity law, introduced in the late 1950s, that was specifically designed to do away with obscenity as a crime altogether; it did so, as happened in America too, through a clause that allowed for artistic licence as a justification for obscenity—and this loophole just needed to be picked up by the courts and rammed wide open with a suitably tumescent legal member. What the left did was to take works by D.H. Lawrence (in Britain) and Henry Miller (in America)—filled with sex and cunt and fuck—and then demonstrate in the courts that since these works had high artistic merit it was unacceptable to apply the obscenity laws in these cases.
Once the dam was opened, everything poured through; so that what started with Lawrence’s rather fiery if philosophical romp with the gamekeeper and Miller’s cosmic sexual musings ended with Slut Vixens VI. “But isn’t everyone an artist, really? And isn’t everything art, if you think about it the right way—even Slut Vixens VI,” objects the earnest Guardian columnist. Again, an exception is found—artists have depicted obscenity and sex in ways that are not primarily arousing—and then used to justify corrupt or decadent behaviour in general.
To jump back to a Petersonian point: the question is whether or not there is a common reality—even if that is a bit roughly defined—to which we can all agree. The left says: “When correctly viewed, everything is lewd; I could tell you things about Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz—there’s a dirty old man.” The right says; actually, most people are disgusted and find obscene the same behaviours and actions, thank you—and they would like laws to prevent these actions and behaviours being depicted and, effectively, promoted. Further, it is clear that ideas like CRT are seditious and encourage citizens to treat each other with hostility and suspicion, such that these ideas, if widespread, could (indeed, do) lead to violence and property destruction—hence the people who publish and promote these ideas should be imprisoned. However, rightists today are so lost and browbeaten by a legal system that has been perverted by the left that they can barely even resist the riots inspired by CRT and similar notions, let alone establish that the people who publish and promote these ideas in the first place should be doing twenty years to life. “For an idea, are you a monster? Free speech.” Well, how many people died and how many businesses were burned down in the 2020 riots—for an idea?
As you already know, we are nowhere near such a situation. To merely suggest such restrictions would be considered “an attack on free speech”; and most conservatives have lost the thread as to what that really meant in the first place—even the notion that it was entirely normal for centuries for free speech not to include obscenity, pornography, incitement to radically destabilise society, and so on. At most, conservatives try to protect their own right to express ideas that would have been seen as equally obscene and a threat to public order in the 1860s—the right for South Park to dunk urine on Jesus, for example. The bottom line: there is always a speech regime; seditious libel never went away, it is has merely been inverted—the left says it has been abolished—and has been reinvented to serve perverse ends (e.g. in hate crime legislation that penalises people who express a wish to see obscenity suppressed or demand, in vigorous language, an end to mass migration).
America, as many know, allows a wide latitude in all directions as regards speech—even relatively “hateful” material, banned in Europe, is publishable there—except this is a double-edged sword; although the right can say more in America, the country also effectively provides a free-for-all for the most perverse and obscene material to enter man’s mind; worse, it then amplifies this material across the globe through Hollywood, and also through its first-mover advantage online—since the Internet originated there.
The American right has, so far as I can tell, lost the idea—or given up on the idea—that free speech does not have to include obscenity, pornography, and the publication of ideas such as CRT. To reiterate: ideas like CRT are seditious, they lead to murder and property damage; the question is not whether CRT should be banned from schools, the question should be how long the people who invented it and publish favourably about it should be imprisoned for—if they do not, in fact, deserve the death penalty given the gravity of the crimes they inspire. Of course, to say this seems like lunacy and will not happen in the current environment; and yet any judge plucked from the 1860s or the 1740s would have had no compunction in laying down the law as regards free speech in the way I have described.
No freedom without responsibility, and the West long ago abolished all responsible restrictions on speech—ergo, we do not live in free societies; we live under perverse speech regimes where to speak for virtue is punished and to speak for vice promoted. This is why this article is entitled “against free speech”; the title is facetious, for I obviously support free speech in its true sense—yet given what it has come to mean through a deep perversion, I must admit that for all practical purposes I am against free speech.