Subtle pressure and direct coercion are "desirable"

Tell me again why we are supposed to call these folks ?liberals??

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Um, if you reread the post,

Um, if you reread the post, you'll find that I'm describing the views of Australia's PM, and the very similar views of advocates of "political correctness" and making it pretty clear that I don't agree with either. Admittedly, he's called a Liberal, but that's something different.

Subtle pressure and direct

Subtle pressure and direct coercion are desirable...sometimes.

You can't have freedom without some restraints on freedom. Some degree of peer pressure is necessary for a functional civil society. I'm sure you know this.

Now, Mr. Quiggin is Australian, so you should take into account his different sensibilities. I, like you (I guess), find almost all legal constraints on speech to be onerous and ultimately counter-productive. But even you and I probably support some restriction of speech. He just is asserting that the line be drawn in a different place. That's not unreasonable. We Americans can be pretty simple-minded about freedom of speech--a lot of us don't seem to realize that it is not inviolate, a lot of speech is restricted in the US, and almost everyone agrees with at least some restriction ("fire" in a theater). My point is that you can't argue that Mr. Quiggin is violating a principle where you and I are not. Unless you oppose all restrictions of speech, period.

Micha, I had exactly your


I had exactly your reaction to Quiggin's post at first, but in light of his comment, and after a rereading, I think he's right. The only speech restriction he seemed to advocate was limitation of collective defamation.

And I think you're right, Kieth, about American attitudes toward speech. We tend to assume its value so absolutely that we forget the many instances of speech that could quite legitimately be restricted (child porn, vicious slander, incitement to imminent violence, etc.). However, it's my personal view that the First Amendment should be presumed effective in all instances, only to be rebutted by a highly articulated, compelling state interest that is satisfied by tightly drawn measures (a kind of strict scutiny, I guess). PC restrictions would seem to run afoul of this standard.

Nick Morgan writes: The only

Nick Morgan writes:

The only speech restriction he seemed to advocate was limitation of collective defamation.

Oh come on Nick, what exactly is 'collective defamation'? I would suggest that it's whatever John Quiggin and his claque of friends decide it is. Or at best, what a tyrranous mob of 51% of a particular state's voting population define it as.

If I were to say 'all socialists are total idiots' is this collective defamation? I'll betcha it would be if I was an Australian saying that in Canberra and John Quiggin was Prime Minister.

You've got to define what collective defamation is. You've got to define who decides what it is. You've got to define who decides what is and what isn't allowable in any extensions. You've got to define what gives any of these supermen the right to decide what is or isn't collective defamation. There are so many holes with what at first appears to you a reasonable view, there's hardly any structure left to hold the holes together.

What John Quiggin desires is Orwellian Newspeak, with Mr Quiggin and his friends at Crooked Timber being the Inner Party deciding the rules.

Control the language, control the thought, control the people.

Hell on Earth would be a World Government run by Crooked Timber.

Keith M Ellis writes: You

Keith M Ellis writes:

You can't have freedom without some restraints on freedom.

We don't need plural restraints, merely a single restraint, that in the pursuit of your own life and its unique individual aims, you do not physically harm another man's life or his property.

Now we could argue about what constitutes property. But don't try taking away my laptop and it's copy of 'Medieval: Total War' without expecting very stiff resistance! :-)

Unless you oppose all restrictions of speech, period.

I personally believe that I have absolutely no right to stop you, Keith M Ellis, from saying absolutely anything you want, including defaming A. Duncan. As a collector of insults, I particularly prize those from socialists, democrats, and social democrats! :-)

So yes, I would personally oppose all restrictions on speech, period. Though I would expect you to pay for the dissemination of your thoughts, and their publication, or your soapbox and megaphone in the park, so please don't try taxing me in some way, via some method of collective oppression, to get me to pay for your 'right' to free speech.

I don't believe you have a 'right' to free speech. I merely believe that I have no right to stop you saying what you think. There is a very big difference between the two. It's then up to you to make these thoughts heard.

AMr. Ellis has pushed a

AMr. Ellis has pushed a button of mine by invoking that old hoary phrase "fire in a crowded theater" as an argument against free-speech absolutism, without mentioning the history behind it.

The phrase was coined by Justice Holmes in 1919 in Schenck v. US to justify deporting left-wing activists on the basis of their political views. The history of the phrase thus actually *supports* the slippery-slope argument for absolutism: it is an example of how innocuous-sounding restrictions can be used as precedents to justify much less innocuous restrictions.

John, I re-read the post.


I re-read the post. The excerpt that I quoted was indeed your description of someone else's views. But at the very end of your post, you agreed with it.

    "On the other hand, I think there's a lot to be said for avoiding offensive words and forms of speech and can see a place for (tightly drafted and cautiously applied) laws prohibiting or penalising various forms of collective defamation."

Uncle Murray briefly

Uncle Murray briefly mentions the "Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theatre" debate here, at the bottom of the page.

(By the way, who said anyone

(By the way, who said anyone said anyone is supposed to call 'these folks' 'liberals'? And 'liberal' in which sense? CT is Anglophone-international, and the usual US meaning of 'liberal' is by no means the universal meaning.)

Liberal, in the broad sense,

Liberal, in the broad sense, Ophelia. Liberal in the sense that one supports strong civil liberties, including freedom of speech. But you're right: most of the members of Crooked Timber consider themselves social democrats and not liberals. Still, it just amazes me how quick some are to turn to the state to solve any alleged social ill.

Micha, I'm interested to

Micha, I'm interested to clarify whether, like Andy, you're opposed to all legal restrictions on defamation or only to restrictions on collective defamation. The former is a logically consistent position, though, at least from my viewpoint, an extreme one. I think it's fair to say that most liberals support some restrictions on defamation, unless you define liberalism so tightly as to make it the viewpoint of tiny minority.

The latter position, I think, doesn't make sense at all. Supposing X, Y and others are Canadian, there's no difference in principle between "X is a child-molester", "X and Y are child-molesters" and "All Canadians are child-molesters", except that the defamation extends to more people.

There are all sorts of practical reasons why restrictions on collective defamation can be misused, and these give reasons, as I suggested, for being very careful about such things. The same is true in relation to defamation of public figures - there are good reasons for allowing more latitude than for private individuals.

I'm critical of advocates of political correctness/enforced civility because they want broad and intrusive regulation of speech, which are likely to be dangerous.

Andy, I'd like to test your

Andy, I'd like to test your position a little further and to tougher cases than those of insults.

First, suppose that, as a result of the malice of the editor concerned, a newspaper ran a prominent story falsely accusing you of a serious crime and that, as a result, you lost your job, home and so on. Would you be happy with a legal system under which you had no right of redress?

Second, are you happy with the idea that fraud (for example, passing bogus checks) should be legal ?

John, I'm not entirely sure


I'm not entirely sure how I feel about libel and defamation laws, but even if I were to support them, I think it's fairly easy to distinguish individual libel from group libel.

It's easy to respond to collective defamation. If someone says, "All Jews are hook-nosed greedy capitalists," all one needs to do is point to the very large number of Jews who do not fit this profile. Also, there are a number of organizations whose sole purpose is to respond to these kinds of attacks. Whereas with individual defamation, it is more difficult to disprove, easier to believe (after all, most of us believe that there are bad people out there, but not necessarily bad groups of people), and there are no organizations with the sole purpose of refuting these kinds of attacks.

I'm a strong believe in the "marketplace of ideas" justification for near-absolute freedom of speech. It is better to allow speech we don't like so we can learn from it and understand what's wrong with it. Further, there is the question of who will do the censoring. It might be nice if we lived in a world where the government did exactly what you and I would like it to do, but what happens when the government starts censoring speech that you and I agree with? The majority of the voting public believes all sorts of silly things - do we really want to give the government, and therefore the majority, the power to determine what kinds of speech and ideas are permitted?

Micha, All of the


All of the differences you refer to imply that, as I suggested, restrictions on collective defamation should be more tightly drawn and carefully applied than restrictions on individual defamation.

Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which statements like "All Jews/Muslims/Christians are traitors and deserving of death" will be more widely believed, harder to refute and do more damage than the statement "X is a traitor and deserving of death". And regarding your proposed refutation, advocates of racial hatred have long since mastered the art of dealing with exceptions to racist generalizations.

There's a substantial difference between restrictions on statements of the kind I mentioned and the program of detailed regulation associated with calls for enforced "political correctness" or "civility".

John, Are you talking about


Are you talking about incitement to violence or collective defamation? I see little reason why collective defamation sans incitement should be restricted. Can you please explain why you think collective defamation needs restriction, and on what grounds you believe the government is able to draft "tightly drawn" and "carefully applied" regulations despite all evidence to the contrary?