Freedom, Security, and Survival
Freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression are the foundation of a civilization that respects the dignity of each individual, as well as the health of a just social order. These liberties weren’t born of idle arm-chair reflection but put forth in the aftermath of the immense slaughter wrought by the religious wars of the early 17th century. During the Thirty Years War, military victory led to forced religious conversion, in a war that plunged Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists in a savage conflict that ultimately weakened religion’s authority and gave rise to the secular nation-state.
Religions only multiplied towards the end of the 17th century; and consequently, religion became a personal matter. Locke, Spinoza, Bayle, and other men of letters, provided compelling arguments for the advancement of toleration and freedom of conscience. Later, Kant and Mill offered additional arguments. Some, like Locke, argued on the basis of the importance and potency of the individual’s reasoning faculty. Others based their arguments on skepticism, logical formalism, or mere utility—but in doing so undercut the power of the argument.
If we accept, as Locke does, that freedom of thought and speech are not fringe benefits, mere requirements for logical completeness, or mere utilitarian conveniences, but part and parcel of the core liberties required to develop the abilities to conquer the challenges of life, than constriction of such liberties have dire consequences for both the individual and society. Ayn Rand also argues this point forcefully: “Man's mind is his basic tool of survival.” Deny a man the freedom of his mind and you deny him the right to his life. What could be more egregious?
Today, freedom of speech is under attack. In several countries it is illegal to criticize belief systems of a religious nature (or so-called identities of demographic groups.) While this infection has yet to hit the
Laws against freedom of speech—such as those in France and Italy, or those being considered in the
It’s worth emphasizing that trying to short-circuit debate to produce a predefined “understanding” will neither produce understanding nor end the debate. People will only discuss the issues in private without the benefit of public feedback and intelligent leadership. This creates a self-fulfilling prophesy: a grass-roots emotionally-charged backlash leading to crude group-vilification—a reaction one hoped to avoid. Instead of the criticism of ideas and ideology, instead of the precise identification of serious threats, and instead of the adjudication of individual perpetrators of evil, one gets an indiscriminate lawless response.
Once again, consider what is happening in