freedom of speech

Wrong for the Wrong Reasons

When in search of provocative material, I often flip through the pages of The Great Quotations — a left-slanted tome compiled by the late and long-lived George Seldes. Today, I came across this:

Overthrow of the Government by force and violence is certainly a substantial enough interest for the Government to limit speech. Indeed, this is the ultimate value of any society, for if a society cannot protect its very structure from armed internal attack, it must follow that no subordinate value can be protected.

That’s from Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson’s majority opinion in Dennis v. United States (1951). Here’s an outline of the case and its aftermath, as given at Wikipedia:

In 1948, eleven Communist Party leaders were convicted of advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government and for the violation of several points of the Smith Act. The party members who had been petitioning for socialist reforms claimed that the act violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and that they served no clear and present danger to the nation….

[In the original trial] Prosecutor John McGohey did not assert that the defendants had a specific plan to violently overthrow the U.S. government, but rather alleged that the CPUSA’s philosophy generally advocated the violent overthrow of governments.[7] To prove this, the prosecution proffered articles, pamphlets and books (such as The Communist Manifesto) written by authors such as Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin.[8] The prosecution argued that the texts advocated violent revolution, and that by adopting the texts as their political foundation, the defendants were also personally guilty of advocating violent overthrow of the government.[9]

Petitioners were found guilty by the trial court and the decision was affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court granted writ of certiorari, but limited it to whether section two or three of the Smith Act violated the First Amendment and whether the same two sections violated the First and Fifth Amendments because of indefiniteness….

Handed down as a 6-2 decision by the Court on June 4, 1951, the judgment and a plurality opinion was delivered by Chief Justice of the United States Fred M. Vinson, who was joined by Justices Stanley Forman Reed, Sherman Minton, and Harold H. Burton. Separate concurring opinions were delivered by Justices Felix Frankfurter and Robert H. Jackson. Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas wrote separate dissenting opinions. Justice Tom C. Clark did not participate in this case.

The Court rule affirmed the conviction of the petitioner, a leader of the Communist Party in the United States. Dennis had been convicted of conspiring and organizing for the overthrow and destruction of the United States government by force and violence under provisions of the Smith Act. In affirming the conviction, a plurality of the Court adopted Judge Learned Hand’s formulation of the clear and probable danger test, an adaptation of the clear and present danger test:

In each case [courts] must ask whether the gravity of the “evil,” discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as necessary to avoid the danger….

[I]n 1969, Brandenburg v. Ohio held that “mere advocacy” of violence was per se protected speech. Brandenburg was a de facto overruling of Dennis, defining the bar for constitutionally unprotected speech to be incitement to “imminent lawless action”.[20]

This is from Wikipedia‘s account of Brandenburg v. Ohio:

The Court held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is directed to inciting, and is likely to incite, imminent lawless action.[1]

Brandenburg completely did away with Denniss central holding and held that “mere advocacy” of any doctrine, including one that assumed the necessity of violence or law violation, was per se protected speech.

And this is from the final paragraph of the Court’s ruling in Brandenburg:

[W]e are here confronted with a statute which, by its own words and as applied, purports to punish mere advocacy and to forbid, on pain of criminal punishment, assembly with others merely to advocate the described type of action. 4 Such a statute falls within the condemnation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

So, in effect (though not in so many words), the Brandenburg Court found the Dennis Court to be wrong. Not wrong about the wrongness of overthrowing the government, just wrong about when the wrongness may be prosecuted. The Dennis Court was prematurely protective.

To put it another way, it’s all right to advocate wrong-doing, as long as the advocacy doesn’t lead directly to the wrong-doing.

Well, the Dennis Court may have been wrong, but not for the reason cited by the Brandenburg Court, which is also wrong. Why? Because it invites endless hair-splitting about the point at which advocacy translates to action. If the action being advocated is wrong, isn’t it also wrong — constitutional niceties aside — to advocate the action? I’m certainly not advocating thought-crime prosecution, but I am not satisfied with the Brandenburg Court’s conclusion.

If the purpose of the United States, as originally constituted, was to foster liberty, why should the government of the United States tolerate the promulgation of anti-libertarian views? Freedom of speech, after all, is just one manifestation of liberty. And that manifestation could vanish, with the rest, under an anti-libertarian regime.

Here’s the counter-argument: If government is allowed to suppress speech that promulgates the overthrow of America’s constitutional values in favor of anti-libertarian ones (e.g., communism), couldn’t the government then suppress speech that might have a tenuous connection with the idea of overthrowing America’s constitutional values? Government could, for example, suppress speech that proposes the establishment of a socialistic scheme that isn’t contemplated in the Constitution, such as Social Security. And if government could suppress speech of that kind, it could also suppress speech aimed at amending the Constitution to legalize socialistic schemes.

That wouldn’t be so bad, but the power to suppress speech is easily adapted to anti-libertarian uses. Untoward speech and thoughts about “protected groups” could be outlawed. Oops! Such speech and thoughts have been outlawed. “Hate thoughts” may be inferred as the unspoken motivation for a crime, given the personal characteristics of the (supposed) victim of the crime.

By now, you may have concluded that the problem isn’t the Constitution, it’s government. Or, more concretely, the persons and groups who are able to command the power of government. No piece of paper can protect liberty from the anti-libertarian machinations of government officials and the voting blocs to which they are beholden.

Which brings me back to the quotation at the beginning of this post, Chief Justice Vinson’s muddled rationale for the Supreme Court’s holding in Dennis v. United States:

Overthrow of the Government by force and violence is certainly a substantial enough interest for the Government to limit speech. Indeed, this is the ultimate value of any society, for if a society cannot protect its very structure from armed internal attack, it must follow that no subordinate value can be protected.

Government is not society. Nor does the United States comprise a single society, but rather multitudes of societies and interest groups: some desirous of liberty, others desirous of domination. The latter have prevailed, and have come to dominate those that desire liberty. Accordingly, “subordinate” values (e.g., free speech, property rights, and freedom of association) have not been protected by government.

Government, as it now stands, is unworthy of protection by the friends of liberty. In fact, it is (or should be) in need of protection from the friends of liberty. And may they prevail.

*     *     *

Related posts:
An Agenda for the Supreme Court
Liberals and the Rule of Law
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
A Hypothetical Question
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
Zones of Liberty
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Rethinking the Constitution: “Freedom of Speech, and of the Press”
Society and the State
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
A New Constitution for a New Republic
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
“We the People” and Big Government
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution

Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians

(Pseudo) libertarians like to demonstrate their bogus commitment to liberty by proclaiming loudly their support for unfettered immigration, unfettered speech, unfettered abortion, unfettered same-sex coupling (and legal recognition thereof as “marriage’), and unfettered you-name-it.. In the minds of these moral relativists, liberty is a dream world where anything goes — anything of which they approve, that is.

The aim of today’s sermon is to embellish what I’ve said previously in many of the posts listed at the bottom of this one on the subject of (pseudo) libertarians and (pseudo) libertarianism. I begin with Bryan Caplan.

My disdain for Caplan’s (pseudo) libertarian, pacifistic, one-worldishness is amply documented: here, here, here, here, here, and here (second item). Caplan has been at it again, in recent posts about immigration (as in opening the floodgates thereto).

Consider this post, for example, where Caplan tries (in vain) to employ Swiftian hyperbole in defense of unfettered immigration. In the following block quotation, each of Caplan’s “witty” proposals is followed by my observations (in brackets and bold type):

Libertarians’ odd openness to using immigration restrictions to protect American freedom has me thinking.  There are many statist policies that could indirectly lead to more libertarian policy.  If you’re open to one, you should logically be open to all.

Here are just a few candidates:

1. Make public schools teach libertarianism.  Sure, public education should be abolished.  But as long as public education exists, wouldn’t it be better if the schools taught children about the value of freedom and the wonder of markets?

[Well, yes, our course it would. But public schools don’t do that — and won’t do that — because they were long ago taken over by leftist “educators.” Next stupid idea…]

2. Discourage fertility of less libertarian groups.  If you really think that Muslims or Hispanics are unusually statist, their high birth rates should worry you.  Indeed, any birth rate above zero should worry you.  A moderate step would be to offer members of these groups extra subsidies for birth control.  From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to subsidized sterilization, tax penalties, or a selective One Child Policy.

[But why allow the immigration of statist-leaning groups in the first place? In fact, it would be a good idea to encourage them — and others — to leave. If the encouragement were financial, it would be a good investment.]

3. Censor statist ideas.  Sure, Paul Krugman has a right to free speech.  But the rest of us have a right to not be ruled by people swayed by Krugman.  It’s childish to deny the trade-off, no?

[It is childish to deny the trade-off. That’s why idiots like Caplan deny it. They believe that theft is wrong, but they don’t believe in preventing (or reducing) the amount of theft committed by government because statist ideas have been and are allowed to flourish. See below for more on this point.]

4. Subsidize vacations for less libertarian groups on election day.  Suppose the government gave members of unlibertarian groups free trips to Cancun that conveniently coincided with election day.  While some of the eligible would file an absentee ballot, there is little doubt that this would heavily depress turnout.  So why not?

[Better yet — and far less expensive — establish meaningful eligibility standards for voting; for example, being at least 30 years of age, owning one’s home, and being able to read and write at the 12th-grade level. This might empower more “liberals” than conservatives, give the tendency of educated persons to adhere to statism. But their power would be constrained by the sensible prohibition of speech that advocates theft in the name of the state.]

The first link in the block quotation is to an earlier post by Caplan, in which, for practical purposes, he joins with Don Boudreaux in proclaiming (psuedo) libertarian absolutism on such other matters as freedom of speech. As Boudreaux puts it,

Freedom may well destroy itself.  That’s a risk I’m willing to take, especially if the proposed means of saving freedom is to restrict it.

This reminds me of “it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.” It’s a position that defies logic; thus:

  1. Freedom is not merely literal freedom from captivity; it is the enjoyment of that freedom through the peaceful pursuit of happiness. (Freedom, as a general condition, is possible only if everyone’s pursuit of happiness is peaceful with respect to other persons and their property.)
  2. It is wrong to deny any person his freedom, regardless of his demonstrated enmity toward freedom as defined in 1. (This is Boudreaux’s stated position, which — taken literally — precludes the imprisonment of convicted murderers, rapists, thieves, and others whose acts deny to others the peaceful pursuit of happiness.)
  3. Freedom, therefore, consists only of literal freedom. (This conclusion, which contradicts the full definition of freedom given in 1, is the logical consequence of Boudreaux’s position. And yet, Boudreaux would be the last person to accept this limited definition of freedom.)

It doesn’t matter whether the person whose demonstrated hostility toward freedom (properly defined) is a thief or a socialist. One is the same as the other when it comes to the defense of freedom (properly defined). Boudreaux and his ilk would be consistent (though wrong) if they were to say that thieves shouldn’t be imprisoned, but I doubt that they would say such a thing because they are staunch defenders of property rights. Why then, do they defend the right of statists to spread the gospel of government control over our lives and livelihoods, which is nothing but government-sponsored theft and demonstrably more damaging than garden-variety theft?

As I say at the end of this post,

Liberty is lost when the law allows “freedom of speech, and of the press” to undermine the civil and state institutions that enable liberty.

There is a very good case for the view that the First Amendment sought to protect only those liberties necessary for the preservation of republican government. The present statist regime is a long way from the kind of republican government envisioned by the Framers.

Another staple of (pseudo) libertarian thought is a slavish devotion to privacy — when that devotion supports a (pseudo) libertarian position. Economists like Caplan and Boudreaux are cagy about abortion. But other (pseudo) libertarians are less so; for example:

I got into a long conversation yesterday with a [Ron] Paul supporter who took me to task for my criticisms of Paul’s positions. For one thing, he insisted, Paul’s position on abortion wasn’t as bad as I made it out, because Paul just thinks abortion is a matter for the states. I pointed out that in my book, saying that states can violate the rights of women [emphasis added] is no more libertarian than saying that the federal government can violate the rights of women.

Whence the “right” to abort an unborn child? Here, according to the same writer:

I do believe that abortion is a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….

This train of “logic” is in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court’s manufactured “right” to an abortion under the Fourteenth (or was it the Ninth?) Amendment, which I have discussed in various places, including here. All in the name of “privacy.”

Here, again, we see devotion to a value for its own sake, regardless of the implications for liberty. As I say here,

if privacy were an absolute right, it would be possible to get away with murder in one’s home simply by committing murder there. In fact, if there are any absolute rights, privacy certainly isn’t one of them.

(Psuedo) libertarians choose not to characterize abortion as murder. They prefer to think of it as a form of control over one’s own body. But an unborn child is not “one’s own body” — it is its own body, created (in the overwhelming majority of cases) by consensual sex between the mother and a male person. Abortion is nothing more than a murderous flight from personal responsibility, which is a trait highly praised (in the abstract) by (pseudo) libertarians. And it is a long step down a very slippery eugenic slope.

It is no wonder that many (pseudo) libertarians like to call themselves liberaltarians. It is hard to distinguish (pseudo) libertarians from “liberals,” given their shared penchant for decrying and destroying freedom of association and evolved social norms. It is these which underlie the conditions of mutual respect, mutual trust, and forbearance that enable human beings to coexist peacefully and cooperatively. That is to say, in liberty.

Related posts:
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty
An Immigration Roundup
Illogic from the Pro-Immigration Camp
On Liberty
Illegal Immigration: A Note to Libertarian Purists
Inside-Outside
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
The Folly of Pacifism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
Understanding Hayek
Rethinking the Constitution: Freedom of Speech and of the Press
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Privacy Is Not Sacred
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Prohibition, Abortion, and “Progressivism”
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Cato, the Kochs, and a Fluke
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?

The Sunstein Effect Is Alive and Well in the White House

Although Cass Sunstein, Obama’s erstwhile “czar” for regulatory matters, has returned to academe, his spirit lives on in the White House. Sunstein is infamous for at least two things. One of them is his advocacy of something known as “libertarian paternalism,” which is the antithesis of libertarianism. The other is his advocacy of censorship.

For more about the latter, see (for example) this post, where I say this:

Perhaps the most frightening item on Sunstein’s paternalistic agenda ties into Sen. Rockefeller’s proposal to give the president the power to shut down the internet — which amounts to the power to control the content of the internet. And make no mistake about it, Sunstein would like to control the content of the internet — for our own good, of course. I refer specifically to Sunstein’s “The Future of Free Speech,” in which he advances several policy proposals, including these:

4. . . . [T]he government might impose “must carry” rules on the most popular Websites, designed to ensure more exposure to substantive questions. Under such a program, viewers of especially popular sites would see an icon for sites that deal with substantive issues in a serious way. They would not be required to click on them. But it is reasonable to expect that many viewers would do so, if only to satisfy their curiosity. The result would be to create a kind of Internet sidewalk, promoting some of the purposes of the public forum doctrine. Ideally, those who create Websites might move in this direction on their own. If they do not, government should explore possibilities of imposing requirements of this kind, making sure that no program draws invidious lines in selecting the sites whose icons will be favoured. Perhaps a lottery system of some kind could be used to reduce this risk.

5. The government might impose “must carry” rules on highly partisan Websites, designed to ensure that viewers learn about sites containing opposing views. This policy would be designed to make it less likely for people to simply hear echoes of their own voices. Of course, many people would not click on the icons of sites whose views seem objectionable; but some people would, and in that sense the system would not operate so differently from general interest intermediaries and public forums. Here too the ideal situation would be voluntary action. But if this proves impossible, it is worth considering regulatory alternatives. [Emphasis added.]

There is more in a later post:

Alec Rawls, writing at his blog, Error Theory:

As Congress considers vastly expanding the power of copyright holders to shut down fair use of their intellectual property, this is a good time to remember the other activities that Obama’s “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein wants to shut down using the tools of copyright protection. For a couple of years now, Sunstein has been advocating that the “notice and take down” model from copyright law should be used against rumors and conspiracy theories, “to achieve the optimal chilling effect.”

Why?

Sunstein seems most intent on suppressing is the accusation, leveled during the 2008 election campaign, that Barack Obama “pals around with terrorists.” (“Look Inside” page 3.) Sunstein fails to note that the “palling around with terrorists” language was introduced by the opposing vice presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin (who was implicating Obama’s relationship with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers). Instead Sunstein focuses his ire on “right wing websites” that make “hateful remarks about the alleged relationship between Barack Obama and the former radical Bill Ayers,” singling out Sean Hannity for making hay out of Obama’s “alleged associations” (pages 13-14).

What could possibly be more important than whether a candidate for president does indeed “pal around with terrorists”? Of all the subjects to declare off limits, this one is right up there with whether the anti-CO2 alarmists who are trying to unplug the modern world are telling the truth. And Sunstein’s own bias on the matter could hardly be more blatant. Bill Ayers is a “former” radical? Bill “I don’t regret setting bombs” Ayers? Bill “we didn’t do enough” Ayers?

For the facts of the Obama-Ayers relationship, Sunstein apparently accepts Obama’s campaign dismissal of Ayers as just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood.” In fact their relationship was long and deep. Obama’s political career was launched via a fundraiser in Bill Ayers’ living room; Obama was appointed the first chairman of the Ayers-founded Annenberg Challenge, almost certainly at Ayers’ request; Ayers and Obama served together on the board of the Woods Foundation, distributing money to radical left-wing causes; and it has now been reported by full-access White House biographer Christopher Andersen (and confirmed by Bill Ayers) that Ayers actually ghost wrote Obama’s first book Dreams from My Father.

Whenever free speech is attacked, the real purpose is to cover up the truth. Not that Sunstein himself knows the truth about anything. He just knows what he wants to suppress, which is exactly why government must never have this power.

As Rawls notes, Sunstein also wants to protect “warmists” from their critics, that is, to suppress science in the name of science:

In climate science, there is no avoiding “reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.” The Team has always been sloppy about concealing its machinations, but that doesn’t stop Sunstein from using climate skepticism as an exemplar of pernicious conspiracy theorizing, and his goal is perfectly obvious: he wants the state to take aggressive action that will make it easier for our powerful government funded scientists to conceal their machinations.

Now, in response to the recent, deadly, and continuing anti-American violence in the Middle East — the excuse for which is “Innocence of Muslims” — we read this of the Obama administration:

Administration officials have asked YouTube to review a controversial video that many blame for spurring a wave of anti-American violence in the Middle East.

The administration flagged the 14-minute “Innocence of Muslims” video and asked that YouTube evaluate it to determine whether it violates the site’s terms of service, officials said Thursday. The video, which has been viewed by nearly 1.7 million users, depicts Muhammad as a child molester, womanizer and murderer — and has been decried as blasphemous and Islamophobic.

“Review” it, or else. When the 500-pound gorilla speaks, you say “yes, sir.”

Way to go, O-blame-a. Do not stand up for Americans. Suppress them instead. It’s the Sunstein way.

Related reading:
Mary Katherine Ham, “The Eight Dumbest Things Said about Free Speech This Week,” Hot Air, September 14, 2012
Eugene Volokh, “Why Punishing Blasphemous Speech That Triggers Murderous Reactions Would Likely Lead to More Deaths,” The Volokh Conspiracy, September 15, 2012

Related posts:
Sunstein at the Volokh Conspiracy
More from Sunstein
Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind
An (Imaginary) Interview with Cass Sunstein
Libertarian Paternalism
Slippery Sunstein
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Back-Door Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Sunstein and Executive Power
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
Are We All Fascists Now?
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Discounting and Libertarian Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist
Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga

Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga

Alec Rawls, writing at his blog, Error Theory:

As Congress considers vastly expanding the power of copyright holders to shut down fair use of their intellectual property, this is a good time to remember the other activities that Obama’s “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein wants to shut down using the tools of copyright protection. For a couple of years now, Sunstein has been advocating that the “notice and take down” model from copyright law should be used against rumors and conspiracy theories, “to achieve the optimal chilling effect.”

Why?

Sunstein seems most intent on suppressing is the accusation, leveled during the 2008 election campaign, that Barack Obama “pals around with terrorists.” (“Look Inside” page 3.) Sunstein fails to note that the “palling around with terrorists” language was introduced by the opposing vice presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin (who was implicating Obama’s relationship with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers). Instead Sunstein focuses his ire on “right wing websites” that make “hateful remarks about the alleged relationship between Barack Obama and the former radical Bill Ayers,” singling out Sean Hannity for making hay out of Obama’s “alleged associations” (pages 13-14).

What could possibly be more important than whether a candidate for president does indeed “pal around with terrorists”? Of all the subjects to declare off limits, this one is right up there with whether the anti-CO2 alarmists who are trying to unplug the modern world are telling the truth. And Sunstein’s own bias on the matter could hardly be more blatant. Bill Ayers is a “former” radical? Bill “I don’t regret setting bombs” Ayers? Bill “we didn’t do enough” Ayers?

For the facts of the Obama-Ayers relationship, Sunstein apparently accepts Obama’s campaign dismissal of Ayers as just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood.” In fact their relationship was long and deep. Obama’s political career was launched via a fundraiser in Bill Ayers’ living room; Obama was appointed the first chairman of the Ayers-founded Annenberg Challenge, almost certainly at Ayers’ request; Ayers and Obama served together on the board of the Woods Foundation, distributing money to radical left-wing causes; and it has now been reported by full-access White House biographer Christopher Andersen (and confirmed by Bill Ayers) that Ayers actually ghost wrote Obama’s first book Dreams from My Father.

Whenever free speech is attacked, the real purpose is to cover up the truth. Not that Sunstein himself knows the truth about anything. He just knows what he wants to suppress, which is exactly why government must never have this power.

As Rawls notes, Sunstein also wants to protect “warmists” from their critics, that is, to suppress science in the name of science:

In climate science, there is no avoiding “reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.” The Team has always been sloppy about concealing its machinations, but that doesn’t stop Sunstein from using climate skepticism as an exemplar of pernicious conspiracy theorizing, and his goal is perfectly obvious: he wants the state to take aggressive action that will make it easier for our powerful government funded scientists to conceal their machinations.

Rawls’s thesis is entirely unsurprising to me. This is from “Fascism with a Friendly Face,” a post I wrote almost three years ago:

Regarding the suppression of dissent, it is noteworthy that Obama’s has tagged Cass Sunstein (a Chicago crony) to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House. (See this article for more about the likely direction of OIRA under Sunstein.) My biggest concern about Sunstein, who figures to be a strong influence on Obama, is his embrace of the oxymoronical thing known as “libertarian paternalism.” (For an exposition of its flaws, see this post and its predecessors, linked therein.)

“Libertarian paternalism” is nothing more than a dressed-up version of paternalism, in which the government is used to “nudge” people toward making the kinds of decisions that Sunstein and his ilk would make. That is to say, Sunstein (like too many other bright individuals) likes to believe that he knows what’s best for others. (That conceit is demolished in the posts mentioned at the end of the preceding paragraph and in these posts by an avowed utilitarian.)

“Libertarian paternalism” may seem innocuous, but there’s more to it than a bit of “nudging” (hah!) by the one-ton gorilla in the room (i.e., the federal government). Perhaps the most frightening item on Sunstein’s paternalistic agenda ties into Sen. Rockefeller’s proposal to give the president the power to shut down the internet — which amounts to the power to control the content of the internet. And make no mistake about it, Sunstein would like to control the content of the internet — for our own good, of course. I refer specifically to Sunstein’s “The Future of Free Speech,” in which he advances several policy proposals, including these:

4. . . . [T]he government might impose “must carry” rules on the most popular Websites, designed to ensure more exposure to substantive questions. Under such a program, viewers of especially popular sites would see an icon for sites that deal with substantive issues in a serious way. They would not be required to click on them. But it is reasonable to expect that many viewers would do so, if only to satisfy their curiosity. The result would be to create a kind of Internet sidewalk, promoting some of the purposes of the public forum doctrine. Ideally, those who create Websites might move in this direction on their own. If they do not, government should explore possibilities of imposing requirements of this kind, making sure that no program draws invidious lines in selecting the sites whose icons will be favoured. Perhaps a lottery system of some kind could be used to reduce this risk.

5. The government might impose “must carry” rules on highly partisan Websites, designed to ensure that viewers learn about sites containing opposing views. This policy would be designed to make it less likely for people to simply hear echoes of their own voices. Of course, many people would not click on the icons of sites whose views seem objectionable; but some people would, and in that sense the system would not operate so differently from general interest intermediaries and public forums. Here too the ideal situation would be voluntary action. But if this proves impossible, it is worth considering regulatory alternatives. [Emphasis added.]

A Left-libertarian defends Sunstein’s foray into thought control, concluding that

Sunstein once thought some profoundly dumb policies might be worth considering, but realized years ago he was wrong about that… The idea was a tentative, speculative suggestion he now condemns in pretty strong terms.

Alternatively, in the face of severe criticism of his immodest proposal, Sunstein merely went underground, to await an opportunity to revive his proposal. I somehow doubt that Sunstein, as a confirmed paternalist, truly abandoned it. The proposal certainly was not off-the-cuff, running to 11 longish web pages.  Now, judging by the bulleted list above, the time is right for a revival of Sunstein’s proposal. And there he is, heading the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The powers of that office supposedly are constrained by the executive order that established it. But it is evident that the Obama adminstration isn’t bothered by legal niceties when it comes to the exercise of power. Only a few pen strokes stand between Obama and a new, sweeping executive order, the unconstitutionality of which would be of no import to our latter-day FDR.

Cass Sunstein is a dangerous man because he is intelligent, power-hungry, and overtly in favor of liberty, even as he fosters its demise.

*   *   *

Related posts:
Sunstein at the Volokh Conspiracy
More from Sunstein
Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind
An (Imaginary) Interview with Cass Sunstein
Libertarian Paternalism
Slippery Sunstein
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Back-Door Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Sunstein and Executive Power
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
Are We All Fascists Now?
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Discounting and Libertarian Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist

Rethinking the Constitution: “Freedom of Speech, and of the Press”

UPDATED 07/21/11

My complete re-thinking of the Constitution is here. This post focuses on the much-abused First Amendment, specifically, “freedom of speech, and of  the press.” Contrary to the current state of constitutional jurisprudence, these “freedoms” do not comprise an absolute license to “express” almost anything, regardless of the effects on the social fabric and national defense.

One example of misguided absolutism is found in Snyder v. Phelps, a case recently and wrongly decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is from “The Burkean Justice” (The Weekly Standard, July 18, 2011)::

When the Supreme Court convened for oral argument in Snyder v. Phelps, judicial formalities only thinly veiled the intense bitterness smoldering among the parties and their supporters. At one table sat counsel for Albert Snyder, father of the late Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in al Anbar Province, Iraq. At the other sat Margie Phelps, counsel for (and daughter of) Fred Phelps, whose notorious Westboro Baptist Church descended upon Snyder’s Maryland funeral, waving signs bearing such startlingly offensive slogans as “Thank God for IEDs,” “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” A federal jury had awarded Snyder nearly $11 million for the “severe depression” and “exacerbated preexisting health conditions” that Phelps’s protest had caused him.

In the Supreme Court, Phelps argued that the jury’s verdict could not stand because the First Amendment protected Westboro’s right to stage their protest outside the funeral. As the Court heard the case on a gray October morning, Westboro protesters marched outside the courthouse, informing onlookers that God still “Hates Fags” and advising them to “Pray for More Dead Soldiers.”

Amidst that chaos, the Court found not division, but broad agreement. On March 2, 2011, it held that Westboro’s slurs were protected by the First Amendment, and that Snyder would receive no compensation, let alone punitive damages, for the emotional injuries that he had suffered. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the Court’s opinion, speaking for all of his brethren, conservatives and liberals alike​—​except one.

Justice Samuel Alito rejected the Court’s analysis and wrote a stirring lone dissent. “The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.” Repeatedly characterizing Westboro’s protest as not merely speech but “verbal assaults” that “brutally attacked” the fallen Snyder and left the father with “wounds that are truly severe and incapable of healing themselves,” Justice Alito concluded that the First Amendment’s text and precedents did not bar Snyder’s lawsuit. “In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims. .  .  . I therefore respectfully dissent.”

There is more:

Snyder v. Phelps would not be the last time that Alito stood nearly alone in a contentious free speech case this term. Just weeks ago, as the Court issued its final decisions of the term, Alito rejected the Court’s broad argument that California could not ban the distribution of violent video games without parental consent. Although he shared the Court’s bottom-line conclusion that the particular statute at issue was unconstitutional, he criticized the majority’s analysis in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association as failing to give states and local communities latitude to promote parental control over children’s video-game habits. The states, he urged, should not be foreclosed from passing better-crafted statutes achieving that legitimate end.

Moreover, Alito’s opinions in those cases followed a solo dissent late in the previous term, in United States v. Stevens, where eight of the nine justices struck down a federal law barring the distribution of disturbing “crush videos” in which, for example, a woman stabs a kitten through the eye with her high heel, all for the gratification of anonymous home audiences….

The source of Alito’s positions:

[T]hose speculating as to the roots of Alito’s jurisprudence need look no further than his own words​—​in public documents, at his confirmation hearing, and elsewhere. Justice Alito is uniquely attuned to the space that the Constitution preserves for local communities to defend the vulnerable and to protect traditional values. In these three new opinions, more than any others, he has emerged as the Court’s Burkean justice….

A review of Alito’s Snyder, Brown, and Stevens opinions quickly suggests the common theme: Alito, more than any of his colleagues, would not allow broad characterizations of the freedom of speech effectively to immunize unlawful actions. He sharply criticized the Court for making generalized pronouncements on the First Amendment’s reach, when the Court’s reiterations of theory glossed over the difficult factual questions that had given rise to regulation in the first place​—​whether in grouping brutal verbal attacks with protected political speech; or in equating interactive Duke Nukem games with the text of Grimm’s Fairy Tales; or in extending constitutional protection to the video of women illegally crushing animals. And Alito was particularly sensitive to the Court’s refusal to grant at least a modicum of deference to the local communities and state officials who were attempting to protect their populations against actions that they found so injurious as to require state intervention….

The ability of the press to undermine national defense with impunity was established in World War II and was ratified the Iraq War. Here is  one example, from 2005, courtesy of Winds of Change:

Today’s New York Times provides intimate detail on the charter flights used by the CIA to ferry prisoners across the globe. The names of the charter companies are disclosed. The types of aircraft flown are revealed. The points of departure and destinations of these flights are stated. There is even a picture of one of the charter craft, with the identification number of the aircraft in full display. All of this is extremely valuable to al Qaeda members who may have an interest in rescuing, or if deemed appropriate, conducting a suicide attack against suspected extraction flights. A successful attack resulting from this story can endanger the lives of CIA, security and civilian personnel involved in these missions, as well as deprive the intelligence and military communities of valuable information that can be gained from interrogations….

What exactly is the purpose of the New York Times in reporting on sensitive issues such as these? Do they even care about the consequences of making such information pubic? It appears the editors of the New York Times feel that breaking a titillating story about sensitive CIA operations is much more important than national security and the lives of those fighting in the war. All to our detriment.

Ann Coulter reminds us of other examples:

[I]n 2006 the Times published illegally leaked classified documents concerning a government program following terrorists’ financial transactions; … in 2005 it revealed illegally obtained information about a top-secret government program tracking phone calls connected to numbers found in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s cell phone….

If the Times‘s reporting is not “aid and comfort” to the enemy, what is? As I wrote here:

The preservation of life and liberty necessarily requires a willingness to compromise on what — in the comfortable world of abstraction — seem to be inviolable principles. For example:

  • The First Amendment doesn’t grant anyone the right to go on the air to compromise a military operation by American forces…

The NYT article about a CIA operation being conducted in support of an authorized war amounts to the same thing. The right to publish cannot be absolute and should not exempt anyone from a charge of treason.

A general and complelling case against the current reign of absolutism is made by David Lowenthal in No Liberty for License: The Forgotten Logic of the First Amendment. My copy is now in someone else’s hands, so I must rely on Edward J. Erler’s review of the book:


Liberty is lost when the law allows “freedom of speech, and of the press” to undermine the civil and state institutions that enable liberty.

Related posts:
On Liberty
Line-Drawing and Liberty
Intellectuals and Society: A Review
Government vs. Community
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
The Meaning of Liberty

Liberty Is Dead, Just Not Buried Yet

UPDATED 07/13/11

Quoted in “DC Park Police Gestapo Violate First Amendment

“On June 22, 2011, I attended a meeting of the D.C. Taxi Commission for a story I’m currently working on about a proposed medallion system in the district. About half-an-hour into the meeting, I witnessed journalist Pete Tucker snap a still photo of the proceedings on his camera phone. A few minutes later, two police officers arrested Tucker. I filmed Tucker’s arrest and the audience’s subsequent outrage using my iphone.

A few minutes later, as I was attempting to leave the building, I overheard the female officer who had arrested Tucker promise a woman, who I presumed to be an employee of the Taxi Commission, that she would confiscate my phone. Reason intern Kyle Blaine, overheard her say, “Do you want his phone? I can get his phone.” (The woman who was given assurances by the officer that she could have my phone can be seen at the end of the video telling me, “You do not have permission to record this!”)

As I tried to leave, I was told by the same blond female officer to “stay put.” I told her I was leaving and attempted to exit the building. I was then surrounded by officers, and told to remain still or I would be arrested. I didn’t move, but I tried to get the attention of a group of cab drivers who were standing nearby. At this point I was arrested. I spent the remainder of the day in a cell in the basement of the building. I was released at about 4PM.”

Items from “Are We Seeing More Moves to Muzzle Free Speech in America?

  • A woman was kicked off a U.S. Airways flight after being deemed a “security risk,” purportedly because she took a photograph of the name tag of an airline employee she felt was being rude.  (Did the employee or the airline really expect this “muzzling” incident to go away quietly?)
  • Drivers in Tennessee must now be extra cautious about the content of their bumper stickers. According to WKRN in Nashville, “Drivers caught with obscene or patently offensive bumper stickers, window signs or other markings on their vehicle visible to other drivers face an automatic $50 fine.”  And exactly who will be the judge regarding what stupid couplet is “patently offensive”? (And what do the offended do? Tail the tasteless offenders so closely—just so all the words/images are properly catalogued or photographed—that an accident ensues?)
  • One can‘t be completely sure what political camp was more pleased by MSNBC’s decision to indefinitely suspend Time editor Mark Halperin for calling President Obama a nasty name during a broadcast of “Morning Joe”—-left-wingers upset at the insult…or right-wingers upset by the word choice itself. Wherever you stand on that continuum, the incident should stoke free-speech debate and get at the heart of whether or not the cable network is muzzling one of its own, rightly or wrongly.

Quoted in “A Permanent Threat to Religious Freedom“:

Same-sex marriage does not simply include more people in the definition of civil marriage; it labels the natural understanding of marriage as a form of irrational prejudice, ignorance, bigotry, and even hatred. In other words, same-sex-marriage laws teach the public that people who view marriage in the natural way are morally equivalent to racists.

Once this idea is embedded in the law, there will be enormous pressure to take it to its logical conclusion by marginalizing and penalizing people who continue to think marriage is one man and one woman. Some of this pressure will come from state sources and some will come from private sources, but in both cases it will find ways through whatever cracks might exist in protections for religious and moral conscience.

These stories just happened to catch my eye today. I’ve been seeing a lot of stories like theme of late — and with increasing frequency, it seems to me.

What does it all mean? It means that the delicate balance between liberty and order may have tipped decisively in the direction of order. But it is not the voluntary order that arises from civil society’s observance of shared norms. It is the oppressive order that comes when the state usurps the role of civil society, and the minions of the state are licensed to impose their will on the details of our lives.

UPDATE: The readiness of “do gooders” to propose new impositions testifies to the state’s vast power:

As the Western world gets fatter and fatter, the solutions to slimming it down get ever more draconian. In Britain yesterday, the government issued guidelines saying “children under the age of 5, including babies who can’t walk yet, should exercise every day.” Today, in the States, a pair of Harvard scholars writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association advocate stripping away the custody rights of parents of super obese children. They’re for real!

Related posts:
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
I Want My Country Back
Society and the State
Undermining the Free Society
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”

Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment

Imagine an anarcho-capitalist enclave in which membership and all interpersonal transactions are voluntary. (Assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the enclave is populated only by sane adults.) Disputes that cannot be resolved by the parties are resolved through arbitration, to which all members of the enclave subscribe as a condition of membership. As a further condition of membership, contractual obligations and adherence to the decisions of arbitrators are enforced by a  private agent, which is appointed for the sole purpose of such enforcement by the unanimous consent of the members of the enclave. In the alternative, individuals or groups of individuals would hire their own private agents to negotiate disputes. (That the agent or agents might assume state-like power or act like warlords are possibilities too realistic to be admitted by anarcho-capitalists.)

The libertarian spirit which reigns in this Anarcho-topia implies, among other things, absolute freedom of speech. There wouldn’t be laws against aggressive speech — slander, libel, harassment, and threats, for example. In fact, there wouldn’t be laws against (or about) anything because laws arbitrarily constrain the voluntary actions of consenting parties. In the absence of laws, aggrieved parties would seek relief and/or restitution through arbitration. At the direction of an arbitrator, an offending party would be expected to grant relief and/or restitution voluntarily. Failure to do so would be grounds for action by the enforcement agency, which has every person’s prior consent to act. Arbitration and enforcement would yield precedents, of course, but precedents would be informational rather than binding.

Now, suppose that a persuasive orator — one who commits no slander, harasses no one, and threatens no one — is able to convince a majority of the enclave’s denizens that the older members of the enclave should be supported by the younger members, all of whom must “contribute” to the support of the elders, like it or not. It’s true that the orator is proposing a course of action that is tantamount to aggression. But it’s entirely possible that an arbitrator would allow speech that isn’t directly aggressive, on the ground that to do so might set a dangerous, anti-libertarian precedent.

Suppose further that the majority forthwith hires a powerful agent — one even more powerful than the one designated as the enforcer of arbitration decisions — to force everyone to “contribute” to the support of elders. (Such an outcome, which effectively destroys liberty in Anarcho-topia, is roughly parallel to the demise of America’s relatively libertarian economic order because of the anti-constitutional regulatory and welfare schemes that have been enacted since the onset of the Progressive Era.)

Perhaps, in hindsight,  Anarcho-topians should have adopted and enforced a restraint on liberty for the sake of preserving it. The restraint might have been that no one could advocate or conspire in the coercion of the populace for any purpose other than the defense of Anarcho-topians.

Why an exception for defense? Imagine the long-term consequences for the enclave if it were to dither as a marauding band approached, or if too few members of the society were to volunteer the resources needed to defeat the marauding band. What’s the good of a commitment to liberty if it leads to the demise of liberty?

Here, then, is the paradox for libertarians: Some aspects of liberty must be circumscribed in order to preserve most aspects of liberty. As always, the question is where to draw the line.

Related reading: As I was polishing this post, which is a remake of “A Paradox for Libertarians” (2005), I happened upon “Libertarianism and Asteroid Defense,” by Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy. Somin’s post hits the same theme: the foolishness of rights-absolutism.

Related posts:
On Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
First Principles
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
I Want My Country Back

The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Is the Constitution True?
Is the Constitution True? An Addendum

The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Law and Liberty
The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority

Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace
The Media, the Left, and War
Torture
The “Predator War” and Self-Defense
The National Psyche and Foreign Wars
Delusions of Preparedness
Inside-Outside
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
The Folly of Pacifism

Economic Growth since WWII
The Price of Government
The Commandeered Economy
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Rahn Curve at Work
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth

The Shape of Things to Come

Given the “State of the Union: 2010,” you may wonder how much worse things can get in this land of the once-free. Here are some very real possibilities:

  • More curbs on freedom of speech, in the name of “protecting” certain groups (e.g., homosexuals, immigrants, Muslims) and “preserving public order” (i.e., protecting government and government officials from criticism).
  • A complete government takeover of medical services (a U.S. National Heath Service), with no provision for opting-out to private care.
  • Environmentalism and warmism rampant, with draconian restrictions on everything from where we live, the design of our housing, and the range of products and services we are allowed to buy.
  • A stagnant economy — crushed by the weight of entitlement programs, environmentalism, warmism, and income equalization — affords a lower quality of life (on a par with the U.S. of the 1950s), and is unable to support a robust defense against foreign enemies.
  • Further reductions in quality of life, brought about by economic isolation, arising partly out of protectionism, partly out of voluntary withdrawal from overseas interests (in the name of self-sufficiency), and partly out of our unwillingness and inability to defend our overseas interests in the face of superior Chinese and Russian forces.
  • The erosion of traditional morality — aided by governmental endorsement of moral relativism — leading to the increasing brutalization of the citizenry and an eventual police-state response.

I could expand the list, but it is already depressing enough.

If you cannot participate in the efforts of the Tea Party movement, the American Conservative Union, and the Club for Growth to roll back the forces of oppression in this land, support those organizations with your dollars. Every little bit helps.