Orwell on free speech

2011-05-25

in Books and literature, Law, Politics, Writing

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

-George Orwell

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

alena May 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm

How true that is in our world where crazy dictators undermine even the basic values that people hold. Whether it is in China, Iran, Somalia or anywhere else, too many people cannot even state the obvious without fear of persecution. Orwell’s dystopia is a reality in too many places and freedom is a rare commodity indeed.

Milan May 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm

There is also optimism in Orwell’s statement. By engaging with one another in open, honest discussion it is often possible to move past bad political arrangements.

Milan September 13, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Orwell’s observation may also reveal something about why those hoping to perpetuate an unjust status quo will often use the suppression of free speech as a mechanism for keeping things unchanged.

The free expression of sound arguments based on good logic and evidence is one way in which the world can change for the better. Indeed, it is probably the most desirable way for it to do so.

. October 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm

“We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep into our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular.”

Anon January 18, 2012 at 12:08 pm

“The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”

-Walter Bagehot

. April 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Given this recent precedent, it seems odd that Mr. Cohen, a columnist for the London Observer, thinks the Rushdie Affair would not happen again. Even Mr. Rushdie himself has said it would not only happen again, but it would be worse. Just last month, Mr. Rushdie was forced to cancel an appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival, after intelligence sources told him that assassins “may be on the way to Jaipur to kill me.” A video appearance was similarly cancelled for security concerns.

But Mr. Cohen’s point is more subtle. “No young novelist, Muslim or ex-Muslim, of Rushdie’s gifts and range would dare write a novel like The Satanic Verses now, and if they did, no editor would dare publish it,” he said in the interview.

“We have this delusion of progress. We think that we are freer than our buttoned-up stuffy parents and grandparents. But in 1988, you could write a novel that would take on Islam satirically without worrying about it. And now if you do, you know you will face death threats, and the people around you who publish it will face death threats,” he said. “Once the Rushdie battle has been fought, no one wants to go through it again.”

. May 10, 2012 at 8:06 am

Universities beholden to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, appeal court rules

CALGARY — In a ruling that bolsters freedom of expression at Canadian universities, the Alberta Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that found two brothers were wrongfully punished for criticizing their professor on Facebook.

Finding that Charter rights remained valid on university campuses, the case could restrict the ability of university administrators to control speech in everything from anti-abortion exhibits to political correctness codes.

“If this goes to the Supreme Court of Canada and it upholds the Alberta court of appeals decision, then it’s good news for campus free speech,” said John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

Though the case focused on a fairly narrow incident, it tested a significant claim by the University of Calgary that, as a private institution, it was exempt from upholding students’ charter rights on campus.

In this case the Calgary students, Keith and Steven Pridgen, were found guilty of non-academic misconduct after posting negative comments about the competence of a law professor on Facebook. The university ordered both to write a letter of apology and forbade them from circulating any more “defamatory” material about the instructor — something the brothers argued infringed on their Charter rights to free expression.

. August 7, 2013 at 9:41 pm

“The beliefs which we have most warrant for have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded.”

-John Stuart Mill. On Liberty. 1869. “Chapter II: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

. July 15, 2016 at 7:47 pm

Third, the idea has spread that people and groups have a right not to be offended. This may sound innocuous. Politeness is a virtue, after all. But if I have a right not to be offended, that means someone must police what you say about me, or about the things I hold dear, such as my ethnic group, religion, or even political beliefs. Since offence is subjective, the power to police it is both vast and arbitrary.

. July 15, 2016 at 7:54 pm

Free speech
The muzzle grows tighter
Freedom of speech is in retreat

. June 21, 2017 at 4:29 pm

The Supreme Court says offensive trademarks are protected speech

In a ringing defence of the freedom of speech, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court. The disparagement clause, Justice Samuel Alito wrote for his colleagues, “offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend”. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, joined by the three female justices, expanding on this principle: “A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all”, he wrote. “The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society”.

. June 21, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Returning to general principles, Justice Alito concluded that vetoing “speech expressing ideas that offend” is not within the government’s ken: “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free-speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’”. Justice Kennedy’s concurrence put an even finer point on that message. The disparagement clause counts as “viewpoint discrimination”—“a form of speech suppression so potent that it must be subject to rigorous constitutional scrutiny”. That is true, Justice Kennedy wrote, regardless of whether trademarks count as subsidies or commericial speech.

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