If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. — George Orwell
For more than a century of socialist cultural advance, man’s capacity for independent thought and free expression has been in a state of precipitous decline.
From state radio and TV stations to the internet, almost all modern innovations in communication have been employed to control, rather than liberate, individual human expression.
More than 60 years ago, Frankfurt School Marxists like Herbert Marcuse brought powerful intellectual campaigns against democratic capitalism to the shores of North America.
From beachheads at various American universities, Marcuse deployed deceptive post-modern theories against what he referred to as Western “repressive tolerance.” He argued that, because of the injustice in Western society, freedom of expression and tolerance for differing viewpoints amounts to social oppression.
Marcuse rejected the liberal principle of “indiscriminate tolerance,” the conviction that all opinions matter, in favour of “discriminate tolerance,” which infers that only Marxist opinions deserve a hearing.
The Left’s Ongoing Rejection of Liberty
Marcuse’s legacy still sets the tone for the left’s ongoing rejection of free speech and human liberty.
For example, a 2020 New York Post story reported that Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors happily declared that she and her fellow organizers were trained Marxists. From then on, it came as no surprise that BLM supporters regarded an assertion like “all lives matter” as forbidden speech.
The left’s opposition to freedom of expression is clearly explained in a 2019 book titled “The Case Against Free Speech,” by progressive American journalist Peter Moskowitz.
Moskowitz’s book was advertised as “a hard-hitting exposé that shines a light on the powerful conservative forces that have waged a multi-decade battle to hijack the meaning of free speech.”
Marxist critical theorists are laser-focused on the reification of “power relationships.” Writers like Moskowitz see no value whatsoever in Western democratic ideals. Their duplicitous references to “powerful conservative forces” are as ludicrous as they are tired and dishonest.
Radical pundits regularly conjure up “vast right-wing conspiracies” and the ever-present legacy of Adolf Hitler. This is the Marcusian-inspired rationale for shutting down adversary opinion and denying any measure of open discourse. Our urbane Wokerati duplicately depict “free speech” as “hate speech.”
Nineteenth-century British liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill once wrote: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
In the 21st century, Mill’s liberal views no longer have a place in Canada’s formative institutions. For the guardians of woke orthodoxy—who can be mustered within hours to prevent a dissident opinion from being voiced on a college campus—the right to say things that some may not want to hear is no longer valued as a tenet of Western liberalism.
Citizens Are Asking: Isn’t Free Speech a Human Right?
Interested citizens were invited to the Halifax Public Library for an evening of free discourse on the question: “Isn’t Free Speech a Human Right?” The event included a three-person panel and plenty of time for participation from the attending public.
Despite posters for the symposium being torn down as quickly as organizers could put them up, the topic attracted a lively roomful of concerned citizens, students, academics, and businesspeople.
Speaking from an academic perspective, Stephen Perrott, a senior professor of psychology at Mount St. Vincent University, began by saying: “I grew up in an era when free speech was demanded by the political left. Somewhere, when I wasn’t paying attention, free speech became ‘right wing.’ I’m not quite sure what happened.”
Perrott contended that, today, it is the professoriate that restricts speech and demands conformity. “Somehow they have been able to convince most students that censorship is carried out in the pursuit of justice” he said.
Throughout the symposium, proponents of free speech described getting the cold shoulder from friends, being disadvantaged in media manipulated political debates, losing the healthy “culture of disputation” in institutions of higher education, and being silenced or punished in hyper-politicized workplaces and neighbourhoods. The full event can be viewed on YouTube.
The intrepid Nova Scotians who turned up at their public library to assert their Canadian charter rights could be a welcome sign that a truly democratic counter-culture is on the rise. Citizens are beginning to challenge the political ideologues who seek to transform free societies into authoritarian backwaters.
Take away our capacity to choose what we want to say and we are no longer fully functioning human beings. That’s why Canadians are stepping forward to defend free speech while it still exists.
William Brooks is a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy