“The idea of freedom of expression is maybe the most powerful idea in the history of mankind.”
So argued Flemming Rose, journalist and author, during a panel on freedom of speech at AynRandCon Europe earlier this year in Prague, Czech Republic.
Rose was one of the editors of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that in 2005 commissioned cartoons of the prophet Muhammad to gauge the climate of self-censorship in Europe on the subject of Islam. The publication of those cartoons ultimately led to a global crisis over free speech. An outspoken advocate for freedom of speech, Rose is the author of The Tyranny of Silence, an analysis of the Danish cartoon crisis.
Rose was joined on the panel by ARI intellectuals Onkar Ghate and Gregory Salmieri, and the three discussed various issues related to free speech, censorship and current controversies around social media.
Freedom of speech is under attack today, and Salmieri outlined three kinds of threats: laws that enforce censorship, mobs that use force to silence the opinions of others, and the pervasive misunderstanding of what freedom of speech is and isn’t. Salmieri argued that the misunderstanding of the principle of free speech leads to all kinds of problems — including the false notion that everyone has a right to a platform to express their ideas.
Rose observed that, nowadays, many people want free speech for themselves, but not for the people they disagree with. Yet freedom of expression is a principle, and as such it must protect unpopular, offensive, even irrational ideas. As Ghate explained, “attacks on an individual right usually start with the least attractive practitioners of the right.”
After the panel, there was a lengthy Q&A period addressing a wide array of interesting questions, such as:
- Do social media platforms violate the rights of individuals when they close an account?
- Is it moral to limit free speech in order to defend the broader right to liberty?
- Where should the legal line be drawn between free speech and threats and incitement to violence?
- Who benefits from the censoring and silencing of ideas?
Watch the video below to learn the answers to these questions and more about free speech, a principle that ARI has been championing for decades.
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