Free Speech Under Fire: A new book tries and fails to make a case against freedom of expression.

Author:Kaminer, Wendy
 
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WHEN A BOOK entitled The Case Against Free Speech opens with the claim that "This book is not ANTI-FREE-SPEECH. It is ANTI-THE-CONCEPT-OF-FREE-SPEECH," you know you're in for some verbal gymnastics. When it offers a howler like "There is relatively little literature and philosophy on free speech," you prepare for some pratfalls.

P.E. Moskowitz (who prefers to go by they, them, and their pronouns) is unburdened by an educated understanding of free speech debates or an effort to present a new perspective on them. Moskowitz relies on the familiar illiberal view that free speech is mainly an instrument of the powerful right-wing few, irrelevant at best to the marginalized and powerless many.

Wealth and social standing do, of course, facilitate the meaningful exercise of many rights, including the right to counsel, the right to petition the government, and the right to enjoy reproductive health care, not just the right to speak. And yes, the government often successfully represses these and other rights, which are, after all, designed to restrict its power.

But the unequal ability to exercise rights robustly is hardly an argument against them. We do not--or should not--disdain the Fifth and Sixth Amendments because rich people can better avail themselves of the due process and fair trial rights that poor people are often effectively denied. Instead, civil libertarians strive to secure equal application of rights, confronting injustices that Moskowitz and other woke progressives are not the first people to discover.

Moskowitz is confused about the implications of that discovery, unsure whether racism and other inequities mean we should actively oppose freedom of speech or simply dismiss its relevance to all but a privileged few. Moskowitz opposes official bans on hate speech, including speech by neo-Nazis, seemingly understanding that such restrictions would be used against leftists. But they also criticize the American Civil Liberties Union for helping white supremacists obtain a permit to rally in Charlottesville, and they sympathize with suggestions that police shouldn't protect far-right marchers. (I assume Moskowitz supports the police protection regularly extended to gay pride parades.)

The book even has trouble finding "the line" between the rights that enabled the Charlottesville marchers to rally and the murder of Heather Heyer, who one Charlottesville demonstrator deliberately ran down with his car. The lines between speech, action, and...

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