The Case Against Free Speech: The First Amendment, Fascism, and the Future of Dissent
BY P.E. MOSKOWITZ
Bold Type Books, 2019
272 pp.; $28.00
Words like "controversial" and "provocative" are overused. When you read or hear that so-and-so's stand-up comedy is "controversial," that's usually the culture-war commentariat wishing that reaction into being rather than actually describing a pre-existing reaction. Which is why for every one person who finds it controversial, there are a thousand people who've been convinced that many people find it controversial and that such a reaction is something to be angry about. Of course, the politics of controversy is a means of distraction. If you're thinking and talking about whether so-and-so's stand-up is controversial, you aren't thinking and talking about (say) healthcare or food regulation or employee-employer relations. Likewise, when you read or hear that such-and-such speaker is "provocative," that often means they say things like feminists are ugly, blacks are naturally stupid, and the poor deserve their misery. These things have been said for decades and centuries. I suppose they do provoke reactions, especially among young people who haven't heard such things yet, and so in a narrow sense are provocative. But the word is mostly a media euphemism; a way of seeming objective and even-handed. In other words, a way of obscuring.
P.E. Moskowitz's new book, The Case Against Free Speech, has what many would call a provocative (even controversial) title, although, like the controversial stand-ups and provocative speakers, upon investigation its actual substance is rather tame. On page one Moskowitz clarifies that his book isn't anti-free speech but only "anti-the-concept-of-free-speech" (meaning he doesn't think free speech exists or ever has) and that he doesn't favor censorship laws that prohibit fascist and racist speech.
Moskowitz gives two reasons for why he thinks free speech "as a concept ... [is] meaningless." First, because with inequalities of power and wealth, the notion that all of us--rich, poor, and in-between--share and enjoy a common individual liberty like free speech is political mumbo-jumbo. The rich spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year so their political desires are heard; the rest of us can be fired for speaking out of line at work. Those without power are harassed and surveilled by the police, and this harassment and surveillance has its effects on people's willingness...