Laws for Funny People

Liberals do not particularly like free speech. That isn’t an opinion or an editorial statement; it’s just a fact. Consider, for example, a recent statement by comedienne Chelsea Handler:

“Laws…for people who think racism is funny” sounds an awful lot like, you know, censorship, which kind of runs counter to reams upon reams of First Amendment jurisprudence. In her defense, Chelsea Handler was apparently making more of a normative statement than a positive one—ostensibly she was claiming that it “would be nice” to have such laws, not that we could actually have them. Still, somehow I’m not sure if that’s entirely what she was getting at.

No, liberals do not like free speech—it is too complex, too irritatingly egalitarian inasmuch as it permits things liberals find offensive as much as it allows things liberals like. It is worth pointing out that the Left is increasingly as opposed to cultural free speech as it is to the constitutional variety: Google, for instance, recently fired a guy for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” in the form of an utterly reasonable and arguable sociological essay examining the “gender gap” in the technology industry. This doesn’t count as “censorship” in the same way that, say, governmental prior restraint does—but it accomplishes much the same goal, insofar as there is now one more thing people are afraid to say, one more opinion you can’t hold without suffering severe personal and professional consequences.

This is increasingly what the Left does: shuts you up. In that context, it is really kind of amusing to see the Left freak out over “Jeff Sessions’s attack on the media,” in the sense that anti-First Amendment sentiment is nothing new for American progressives. It was the Obama administration, remember, that argued in favor of government’s having the power to ban books, a principle the Left fully and repeatedly endorsed in the wake of the Citizens United ruling. Free speech is inimical to the ideal progressive society, which operates on the principle of rigid control and relentless government oversight. You can’t have people, you know, saying things all the time, things that are unapproved and potentially offensive. It’s too risky.

Chelsea Handler’s tweet, in this context, isn’t about “racism,” but control. A government which legally proscribes offensive speech will invariably, inevitably start to proscribe lots of other speech as well. That’s just how it works. The genius of the American political order is that it takes these questions largely out of the realm of statutory consideration and places them squarely within a redoubt of constitutional protection.  We would be wrong, however, to think that what is happening in Berlin and England and China and elsewhere could not happen here. What is necessary is “eternal vigilance,” as Thomas Jefferson put it, against people like Chelsea Handler, a woman who is ostensibly unthreatening but who would cheerfully snatch away your voice if given half a chance.

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