Free Speech and the Roots of Rights

To protect your rights, you must protect the culture that fosters those rights, the history that confirms them, and the blood from which they flowed forth.

Free Speech and the Roots of Rights

By Thomas Glahn

We might be able to beat the left in the short term with Free Speech advocacy and decrying PC culture and attendant SJWism, but we won’t have confronted or solved the deeper issue at play. It is important to take this moment of western abeyance to do a little self-reflection and reformulate our cardinal ideas in such a way that they will be more resistant to subversion and attack the next time around. There exists a cogent Marxist attack on conservative anti-PC positions. This is an actual Marxist position, and not a strawman, because we ought to confront our enemies as they are and not as we might wish they were. It goes like this:

Anti-political correctness conservatives misunderstand that Political Correctness is a simple courtesy based on values we are all assumed to share, it costs nothing to use PC language and it is as bizarre to criticize PC while wholeheartedly agreeing with its postulates as it would be to attack anti-homicide legislation.

Now, the typical conservative/libertarian response to this is, “PC is bad because it is enforced.” This is not a valid objection to anti-homicide laws, because such laws have a society-wide basis of support. Therefore, the only possible reason to criticize PC is because you are an open or secret racist, bigot, etc.

The other argument against the above refers to Free Speech as a right. It is assumed that by characterizing something as a right, we have made it above criticism. But the Left characterizes freedom from “verbal violence” as a right. Why are we not obligated to respect that? Perhaps because it is not codified by law. But if things keep going as they are, it will be, and how then will it be less of a right than the earlier right to freedom of speech?

Perhaps we might have recourse to the Declaration of Independence, and the “certain rights endowed by the Creator”. But freedom of speech is not specifically listed, nor is it explained when exactly we were endowed by this creator with rights, and at what point humanity finally appreciated possession of this natural endowment.

We cannot find unlimited Freedom of Speech in any era before the First Amendment was added to the Constitution, neither is it to be found in any sacred text, not excluding the Bible. That is, unless we assume “to endow with a right” to mean, “endow with an ability”, certainly God endowed us with an ability to say anything we wanted, just as he endowed other men with the ability to murder us for what we say.

So rights are not supernatural, and are, as Joseph de Maistre observed, a sort of spook. Paraphrasing Rousseau, he declared “If man is everywhere born free, and yet everywhere a slave, why might I not say that sheep, always found eating grass, nevertheless are born carnivores.”

However, we shouldn’t fall into de Maistre’s trap, and cease to believe in the reality of rights. We must instead reformulate our understanding of rights on a legitimate basis, undergirded by reality. I propose that legal rights are neither innate, nor supernatural in origin (except insofar as they may be thought of as existing in potentia). Rights are the codification of the limits of good conduct decided upon in a certain age. They generally change definition over time, though we can note with interest that the very group most interested in defending Constitutional government is that group with the highest degree of genetic similarity to the Founders. Therefore, rights are contextual, and extremely alienable, unless care be taken to preserve the stock that opted to codify the rights in the first place.

If you truly want to save America, you ought not rest your arguments on wishful thinking about the eternal permanence of laws which have been changed before and shall change again, but upon sound logic. To protect your rights, you must protect the culture that fosters those rights, the history that confirms them, and the blood from which they flowed forth.

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