Freedom Of Speech.
In The Spectator of 29/2/20, Toby Young announced the official launch earlier in the week. of his Free Speech Union which he had intimated in and earlier edition of this magazine. On reading this earlier edition, I had asked myself whether his intended Union would defend the freedom to express all opinions or only those of himself and his supporters, such as those named as ‘directors of his Union, Douglas Murray and Professor Nigel Biggar and of his various advisory councillors such as Sir Patrick Garnard, a former High Court Judge and the historians David Starkey and Andrew Roberts; the satirist Andrew Doyle, The Spectator’s columnist Lionel Shriver; a number of jounalists-cum-intellectualists, such as Claire Fox, Matt Ridley and David Goodhart; and 17 academics including a professor of history at Harvard, the behaviour geneticist Robert Plomin and the feminist historian Zoe Strimpel.’ In his article of 29/2/20 Toby Young states that ‘about 15,000 people have contacted him wanting to join since (he) first spoke about it in August (2019).’
He admits, there’s been some push-back which he discounts as ‘puerile’. Nonetheless, he now addresses my earlier question to myself posing his own questions, ‘what if (an opponent) does possess toxic views? Would we come to their defence?’. as to answering these questions, he cites the discussion in the Today programme in which the presenter Justin Webb set out what Toby Young calls the standard rational for restricting free speech, that ‘for too long the voices of straight white men have been allowed to drown out those of marginalised groups and by reining in people like Toby Young himself he is actually making it easier for others to participate in public conversation further to these However, his answers are inadequate; that people like Toby Young are actually making it easier for others to participate in public conversation; that his new Free Speech Union will actually encourage everyone to take part and will thus be counter-to its implied objectives; that those who insist in ‘safe spaces’ and trigger warnings aren‘t opposed to free speech, they’re helping to create a level playing field in which everyone feels free to speak; and that the Free Speech Union is incompatible with its own objectives in so far as its objectives can be judged from the known objectives of the founders listed as above by Toby Young himself.
In his Spectator article, Toby Young quotes Ira Glasser, ‘the legendary former head of the head of the American Civil Liberties Union as having said in a recent interview that it’s a mistake to think that the historical beneficiaries of free speech have been bigots and patriarchs. On the contrary, without the protection of the First Amendment, civil rights leaders wouldn’t have been able to organise protest marches in the 1960s. Defending free speech is in everyone’s political interest, he pointed out and the left would do well to remember that. Having cited this quotation, Toby Young states that his Union is hoping to protect people being mobbed on social media without appearing to be against free speech. After all when thousands of Twitter users joined a pile-on against someone accused of saying something the regard as offensive – which happened to Roger Scruton last year- aren’t they just exercising their speech rights? OK, he says, in Roger’s case his words were taken out of context and deliberately twisted to cast him in a bad light. But what if the person in question possesses genuinely toxic views would Toby’s Union defend him? If not, he asks where we would we draw the line? His proffered answer is his Union will use its judgement. My answer is that everyone on each side of every argument or debate is using their respective judgements and that no Union of thinkers including that of Toby Young will ever take us beyond such judgements/counter-judgements, beliefs/counter-beliefs and opinions/counter-opinions.
In contrast to Toby Young’s initiative, I simply ask what is the point of free speech if all that is spoken of is merely beliefs and counter-beliefs; and all that is ever achieved by way of resolution is a succession of transient belief-consensuses. In further contrast, my website campaign is intended to win public support for the replacement of belief with knowledge in all future government policy making on the basis of my newly definitive knowledge/belief differentiation, knowledge being the only means by which the debate of belief/counter-belief can be terminated once and for all.