Do You Get Entangled in Any of These Myths about Speech?

Three Free Speech Myths” is the latest essay by Steve Simpson, the Ayn Rand Institute’s director of Legal Studies. It’s online at Merion West. Simpson will participate in a public debate and panel discussion at UC-Berkeley on March 8, “Are We Killing Free Speech?” He will be joined on the panel by Heather Mac Donald and Dave Rubin.

One of the myths Simpson addresses in his op-ed is captured in the children’s rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” which implies that ideas are relatively unimportant and ineffectual. Simpson’s response:

Your mom was correct. Names can’t actually hurt you and neither can ideas.

But it’s a mistake to accept this as the main reason to protect free speech. It implies that ideas and words are powerless and only actions have influence.

But this isn’t true. Ideas motivate actions. The best events in history — and the worst — were all products of ideas. The American Founding, the scientific and Industrial revolutions and the abolition of slavery were all rooted in ideas. The same is true for communism, fascism, slavery and many other horrifying episodes in history.

When we rely only on the argument that words can’t hurt us, we put ourselves in a bind. On the one hand, speech is important and must remain free. However, speech has no impact on the world, so why bother protecting it?

The truth is that speech and the ideas conveyed are supremely important, but both can lead to horrible results. We protect speech that expresses even bad ideas not just because ideas themselves can’t hurt us, but because protecting free speech means protecting it in principle.

Read the article here.