POV: Man’s Rights; The Nature of Government
by Ayn Rand | 1963
The Immigration Debate
by The Editors | April 17, 2017
Charlie Hebdo Two Years Later: Will America Continue to Protect Free Speech?
by Steve Simpson | January 07, 2017
Free Speech Is a Right, Not a Political Weapon
by Steve Simpson | December 06, 2016
One Small Step for Dictatorship: The Significance of Donald Trump’s Election
by Onkar Ghate | November 17, 2016
Overturning Citizens United Would Be a Disaster for Free Speech
by Steve Simpson | September 06, 2016
New Book: Defending Free Speech
by The Editors | July 26, 2016
Defending Free Speech
by Steve Simpson | July 02, 2016
How U.S. Attorneys General Are Like Chinese Censors
by Steve Simpson | July 01, 2016
Standing up for Free Speech
by The Editors | June 17, 2016
Is the First Amendment Enough?
by Steve Simpson | March 22, 2016
Free Speech Under Siege
by Steve Simpson | March 25, 2015
Freedom of Speech or Tyranny of Silence?
by The Editors | January 21, 2015
Free Speech and the Battle for Western Culture
by Yaron Brook | January 21, 2015
Freedom of Speech: We Will Not Cower
by Onkar Ghate | January 07, 2015
Gutting the First Amendment
by Steve Simpson | July 17, 2014
The Myth about Ayn Rand and Social Security
by Onkar Ghate | June 19, 2014
The Campaign Finance Monster That Refuses to Die
by Steve Simpson | June 11, 2014
The “End the Debt Draft” Campaign
by Don Watkins | March 18, 2014
End the debt draft
by Don Watkins | March 13, 2014
Abortion Rights Are Pro-life
by Leonard Peikoff | January 23, 2013
A Liberal Ayn Rand?
by Onkar Ghate | November 02, 2012
Ryan, Rand and Rights
by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012
Repairing Lochner’s Reputation: An Adventure In Historical Revisionism
by Tom Bowden | Fall 2011
Why Should Business Leaders Care about Intellectual Property? — Ayn Rand’s Radical Argument
by Adam Mossoff | November 30, 2010
Elena Kagan: Could She Defend the Constitution’s Purpose?
by Tom Bowden | July 20, 2010
Capitalism: Who Needs It — Ayn Rand and the American System
by Yaron Brook | June 09, 2010
Were the Founding Fathers Media Socialists?
by Don Watkins | March 01, 2010
Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution
by Tom Bowden | Summer 2009
Nationalization Is Theft
by Tom Bowden | November 07, 2008
Supreme Disappointments
by Tom Bowden | November 03, 2008
Deep-Six the Law of the Sea
by Tom Bowden | November 20, 2007
After Ten Years, States Still Resist Assisted Suicide
by Tom Bowden | November 02, 2007
No Right to “Free” Health Care
by Onkar Ghate | June 11, 2007
The Rise and Fall of Property Rights in America
by Adam Mossoff | May 16, 2007
Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons, a Panel Discussion
by Yaron Brook | April 11, 2006
The Fear to Speak Comes to America’s Shores
by Onkar Ghate | April 04, 2006
The Twilight of Freedom of Speech
by Onkar Ghate | February 21, 2006
The Cartoon Jihad: Free Speech in the Balance
by Christian Beenfeldt | February 10, 2006
The Faith-Based Attack on Rational Government
by Tom Bowden | June 27, 2005
Supreme Court Should Uphold Rights, Not Majority Sentiment in Ten Commandments Cases
by Tom Bowden | February 23, 2005
Campaign Finance Reform Attacks Victims of Corruption
by Onkar Ghate | December 26, 2003
Thought Control
by Onkar Ghate | April 22, 2003
A Supreme Court Overview
by Tom Bowden | January 01, 2000
Blacklists Are Not Censorship
by Tom Bowden | March 23, 1999
Health Care Is Not a Right
by Leonard Peikoff | December 11, 1993
The Age of Mediocrity
by Ayn Rand | April 26, 1981
Censorship: Local and Express
by Ayn Rand | October 21, 1973
A Nation’s Unity
by Ayn Rand | October 22, 1972
Of Living Death
by Ayn Rand | December 08, 1968
The Wreckage of the Consensus
by Ayn Rand | April 16, 1967
by Ayn Rand | September 1963


Government And Business in Voice for Reason
Government & BusinessIndividual Rights

Blacklists Are Not Censorship

by Tom Bowden | March 23, 1999

The honorary Oscar given to Elia Kazan has generated renewed sympathy for the writers, directors, and actors whose membership in the Communist Party — revealed in the 1940s and 1950s by courageous witnesses such as Kazan — landed them on movie studio blacklists.

Such blacklists, it is said, are a form of “private censorship” that deprives people of their right to speak freely, on pain of losing their employability. “Censorship” — the American Civil Liberties Union declares — “can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups.” But by this reasoning, private individuals who simply choose not to patronize their enemies are engaging in essentially the same wrongful activity as are governments that imprison their citizens for expressing unpopular ideas.

The unspoken premise of this viewpoint is that freedom of speech includes the right to be provided with a printing press, a microphone, or a motion picture camera — at somebody else’s expense. It implies that you are not free to speak unless you can coerce others into furnishing you with the physical means of conveying your ideas.

The genuine right of free speech is simply stated: you may use your own voice and property to say what you think, and no one may use physical force to stop you. This right of free speech necessarily includes the right not to support ideas you oppose. Imagine if every speech by a civil rights leader were required by law to include the views of the Ku Klux Klan. The speaker’s right of expression would be rendered worthless, because every statement he believed to be true would be undercut by a falsehood.

This principle does not change when the speaker uses his property to spread his views. One who owns a printing press, a radio station, or a film studio has the categorical right to deny use of his property to those whose ideas he finds abhorrent.

Private actions such as boycotts or blacklists are based on the legitimate refusal to use one’s own resources to support one’s adversaries. Because no force is involved, such actions cannot censor anyone — even if the goal is to convince everyone on earth to reject a certain person or idea. A studio’s refusal to hire a movie director does not prohibit him from seeking a platform for his views elsewhere, nor does it compel other studios to refuse him employment.

There is no such thing as “private censorship.” It is only when government uses its coercive powers to inhibit speech that censorship occurs.

A recent ACLU case involving computers and the Internet shows how this confusion over the meaning of censorship continues to blight the law. The ACLU sued a Loudon County, Virginia, library that had installed a software filter on its public Internet computers. The filter’s purpose was to screen out sexually offensive material that children might see. (Because the filter worked imperfectly, it also screened out non-offensive material.)

According to the ACLU, that was censorship. The court agreed and ordered the library to stop filtering Internet transmissions. But that decision was wrong. In reality, the library’s use of an Internet filter was simply a refusal to patronize certain websites on its computers — a “blacklist,” if you will. But it was a refusal that left others free to view those sites on their computers and that left the sites’ authors free to disseminate their views elsewhere.

The library’s action was no different in principle from a refusal to subscribe to Hustler magazine. That is not censorship, and the fact that it was a public library does not change the essential nature of the action.

The notion of “private censorship” cuts the moral ground out from under the argument against genuine censorship. For if we are all victims of censorship, with our only choice being who will exercise that oppressive power, then the door is wide open to the claim that we should be censored by government — the representative of the “public interest” — rather than by private, unelected individuals.

If the decision not to patronize one’s intellectual enemies continues to be deemed censorship, actual censorship is inevitable. Now is the time, while we are still years away from such a catastrophe, to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of speech by repudiating the false concept of “private censorship.”

About The Author

Tom Bowden

Analyst and Outreach Liaison, Ayn Rand Institute