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Thursday
Jan312013

Who Is This Man? What Did He Say?

 

This is Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.  Through the joys of googling, I've discovered that he's the man behind the free speech quote I've been racking my brain to come up with the past several days.

 

It's from a 1927 case.  Here's the quote.  I'll supply the context later on.

"If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

In plainer language, I would say, "The remedy to bad speech is more speech.

In fact, a bit more googling reveals that Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google (talk about ironies) said precisely that in Seoul, Korea, on September 27, 2012, "The answer to bad speech is more speech."

That was in regard to the attack (literally as well as figuratively) by some Islamic extremists on free speech (from Salmon Rushde's Satanic Verses to cartoons in Danish papers).

Those who would deny Rep. Chase or Rep. Horrigan (or any of us) free speech are leading us down the path to what we so condemn in Islamic extremists.

Here's the context of the context of the Brandeis quote (I'll copy only a portion here; the story I googled is eight pages; if you want it all, try http://prospect.org/article/remedy-more-speech; the article refers back to a 1942 case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire).  What a joy to see John Stuart Mill worked into the text.  Bob O'Neil, my freshman philosophy professor at Plymouth State and the man who turned me on to Kurt Vonnegut, would be proud!

The answers to these seemingly compelling arguments are many, and even more compelling. The view of racist slurs as equivalent to physical blows ignores some crucial differences. A physical blow will hurt, no matter what the victim's state of mind; a verbal attack will hurt only if comprehended. If uttered in a foreign language, or in euphemisms equally unfamiliar, it will do no damage, for its meaning will not have been understood. It is the meaning that hurts, which is another way of saying that not only has an idea been communicated, but a very powerful and hateful one at that. If no meaningful idea were involved, there would be no injury.

It is internally contradictory to say that racist speech contains no ideas and has no value because it is false. A statement with no ideas cannot be false. Hitler's claims that the Aryans were a superior race and that an international Jewish conspiracy was controlling the world were harmful because they were false ideas, not because they lacked ideational content. When students pass out leaflets saying "Niggers go home," or chant that "Hitler had the right idea" they are uttering opinions that are hateful precisely because of the ideas they express.

We are dealing here with bad ideas, not physical blows or the absence of ideas. For that problem John Stuart Mill had the right answer long ago in his famous essay "On Liberty." He said that we must allow for the expression of bad ideas -- whether opinions or alleged statements of fact -- because they may contain some grain of truth that corrects the conventional wisdom or, lacking that, provide a challenge to accepted beliefs, without which those beliefs in the long run become mere prejudices. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis advised, in his famous Whitney v. California opinion in 1927, "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education

That was in regard to the attack (literally as well as figuratively) by some Islamic extremists on free speech (from Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses to cartoons in Danish papers).

Those who would deny Rep. Chase or Rep. Horrigan (or any of us) free speech are leading us down the path to what we so condemn in Islamic extremists.

Here's the context of the Brandeis quote (I'll copy only a portion here; the story I googled is eight pages; if you want it all, try http://prospect.org/article/remedy-more-speech; the article refers back to a 1942 case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire).  What a joy to see John Stuart Mill worked into the text.  Bob O'Neil, my freshman philosophy professor at Plymouth State and the man who turned me on to Kurt Vonnegut, would be proud!

-----------------------------

"The answers to these seemingly compelling arguments are many, and even more compelling. The view of racist slurs as equivalent to physical blows ignores some crucial differences. A physical blow will hurt, no matter what the victim's state of mind; a verbal attack will hurt only if comprehended. If uttered in a foreign language, or in euphemisms equally unfamiliar, it will do no damage, for its meaning will not have been understood. It is the meaning that hurts, which is another way of saying that not only has an idea been communicated, but a very powerful and hateful one at that. If no meaningful idea were involved, there would be no injury.

It is internally contradictory to say that racist speech contains no ideas and has no value because it is false. A statement with no ideas cannot be false. Hitler's claims that the Aryans were a superior race and that an international Jewish conspiracy was controlling the world were harmful because they were false ideas, not because they lacked ideational content. When students pass out leaflets saying "Niggers go home," or chant that "Hitler had the right idea" they are uttering opinions that are hateful precisely because of the ideas they express.

We are dealing here with bad ideas, not physical blows or the absence of ideas. For that problem John Stuart Mill had the right answer long ago in his famous essay "On Liberty." He said that we must allow for the expression of bad ideas -- whether opinions or alleged statements of fact -- because they may contain some grain of truth that corrects the conventional wisdom or, lacking that, provide a challenge to accepted beliefs, without which those beliefs in the long run become mere prejudices. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis advised, in his famous Whitney v. California opinion in 1927, "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

 

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Reader Comments (1)

C'mon man, a picture? Is he Lysander Spooners's-s-s great grandson?
– C. dog, FSP by inspiration, not transportation
February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterC. dog

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