Free Speech in Wartime

Like too many of his colleagues on the right, including President Trump it appears, the usually estimable Daniel Greenfield of has gone off the rails over the question of the censoring of rightwing voices on social media platforms like FaceBook, Google, and Twitter by their left-leaning owners.

One of Mr. Greenfield’s ideas is for the government to apply “public accommodation” law to such media, which would mean that FaceBook, et al. would be legally required to take all comers in the same way that the 1964 Civil Rights Act requires restaurants, hotels, and other so-called public accommodations to serve all comers regardless of race, religion, etc.

But the owner of a private business should no more be deprived of the right to decide whom to do business with than should a private homeowner be deprived of the right to decide whom to entertain in his home. When Americans conceded the principle that private property devoted to commercial use is thereby rendered “public,” they condemned America to a long, slow slide into socialism, which is precisely what we have experienced since 1964.

Trending: Chinese Buying Land In US Communities All Over America

Mr. Greenfield appears to consider property rights to be dispensable. But without private property, free speech could not exist. Remember when the federal government regulated the “public” radio waves via the “Fairness Doctrine”? It was only when Reagan abolished the doctrine and restored the rights of station owners to decide for themselves whom to serve that free political discourse on the radio exploded into being in the form of Rush Limbaugh and his progeny.

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The Democrats are dying to turn the feds loose on “hate speech.” Does anyone really believe that authorizing them to police social media as public accommodations (or as public utilities, another Greenfield idea) would promote free speech there? The only reason the internet and other new media ever grew into the marvelous forums of free speech that they did is that they have been privately owned and unregulated from the start.

Contrary to what Mr. Greenfield seems to believe, property rights are more fundamental than free speech. If the government owned all the land and all the buildings and all the machinery (or controlled them via regulation, which is the same thing), then free speech, or any other rights for that matter, would become a practical impossibility, as the histories of the Soviet Union, Red China, and North Korea so vividly attest.

We have the early 20th century Progressives to thank for the idea that free speech is indispensable but property rights are not. The heart of the Progressive agenda has always been the eradication of the constitutional protections that secure individuals’ rights of private property from government interference, thus to enable government experts more effectively to organize and direct citizens’ lives. Individual freedom of action becomes a nullity under such a conception.  “The democratic ideal of freedom is not the right of each individual to do as he pleases,” wrote John Dewey, the Progressive educator. “The basic freedom is freedom of mind and whatever degree of freedom of action and experience is necessary to produce freedom of intelligence.” (“Democracy and Educational Administration,” School and Society, 1937)

“Freedom of mind,” for Dewey, included such rights as freedom of speech and press. These freedoms must be secured, argued Dewey, so that individuals could participate intelligently in the process of choosing the political leaders who would run their lives.

Mr. Greenfield also floated the idea of breaking up the social media giants via the anti-trust statutes. But if the owner of a private company chooses to run it in a way with which we disagree, we are free to take our business elsewhere. If there is nowhere else to take our business, then we are free to start our own company and run it as we see fit. So long as there are no legally enforced restrictions on anyone’s going into competition with FaceBook, et al., then the charge that any of them enjoy a monopoly is untrue.

The decision by the social media giants to begin censoring right-wing opinion is certainly a serious and disturbing development in the cold civil war in which we are engaged. But it is just one more instance of the ongoing break-up of the American people into two opposed camps. That breakup is, in fact, a necessary one at present; the Left consider Donald Trump to be an illegitimate president because of his pro-America policies, and, as the on-going Kaepernick affair makes clear, they view the United States as constituted to be an illegitimate polity. We are quickly becoming two separate peoples.

The sooner the rest of us stop trying to find common ground with the Left and start opposing them as if our lives depended on it, the better our chances of preserving an America worth living in. We are likely to see much worse from them before this is over. We cannot afford to lose our heads every time they refuse to play by the old rules.

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