Of all of the rights that we are born with, the most sacred and fundamental of them all is the right to our own lives; in other words, the right to pursue our own values without interference. As a corollary to this principle, advocates for individual liberty accept that people have the right to defend their lives from violence, and that people also have a right to sustain and preserve their lives through the creation and exchange of value using the resources provided by the world around them. In order to create and exchange values, people must be able to own the object as well as the fruits of their own labor; this is the basic framework on which the case for individual rights rests and it all depends on that first and most fundamental right. The right of every person to their own lives as the highest moral good is what leads to a truly free society, and any attempt to infringe upon this right, either by government or by other individuals, is completely immoral and should be resisted.
Our right to free speech is intimately connected to our right to life, in that we cannot pursue our own values, we cannot create or exchange values, or peacefully defend our rights if we are under constant threat of being punished for saying the wrong thing. In a free society individuals may use their free speech to counter the speech of others, but they may never use force as a means of countering speech, especially if they seek to use the force of government to do so.
The free speech issue is becoming increasingly more important as we have seen how the “micro-aggression” culture that has been promulgated on college campuses has made its way into the realm of Twitter and Facebook in the form of conservative and libertarian advocates being banned for posting “offensive” material. While private companies do have the right to police what happens on their own sites, one can only wonder how long it will take for the government to begin overtly suppressing speech, when the ideology that has destroyed free speech on college campuses has found a way to dominate the two largest social media platforms on the planet.
It may be tempting to dismiss the urgency of the free speech issue because there is no physical coercion being done, but restricting free speech is simply coercion against the mind. Wherever there is coercion against the mind, physically coercion will always follow as a means of enforcement. If we are to remain a civilized and prosperous society of relatively free people, then protecting freedom of speech must always remain at the top of our priority list.
The freedom of speech is the right upon which all other rights rest; the defense of all of our other rights without violence would not be possible without free speech. Voluntary persuasion and negotiation are how differences are settled in a free society, but if we allow free speech to slowly be taken from us under the banner of social justice, then we are moving closer to a world in which force is the primary means of settling our differences. This would be a world of barbarism in which individual liberty would be stifled by violence between warring gangs who believe in the necessity of their visions. In such a world devoid of free speech, the individual stands little to no chance against the force of a collective entity and thus the individual’s right to life dies along with the individual.
Fortunately, we live in an age in which we have evolved beyond the barbarism of our primitive ancestors, and what separates us from them is our capacity for reason and our ability to think rationally. Our speech is a product of our reason, and any attempt to restrict speech is an assault upon reason. This happens slowly and incrementally. It starts by declaring that particular words are “hateful” and banning them, then after some time certain phrases or questions are deemed “noninclusive” or “insensitive” and they are banned, this then finally leads to whole topics being labeled as “triggering” or “offensive” and having punishments attached to them as well.
This is the progression that most colleges have followed in their journey from being bastions of free speech to being nothing more than centers of indoctrination. Banning certain kinds of speech for being offensive severely limits our ability to exercise our reason, which is required for living a productive life and pursuing values. How exactly is a person expected to think for themselves if certain things are taboo to say out loud and carry a punishment simply for being said? And how exactly is a person supposed to make meaningful choices when thinking for themselves carries the possibility of being punished? When something is labeled as “offensive” the question one must ask is “by whom?” The answer is always some third party institution, whether it be the administration of a college, a diversity committee on social media, or the government, deciding what is and what is not good for other people. Granting this power to these institutions is what leads them to push there own agendas, and it gives those who side with these institutions a way of bullying those who disagree with them into submission. When institutions begin restricting speech, ultimately, it is the individual that suffers.
Freedom of speech is not just a principle that leads to better education, or a more informed populace. It is a principle that is necessary in order for people to live their own lives, and make their own choices. I don’t think it is any accident that the freedom of speech is found in the very First Amendment of our Bill of Rights: the Founding Fathers knew that in order for people to be free and productive, they must be able to speak freely without fear. Defending freedom of speech is about much more than just words, it is about retaining our ability to pursue our values. If the freedom of speech is lost, then it is only a matter of time before all other rights are lost with it.
* Naseem Husain am from Houston Texas, currently attending the University of Texas at Austin. He is a passionate Libertarian looking to spread the ideas of liberty one article at a time.