The Danish philosopher Yggdrasil has sent us another guest-essay.
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is the essence of democracy.
The reality today is that freedom of speech is threatened in the West, threatened as never before. Politicians are being harassed; people fear for their lives; satirists fight a lonely battle for their cause — and that cause is freedom of speech.
Without freedom of speech democracy does not function. You cannot have one without the other, but its not an easy freedom to protect, since it always provokes — that’s the whole idea with freedom of speech.
Consider what Socrates, one of the first and foremost defenders of democracy, had to say on the topic. The story takes place in Athens around the year 400 BC. The tyrants and the Sophists — the spin doctors of those days, wanted to get rid of Socrates. They wanted to kill him if he didn’t shut up. And here is one of the things he had to say about that:
And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against God, or lightly reject his boon by condemning me. For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred to life. I am that gadfly which God has given to the state, and all day long and in all places I am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. And you will not easily find another like me; I would advise you to spare me. I dare say that you may feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you are caught napping; and you may think that if you were to strike me dead as Anytus advises, which you easily might, then you would easily sleep for the rest of your life, unless God in his care of you gives you another gadfly.
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So Socrates is saying that if we stop criticising our society, our democracy will come to a standstill — we have to fight for people’s right to say what they want to, even when we don’t like what they are saying.
It is only when we are ready to criticise ourselves and those around us that we can move our democracy towards a better world.
It seems clear to me that the countries where people are ready to discuss this and that without killing one another are the most happy and dynamic countries. Democracy works!
The arguments against freedom of speech have been: You have to show respect, while using your freedom of speech. And that is indeed a good thing, but one should also think about what respect is.
To me, respect would rather be to listen to other people’s point of views without threatening to kill them. That’s the most important kind of respect in a democratic society: to respect that others have an opinion.
For a brief biography of Yggdrasil, go here.