Freedom of speech and the importance of private property


June 7, 2012 by galudwig

I haven’t updated this blog in many months, but here it is, another post. A comment by Atticus Finch from Blogtruth wet my appetite for blogging, though it had been dry for a long time. I was writing a comment on his new post on comment censorship, but realized I may as well turn it into a new post!

Atticus condemns the practice of censoring comments, an act commonly engaged in across both the left and right blogosphere. His central argument:

If you run a conservative blog advocating liberty you damned well better NOT limit the speech of your readers! It is up to every individual to not only demand liberty, but also practice it when they have the power to do so. That includes the spread of ideas in each of our own little pieces of the internet.

In my opinion, the comment moderators do ‘practice what they preach’, because free speech does not mean the freedom to say and write anything you like wherever you like.

Private property trumps freedom of speech

Freedom of speech means nothing without private property. In fact, the former can easily become a recipe for tyranny.

For example: ‘my freedom to insult you in your own house’, ‘my freedom to publish my thoughts in print even though no one wants to print it and there is no audience’, ‘my freedom to yell ‘Burger King fucks babies’ while you are trying to order a delicious double whopper with cheese (no tomatoes)’.

Clearly, private property trumps all of these, and many more examples. Likewise, when I own my little corner of the internet, it is entirely up to me to determine my own comment policy.

Censoring comments while defending free speech is not hypocritical

A libertarian blogger who censors his comments is not a hypocrite. In fact, he is acting in accordance to the rules of property he cares so much for. Some bloggers may not be in the blogging game to communicate with others. They may have an entirely other purpose in mind, such as spreading their own ideas, improving their writing or just goofing around on the internet. Even if they advance the idea of freedom of speech on their blog, that does not mean that they should subordinate their vision of their online property to anyone or anything but their own ideas.

I personally like it when bloggers welcome comments, even when they are controversial, and would encourage others to engage with other points of view whenever possible. However, every blogger is his own person, and should decide, on their own account, what he thinks is and isn’t acceptable on his own blog.

Similarly, you should evict me from your house when you grow tired of my insults, a publisher should make his own decisions about who to publish, and Burger King should kick me out so that everyone can enjoy their delicious double whoppers with cheese (no tomatoes) in peace.

Universal freedom of speech

As an aside, I find that an emphasis on property rights also trumps the common politically correct arguments against ‘absolute free speech’.

In fear of offending people, the left is often quick to condemn words, such as when they move against ‘hate speech’ or politically controversial material. The right on the other hand has been known to use the state against words and images they deem offensive or unsuitable for the general public.

Both then point to the famous ‘shouting fire in a crowded theater’-metaphor with which Oliver Wendell Holmes supposedly put rational limits on the absolute right to free speech. But this is entirely mistaken. Shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater should not be a criminal offense.

It is clearly up to the owners of the theater to make sure they have rules in place against this kind of behavior, which threatens their clientèle and future revenues. In the case it happens and people get hurt, it would be up to the victims (or their families) to sue the shouter, and to the courts, whether they be public or private, to determine the cause of death.

Either way, my point is simple. Freedom of speech is absolute, but only within a framework of private property.


2 thoughts on “Freedom of speech and the importance of private property

  1. Excellent rebuttal, sir. Thinking of freedom of speech in the way you framed it was excellent. I still argue for my original point though – the free exchange of ideas is essential.

    I did not advocate any law or rule forcing people to open their blog commenting policy, but rather encouraging everyone to do it on their own. Of course people have their own personal property rights, but it is in my opinion one should not silo oneself in a realm of “I’m not letting comments I do not agree with get through.” Ideas are worth spreading and if you are right you can easily rebut them with facts.

    That being said, I concede to your overall argument that private property rights trump freedom of speech. In the end, I think one has the right to censor comments, but is a coward for censoring ideas they are afraid of.

    • galudwig says:

      I did not think you would be authoritarian enough to advocate public intervention in the area of free speech, rest assured I was only reacting against your implied charge of hypocrisy 🙂

      But don’t get me wrong, I also prefer open comment policies and agree that truth is best pursued when ideas are open to debate! And you’re right, if one censors ideas purely because they are afraid of them, they are acting cowardly. But in my view not hypocritical.

      Anyway, it’s nice to argue in blog-format again, I don’t know when I’ll post again, but thanks a million for waking the beast within!

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