Wisdom on free speech from Justice Brandeis and William F. Buckley

By | September 8, 2018

Cass R. Sunstein writes:

Which ideas, if any, are beyond the pale? Is it a mistake to “normalize” some speakers? When?

To get some guidance, we would do well to look to the example of William F. Buckley Jr., one of the most influential conservatives of the last 60 years. For decades, Buckley was the host of a television show called “Firing Line.”

Buckley hosted plenty of conservatives. But he was more than willing to provide a forum for people whose leftist ideas he despised, a group that included Noam Chomsky, Muhammad Ali, Saul Alinsky, Allen Ginsberg and John Kenneth Galbraith.

Buckley relished disagreement and debate. He was committed to the marketplace of ideas. He acted in accordance with the words of Justice Louis Brandeis, writing of the importance of freedom of speech:

Those who won our independence . . . believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.

Buckley seemed to agree with Brandeis’ claim that “the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.” [Continue reading…]

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