"Where are today's Voltaires?" asks James Bloodworth, claiming that "there is no question that we are becoming, as a society, more intolerant of dissent." Why is there this lack of support for freedom? I'd suggest several possible reasons:
1. We've lost liberal optimism. It used to be claimed that freedom was necessary because, in a competitive marketplace of ideas, truth would defeat falsehood. This proposition is now, reasonably, considered dubious.
2. Egocentricity. We live in an age of ego. This means we feel entitled to claim protection from "offense", and consider ourselves sufficiently self-important to legislate for what lesser people can see or do.
3. A fear of disorder. Yes, Hayek had a big point when he said that liberty generated spontaneous order. But it doesn't always look like this. Liberty also gives us bad taste and threats to what Richard Sennett called our "purified identities". As a result, we see offence even where none exists.
4. An inability to get a sense of proportion. Voltaire advised people not to fret about bad publications because "The man of taste will read only what is good." This is my attitude to press freedom; we should have it because the press is sufficiently unimportant to be ignored. Many, though, disgree with me, attributing to the gutter press and lads mags a significance they don't really have. (I suspect this is a consequence of cultural theory's tendency to invest the trivial wih importance).
5. Cognitive biases. As Hayek pointed out, the (apparent) gains from freedom will always seem obvious, whilst the potential losses are not so evident. The salience heuristic will thus cause us to over-estimate the benefits of restrictions. This bias is bolstered by overconfidence, groupthink and the illusion of knowledge.
6. Lack of power. Freedom has few constituents. Security agencies have more power than civil libertarians; companies want to suppress whistleblowers and potential rivals - hence the support for regulation and tough intellectual property laws; regulators and lobbyists want more power and prominence. And so on. The only interest groups calling for freedom are those - like the press - who want freedom only for themslves.
My point here is a simple but depressing one. Freedom has many enemies. Friends of liberty must thus fight not just against most vested interests, but also against the culture of our age. Small wonder we have so few Voltaires.