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November 27, 2007



Isn't the real question what is meant by free speech? Speech can be an invasion of privacy as anybody who has been telemarketed can tell you. So many you define exactly what you mean by free speech. I don't think incitement to violence is usually regarded as acceptable.


" I don't think incitement to violence is usually regarded as acceptable."

What, then, to make of the protestors chanting "Kill Tryl"?


...'free speech' means open & unrestricted 'communication' among people.

Humans organize & cooperate by means of communication.

Restrict that communication and you restrict ability to cooperate toward mutual goals. A lone person can accomplish little-- but a cooperative group of people can literally move mountains.

Restrictions upon free-speech (communication) are always attempts to forcibly prevent people from acting together toward objectives disapproved by the speech "restrictors" (...usually government actors).


There's a good post covering your 'corrigible errors' here:



Good post. I've often wondered why the victory of free speech in the west (especially in principle) isn't commented on more.

This isn't explained by listing excellent reasons for allowing free speech -there are excellent reasons for many things that have not triumphed- but explaining why free speech is such a unique aspect of freedom more generally.


The reason why we should have free speech follows from what would happen if we didn't have it. If free speech didn't exist, that would mean that some kinds of speech would be banned. But what kinds? And who decides what to ban?

Free speech is the canary in the mineshaft. Once people start questioning it, you know the political atmosphere has been polluted.


I am all for free speech.
But to invite someone to give a conference in your house has nothing to do with free speech. What it means is that you are interested in what he has to say.

Bob B

Naturally, all Communists and Marxists, their co-regligionists, are denied access to platforms as the Soviet Union signed a Friendship Treaty with Nazi Germany on 28 September 1939 when Britain and France were already at war with Nazi Germany. (-;

This is a link to the text of that treaty:


Come on guys - somebody pick up the ball here! Should SPAM be protected free speech? I don't think it is so easy to define what it means.

Hilary Wade

Ortega - Just because you are interested in what someone has to say doesn't mean you agree with it. For instance, I used to tell the Jehovah's Witnesses to clear off. But eventually I wondered what makes these people give up their Saturday and go door to door in the face of obvious hostility. They're adults, after all. So, these days, I ask them in for coffee and an argument, which forces me to examine & clarify my own position. ("Iron sharpens iron...") The chances are that students might want to engage in discussion with an obvious bigot for the same reason.


"Come on guys - somebody pick up the ball here! Should SPAM be protected free speech?"


Free speech does not require everyone to grant an invitation to anyone. No-one is suggesting that it should. Spam is uninvited, so it is an invasion of privacy.

The free speech issue is about who can ban what forms of speech and where. Whilst I object to spam being delivered, I would object MUCH MORE to a third party telling me and everyone else what sort of mail I may or may not receive should I so choose.

In the case of the OUS, the invitation is in their gift. You may disagree with it and it is your prerogative to do so, but to attempt - as the protestors did on Monday - to prevent those invitees from speaking is, well, an infringement of the two willing parties to engage in speech.

we might indeed think that Tryl is a twat and that neither Griffin nor Irving have anything to say worth hearing, but that is irrelevant to this issue. You have no right to prevent these willing participants from doing so.

The incitement to violence came from the protestors, not from the invitees. The protestors scored a MASSIVE own goal on Monday.

class factotum

"Isn't the real question what is meant by free speech? Speech can be an invasion of privacy as anybody who has been telemarketed can tell you."

Freedom of speech also includes freedom of listen. Just because some idiot wants to talk doesn't mean he gets my ear.

However -- I don't think the Framers' intention was to protect commercial speech.


And ortega,

You should read Tryl's message to the OUS members here:

chris strange

As Larry Flynt (OK the movie version) might have said, "If free speech protects scum like Irving, then it will protect you."

Anybody with minority views (which will include everybody on some subject or other) should want to protect free speech. This is because of rational self interest because should the majority with opposing views want to shut you down you will have support for your right to speak, if perhaps not what you speak. To me this right to free speech comes fairly easily out of a Rawlsian Social Contract, as nobody in the Original Position would know what their views where to be.

alan doesn't dunk crisps in his beer

I think point 2 (Mill's) holds. I'll use the analogy of the market.

Central economic planning doesn't produce an efficient economy as well as billions of small interactions does.

The same is true of free speech. The truth comes out of a billion discussions and viewpoints. I change my mind all the time (even though I pretend not to and hold my point in discussion usually!). Government centrally placing limits on free speech (verbal pig iron targets) would leave us with beta max video ideas.


You guys still don't get it. It is important to understand what we mean. The right to protest is also important BUT
1. it is invasive
2. it can be misused to prevent other views from being expressed.

The is a limited public attention space, getting ideas into this space is what "free speech" is about, but how to protect it so that doesn't mean people just shouting each other down. I think this is a difficult issue (just as I think Liberty in general is a difficult issue involving tricking trade offs).

Thinking it is simple, is part of the problem.

Hilary Wade

And another thing. These people are Oxbridge undergraduates, the chances are many of them will go into politics or the Diplomatic Service. A few years down the line some of them will be sitting round a table, representing their country, in the company of (by definition) the most cunning and charismatic people in the world. It's essential that they should be starting to hone their analytical, forensic and debating skills now, in an environment of open minded scholarship, and against the most formidable opponents the University can muster. Otherwise, in a few years time, we'll have a new generation of people like Jacqui Smith who gives the impression she just spent her student years in caucus-filled rooms nodding along with people who said things like "but don't you think all discrimination is unethical." And look at her now. It's just embarrassing. We want to train the next lot to be genuinely competent, if at all possible.



I'm struggling to see what we don't get on this thread.

The right to protest is merely a form of the right to free speech. It does NOT entail the right either to shout people down or to be invasive - both create obstacles to the exercise of other's right to free speech.

These issues are being specifically discussed here. The protestors were trying to deny the rights of Irving and Griffin. In doing so, they over stepped the mark. It is indeed a misuse of that right and has been called out as such. What's the issue?


the idea that free speech (and error) helps you to reach the truth comes from Milton's Areopagitica, not originally Mill.
I've always assumed that you shouldn't ban someone from speaking just because what they say is false/unacceptable. If it is wrong, you ought to be able to argue its falsity. If we ban someone from stating a proposition, then we forget how to argue for its falsity.


And I am having trouble in understanding what you are saying.

Are you saying people have the right to say whatever they want, just not whenever or however they want? Then just what restrictions on the when and the how can you make without being certain that you are not EFFECTIVELY taking away whatever right? I think it is tricky.


By the way I don't agree with our host here, I don't like people protesting in a way that prevents someone from expressing their opinion at all. It allows all sorts of extremists to kill debate entirely. If Nazi's started regularly jeering every liberal speaker, I think he would regard that as a serious problem.


When we start talking about free speech for some but not for others it necessarily follows that there is going to have to be someone to judge who may and who may not speak.

I think precedent suggests this is a bad idea.

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