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February 13, 2008



You are correct. That is why I HATE presendential systems in which this tendency is more pronounced than parliamentary systems. But parliamentary systems are (partly through the press but also partly by public demand) tending to turn into quasi-presidential systems. But I'm an optimist, I think democracy is improvable. We need to keep working on it.

Matt M

Surely everyone has similar constraints on their speech though? If I want to keep a friend then I can't tell him outright that his new haircut makes him look like a bit of a tw*t.


Let's not critique public figures oppinions, poor souls, so as they can say what they really think. Otherwise, they won´t have other chance that lying to us and it will be our fault.
But, of course, if we do not criticise them, maybe they won't need to talk at all. They will be able to do whatever they want without giving any reason.
Maybe it is not that we criticise them because they talk but that they talk because they have to answer to us. It does not make them less free. It is part of their job.


Party politics is all about this, as Jonathan Swift [the original] noted.

Peter Risdon

If you read the Archbishop's recent speeches you'll see a consistent and sustained attack against secular and democratic society, the very thing we all rely on for an open public discourse. He even, a couple of weeks ago, called for the criminalising of "cruel" speech on the part of others - he wasn't thinking of evangelical attacks against homosexuals. A month or two before that, in Singapore, he called for unelected religious figures from every religion to have a part in the legislative process.

He, and not his critics, is a danger to free speech. He's also a threat to the rule of law and the equal treatment of everybody before it. If he had his way, your scope as a blogger would be severely reduced. The laws you lived under would be made in part by unelected people motivated by superstitions you don't accept.


Fully agree with you. I never thought of this before.


Eh? How are the powerful enslaved? Public figures need to pay account to what's out there in the political domain: symbols and meanings, their own actions, the reaction to them by others. That's the deal. It's not dishonest, just politics. I don't recall Shakepeare's Mark Anthony telling the mob that Brutus and Cassius were a pair of murdering bastards.


Chris, this is nonsense. Nowhere in the right to free speech does it say that such speech comes without consequences. There may always be practical reasons why your freedom of speech is self- limited or situation- limited (there are for example some students I'd like to tell to piss off, but I don't) but so long as there aren't legal barriers to it, it's still free.

And Rowan Williams is, after all, proposing legal limits on free speech: insults directed at his warm and fuzzy lord, because it might be 'hurtful'. So don't bother defending him.

john b

I love the way people are claiming Williams is "proposing" that being rude about God should be be made illegal and that unelected clergy should be allowed to sit in the legislature.

Similarly, I've just "invented" a magical four-wheeled contraption for getting people around in, powered by burning petroleum. And I "propose" we bring in laws against murder and shoplifting...

Peter Risdon

John B, Williams suggested that Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other religious leaders have a role in the legislative process. They don't at the moment.

He suggested that "cruel" and "hurtful" speech be prohibited; it isn't at the moment.

john b

But C of E ones do, and hurtful speech against the C of E's god is.

It doesn't make a blind bit of difference whether we have laws against insulting one sky-fairy or six - the only relevant difference is any or none...

Peter Risdon

Another relevant difference is the scope of such laws. I'd assume we both agree the CofE should not be favoured in this way.

Chris, I hadn't seen your earlier post on this subject: I withdraw my implied criticism of your argument.

john b

"I'd assume we both agree the CofE should not be favoured in this way."

agreed. but it's much more defensible for the bish to be saying "religion ought to be protected" than saying "my religion ought to be protected" - even though I disagree with him, it's at least something that he can claim in good faith.

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