Why Free Speech Isn't Enough for Free Society
Though Claudine Gay has now resigned from her presidential position at Harvard, most seem to agree the entire thing resembles a case study in “too little too late.” In fact, it seems the DEI brigade had been holding out hopes that Gay’s initial “misstep” could be bustled into the closet along with the rest of Harvard’s skeleton collection. Everything seemed to be running along smoothly until it was discovered that Gay was also guilty of several counts of plagarism. Which in the Barnum and Bailey world of higher education is apparently the greater sin.
Not only do these recent events confirm what I’ve already long suspected — that the Harvard trustees responsible for staff hiring/firing are actually just sentient cobs of ornamental corn — it also got me thinking about free speech. And how it isn’t actually the tree of life that people seem to think it is.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s no question that free speech is an essential component of freedom. With Washington, I enthusiastically affirm that, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” My concern here is that many people seem to want to reduce the totality of freedom to freedom of speech.
The reality, however, is that even if we find could find a way to bundle woke gatekeepers into banana containers bound for East Timor, we’re not going fix the deep cancer that has taken hold of our nation.
The first problem is that speech, in itself, doesn’t possess a moral direction. Just because someone is free to speak, it doesn’t follow that what they have to say is true, good, or constructive. In fact many popular defenders of free speech are not individuals I would want leading our country, or even to be on our city council. Musk, for example, is a secular transhumanist. His vision for humanity would likely have aligned with the city planners at Babel, if Babel had been a SpaceX launchsite. And trust me when I say that allowing free speech on Twitter (now X) hasn’t led to it being any less of a sewer hole.
All this to say that giving people free-vent to be their "truest self" — especially in a lost, scoffing age such as ours — won't magically steer us back towards virtue or compassion. This is because speech is the product of our thoughts and desires. If our hearts and minds are enslaved to sin, which they are, then our speech will reflect that slavery.
The path to a just and free society starts at a wicket gate, which leads to a cross on a hill, which leads to a total renovation of nature and purpose. Attempting to pursue a vague idea of freedom without acknowledging the necessity of the Christian gospel is a fool’s errand. This is why so many freedom movements, initially united in their outrage of tyranny, are now fracturing and failing. There is no Christ underneath, and therefore no means to sustainable unity.
The second problem here is that free speech rhetoric can just as easily (if disingenuously) be commandeered by the left as by the right. It can just as easily be used to defend stocking school libraries with perverted reading material as it can to reinstate someone’s YouTube account. Once again, the tongue, untethered, is a ruthless mercenary. James teaches us this. The tongue will just as readily burn someone’s house down as warm them up. It will just as quickly throw in its lot with Nazis as with Marxists. It is a tool, not a guiding principle. Unrestrained, it is only “a restless evil.”
I suspect the same thinking that looks to free speech for true freedom looks to democracy for true peace. The mistake under both of these views being that people are basically good and it is only exernal influences (other people, ideas, technology, etc.) that cause us to be corrupt. Take away these and you are left with an essentially noble creature. This idea is still very much with us in the form of expressive individualism, which judges the rightness or wrongness of an action to the degree that it exemplifies the authentic self. But again, this not only contradicts God’s Word — which declares that, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” — but the entire testimony of history.
The “sans-culottes” of Paris were technically freer after storming the Bastille in the sense that they were no longer under the thumb of French nobility. But that didn’t stop the French Revolution from devolving into a Reign of Terror. How did this happen? Because as well as being a period of anti-aristocracy, it was also a period of anti-religiosity. It turns out the insurgents who spearheaded the revolt didn’t have any better principles than the godless tyrants they overthrew on the other side. You get rid of the elected thugs and you’re left with a regime of unelected thugs.
I am not denying the fact that objective oppression often pushes people to such extremes. I am only drawing attention to the fallacy that kneecapping an overreaching government (which I am all for) will automatically result in a freer, more compassionate society. It won’t. Living under the thumb of localized warlords and relentless tribal conflict is not an improvement to living under even the worst liberal regime. Just ask Columbia, Afghanistan, or Cameroon.
If there is any sense in which we ascribe to the phenomenon known as Christian nationalism, it is in this sense. If we want to see a just and free society, we must start with just and free people; which can only be formed by just and free principles; which only proceed from a just and free God.
The idea that peace and prosperity will return once we vote out the Liberals is naïve and reductionistic. If we really want to be “contra tyrannos,” we must first address the tyrant in our own heart.
Support the Fringe