As an educator, I think the most frustrating thing that I see in America today is the near complete abandon of Liberty by an entire generation of people. I read a statistic the other day a statistic that claimed nearly 40% of the generation we refer to as “millennials” believe that speech ought to be regulated by government. Apparently they believe that speech that offends, speech that makes people angry, or just speech they simply do not like, ought to be regulated…by the government.
Freedom of speech is one of the most bedrock principles of Liberty and one of the first things that the founders of our America defended. Silence Dogood letter #8, penned by Benjamin Franklin in 1722, shows us just how important this Right of the people is to the defense of all Liberty.
“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know.”
Freedom of speech is the foundation upon which the Committees of Correspondence were formed, the Sons of Liberty could not have influenced the people without freedom of speech, and Daniel Webster claimed;
“If all my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would soon regain all the rest.”
Face it, without a firm understanding in the importance of free speech and the essential free exercise of that speech, our States of America would not exist as governments separate from Great Britain.
But now we appear to have a generation of people who have become so detached from these principles they have no clue as to why they are important and why they must be defended. I don’t suppose we should be too shocked. This was an inevitable outcome once we turned education over to government control. Government and Liberty are enemies. People in power always want more power, that is a self-evident truth. Those people cannot have power if those in society are free to exercise their Liberty.
“This sacred Privilege (freedom of speech) is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scare call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech; a Thing terrible to Publik Traytors.” Silence Dogood #8
However, Freedom of speech not only means you can criticize those in power, it means you have a duty to do so. Freedom of speech means that you can publicly oppose the government’s activity. Freedom of speech means you can challenge the status quo and expose the traitor and hypocrite. This, as Franklin pointed out, is not what those in government want happening openly and freely.
“That Men ought to speak well of their Governours is true, while their Governours deserve to be well spoken of; but to do a publick Mischief, without hearing of it, is only the Prerogative and Felicity of Tyranny: A free People will be shewing that they are so, by their Freedom of Speech.”
So how do you get an entire generation who are more than willing to hand over to those in power the authority to control and regulate this most essential and vital freedom? You train them up in the way of the government so when they get older, that is the way they want to go. You let government establish the curriculum. You let those in power rewrite the history. You teach the youth that they have a right to be happy, comfortable, and safe. Then you fail to the teach the Liberty principles that established the proper limits of government. You fail to teach that although Liberty is not comfortable or easy, it is necessary keep from falling into slavery. Samuel Adams wrote:
“No people will tamely surrender their Liberty nor be easily subdued when knowledge is diffuse and virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when the People become universally ignorant and debauched in their manners, they will sink underneath their own weight without the aid of foreign invaders.”
Not too long ago Americans were having a discussion about freedom of speech and political cartoons. Can we “allow” people to draw cartoons of Mohammed and Islam, even though some find that offensive? It was unfortunate that the discussion was driven by a fear of Islamic Extremism taking over America. How I would love to see that discussion erupt over some challenging political cartoons about our Congressmen and supreme Court Justices. If truth be told, and accepted, the American education system, mainstream media, all working in collusion with Washington DC, have all effectuated more damage on the freedom of speech than Isis could ever hope for.
Popular speech needs no protection. It is the speech that offends, the speech that challenges, the speech that makes us feel bad that requires our protection. If we allow government to regulate speech because someone classifies it as “hate” or “offensive,” what happens when government is in charge of creating the meanings and definitions necessary to enforce those law? These regulations may start off as something society feels to be reasonable. The consequence of a law that seems like a “reasonable” restriction upon Liberty so that others can feel safe, is those in power possessing a greater to oppress. History proves that it will not be long before government will define these regulations to protect the oppressor and the tyrant. We must not only tolerate speech that offends us, we must protect it. It is the only way to to protect all Liberty. The Liberty you deny others, will be the Liberty lost to you.
“An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Thomas Paine, The First Principles of Government
Samuel Adams gave us another jewel of wisdom when he said, “Let us remember, if we tamely suffer a lawless attack upon our Liberty, we encourage it and involve others in our doom. It is a serious consideration that should weigh heavy upon our hearts that ages and millions yet unborn will be the miserable sharers of our experience.”
For a long time, I though Adams was talking about our acquiescence to the imposed servitude of permits, fees, and regulations imposed upon our rights by government. But given today’s generations, I am beginning to wonder if his wisdom is broader than that. Perhaps he was referring to the consequences of lost Liberty when a society of people love government more than they love their freedom; when generations will become more attached to their comfort and prosperity than they are to their inalienable rights. After all, throughout history, this has always been the ultimate demise of a society people.
This generation of “millennials” has become so deceived by their training that they have become universally ignorant to the very things that make them free. They are now more addicted to comfort and security than the need to be free-thinking and free-acting people. They have been taught for so long that government is their teacher, protector, and provider, they no longer have any desire to exercise their natural right to do these things on their own. In turn they are ready to hand over the power to regulate their natural right to the greatest natural enemy of their rights; the government.
So when we are rolling our eyes and scratching our heads in bewilderment at the anti-liberty, pro- government mentality of our “millennials,” let us remember, Generation X, we trained them up in this way, how else would we expect them to go?