free speech and fair play

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I’ve been fascinated by discussions of free speech recently. Now even a right-wing American group has decided to uninvite a horrid right-wing troll from speaking at their event. The topic of his speech was supposed free speech and how the left is trying to curtail it, but apparently since it has come out that he advocates pedophilia even the right wing want to limit his freedom of speech – or at least, not to host his speech. So apparently there are standards, after which a person is disgusting enough they should be no-platformed. Dru Oja Jay said it wonderfully: “The fall of Milo is heartening, in that it shows that there are limits to the tolerance the institutional right wing has for aggressively damaging views, and disheartening, in that those limits appear to be restricted to advocacy of pedophilia.” So pedophilia gets one booted from a right-wing conference (despite their defense of free speech) but racism, misogyny, etc, doesn’t? At least we know a little bit about where they stand.

I know the saying “I might disagree with what you say but I’ll fight for your right to say it.” I know the saying, but I don’t know that I agree with it. I know good people who have been no-platformed and I disagree a with that, but I still rejoice in a bad-person being no-platformed. Is there an inconsistency there?

I found a strange description of that inconsistency – and a description of how one man dealt with it – in a thick book called John Locke, Toleration and Early English Enlightenment Culture. On page 425 of the book the author, John Marshall writes about a Pierre Jurieu, a French protestant at a time when French protestants were being oppressed. Many protestants were arguing that a ruler had no right to try to control people’s religious beliefs. Jurieu disagreed. John Marshall described it this way : “For Jurieu, tolerationists’ response that if the ‘orthodox’ ruler had this power then so would the ‘heretical’ ruler, was simply wrong. He asked: because a king had the power to punish malefactors, would a tyrant have the right to punish the innocent? Because a king had the right to levy reasonable taxes to support the state, did a tyrant have the right to levy exorbitant taxes? Because a people had the right to refuse obedience to a tyrant, did they have the right to refuse obedience to their legitimate ruler? The case was for Jurieu no different in religion: because a king has the right to advance and defend truth, did he have the right to establish heresy and idolatry? ‘In a word’. Jurieu declared, ‘because the King had a right to serve God by his authority, did he have the right to employ the same authority to serve the devil?’”

Now I don’t agree completely with Jurieu. I definitely don’t think that a government should establish a religion,  and yet I find a strange comfort in reading about Jurieu and about his time period. He said yes, we should use what power we have for good, even if an evil person could use that same power for bad.

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