Time to deprogram John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill. Gather round, children, for free speech 101.

John Stuart Mill. Gather round, children, for free speech 101.

If I might be permitted to quote an old, dead white guy for the benefit of the narrow-minded who in ignorance condemn Western European thought as anathema to all that is right and true:

I introduce John Stuart Mill, a Nineteenth Century philosopher upon whose discourses on liberty established a pillar upon which freedom of speech rests. His thoughts on free speech run counter to the cancel culture’s dangerous philosophy that opinions they consider to be too dangerous to be heard must be suppress, whether by government, popular opinion or corporate monoliths. But his thoughts ring true, especially today during talk of “deprograming” the “deplorables.”

Here is Mill, speaking for himself:

I choose, by preference the cases which are least favourable to me – In which the argument opposing freedom of opinion, both on truth and that of utility, is considered the strongest. Let the opinions impugned be the belief of God and in a future state, or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality

But I must be permitted to observe that it is not the feeling sure of a doctrine (be it what it may) which I call an assumption of infallibility. It is the undertaking to decide that question for others, without allowing them to hear what can be said on the contrary side. And I denounce and reprobate this pretension not the less if it is put forth on the side of my most solemn convictions.

However positive anyone’s persuasion may be, not only of the faculty but of the pernicious consequences, but (to adopt expressions which I altogether condemn) the immorality and impiety of opinion. – yet if, in pursuance of that private judgement, though backed by the public judgement of his country or contemporaries, he prevents the opinion from being heard in its defence, he assumes infallibility. And so far from the assumption being less objectionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called immoral or impious, this is the case of all others in which it is most fatal. [My emphasis.]

Notice, all ye doctors of woke, that it doesn’t say anything about the First Amendment, which was written decades before Mill wrote this. This isn’t only about protections from government restrictions on free speech. It applies to all speech. If he were here today, it’s clear to me that his cautions would equally apply to speech that is controlled by the social media gatekeepers who have willy-nilly tossed a president and many conservatives off the net.

He probably also would have an admonishment for the likes of Katie Couric. A long-time Democratic partisan, she showed up on the super-partisan Bill Maher

Katie Couric, director of deprograming.

Katie Couric, director of deprograming.

show to push for “deprogram” members of the Trump “cult.” If congressmen are to be “deprogramed,”  as she idylly (I hope) suggest, then what of the cult’s rank and file–the rabble and deplorables. Send them to school where faux nuns wielding rulers could beat the evil thoughts out of them. Or better yet, to hard labor camps, a la Mao Zedong?

Having lived through previous battles for free speech, I am truly frightened and confounded about how  quickly modern-day liberals are willing to ignore or dismiss the implications of shutting up millions of Americans. Would, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union today fight to protect the right of neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, home to Holocaust survivors and their progeny? I’ll let the ACLU answer that, at their own risk. (If you’re unfamiliar with that existential challenge to free speech, I urge you to read about it here.)

Please don’t tell me about not shouting fire in a crowded theater, the usual retreat of free speech opponents. That’s a clear and present danger.  Ramblings on social media are not. Even calls to action are difficult to define as a clear and present danger. Should the newspapers have not reported what the neo-Nazis said about how they were going to invade Skokie? Back then, it was considered to be a call to violence on an emotional, if not physical, level.

If I am permitted some loathing of my own, I would direct it at today’s phony liberals who would silence their opposition. I’d direct special loathing to the self-satisfied and (in Mill’s word) infallible reporters, editors, producers and talking heads who define their mission as deciding for other citizens of a self-governing society what they can be allowed to hear.

Today, “liberal” and “free speech” are a contradictions in terms. For those liberals who still believe in free speech (are you out there?) don’t you think that it’s time? Time to disavow (but not censor) this anti-democratic and anti-progressive claptrap?


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  • Katie Couric on Jeopardy? George Stephanopolous as permanent host on Jeopardy? Jeopardy attracts left and right with no biases, and a host like Alex Trebek who was apolitical. Having those two, ardent leftists, will kill 50% of Jeopardy's audience. Would Katie Couric screen the Jeopardy questions for things she would find objectionable?

  • Trebek was not "apolitical'. He was an Independent who took politics very seriously.

    Mr. Get out of Il now!, I may be speculating a bit, but I'd bet there are very few Conservatives in the Arts and Entertainment field.

  • Dennis, no one is infallible, including John Stuart Mill.

    BTW, here is my favorite JSM quote:

    "To question all things; never to turn away from any difficulty; to accept no doctrine either from ourselves or from other people without a rigid scrutiny by negative criticism, letting no fallacy, or weakness, or confusion of thought slip by unperceived; above all, to insist upon having the meaning of a word understood before using it and the meaning of a propostion before assenting to it, ---
    these are the lessons we learn from ancient dialecticians.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thank you. Of course, I love the part about "having the meaning of a word understood" best. Dennis, thank you for bring John Stuart Mill out into our present arguments. We need his words badly.

  • Dennis, you watch Bill Maher???

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    No. In eastern time zone, he comes on too late for this old guy.

  • I once considered myself a conservative, believing "that government is best which governs least," but I refuse to identify with those who claim to lead the conservatives these days. Minds like Mill's are so needed in our day.

  • With a little more research, I discovered that John Stuart Mill may have deprogramed himself toward the end of his life. To wit:

    "It occurred to Hayek that the same trajectory had played out in miniature in the life of John Stuart Mill. His beginnings were solidly Benthamite; the original edition of his Principles of Political Economy was mostly sound; but the second edition said alarmingly nice things about the Fourierists and the third edition all but endorsed Communism. “If the choice were to be made between Communism with all its chances, and the present state of society with all its sufferings and injustices,” Mill averred, “all the difficulties, great or small, of Communism would be but as dust in the balance.” The manuscript Mill was working on when he died, later published under the title Chapters on Socialism, showed that his drift toward collectivism might have proceeded even further had he lived."

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    The world of ideas, Dennis, is so much more nuanced than anyone could imagine.

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