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WaPo 1962: Freedom and Risk
"Freedom of speech, like all other forms of freedom, undeniably entail risk. But the absence of it is not safety; it is despair and death."
While it is currently not hard to find esteemed academics proposing limitations on free speech, one might be shocked if they opened the pages of today’s Washington Post to read an editorial taking a college professor to task for it. But on September 8, 1962, the Post’s editorial board offered a sharp rebuke of a proposal by Indiana University Professor Charles S. Hyneman for scholars to help public officials determine what government could “reasonably do to regulate” speech.
Freedom and Risk
It is somewhat surprising to hear from the lips of an American political scientist — from the retiring president of the American Political Science Association, in point of fact—the assertion that "we need a speculative attack on the free speech problem." Prof. Charles S. Hyneman of Indiana University urged upon his colleagues in his presidential address Wednesday evening a "scholarly study" to help "lawmakers and judges decide what government may reasonably do to regulate the speech and other expressions of the Nation."
Professor Hyneman's candor is challenging. Freedom of speech is an American shibboleth unreservedly supported in principle, as a rule, even by those who would unhesitatingly deny it in practice to opinions that displease them. We have no disposition, however, to question the Professor's right to question the utility of free speech, to question, as he put it, "the intellectual supports for the presumption in favor of unrestrained verbal expression which underlies virtually every bit of our serious literature." His fire, it should be said to do him justice, is centered on the use of free speech to effect group libel, "on the indoctrination of children which produces adults who seek relief in persecution," on "impregnation with hate."
But we think he suggests a ruinous remedy for this evil—a reliance on elected officials to extirpate such dangerous expression. "A hard look at the intellectual foundations might reveal that the case for free speech, as it is made in contemporary American literature, rests more firmly on a distrust of government than on a high esteem for a free flow of information and a lively combat among the ideas that compete to control action." What an extraordinary remark for a political scientist! The case for free speech rests on both considerations, or course—but certainly not least on "a distrust of government." For free speech is the indispensable antidote to oppressive governmental authority. Whenever government has power to "extirpate" speech it considers evil, tyranny prevails. Free men who mean to remain free are necessarily distrustful of government, scrutinizing its actions critically and limiting its powers.
"No one can doubt," Professor Hyneman observed, "that the communication of man to man facilitates the step backward as well as the step forward." How true! But such communication—untrammeled communication—is the inescapable agency of all innovation. Freedom of speech, like all other forms of freedom, undeniably entail risk. But the absence of it is not safety; it is despair and death.