Free speech is a fundamental concept of Western society. It is the single biggest influence our society has had on every aspect of life and liberty. Not just that, but it’s a tangible, useful concept.
So the question of “Why is Free Speech important?” seems foreign to many people. Why do we even need to ask it? However, based on recent anti-free speech rioters at college campuses, the question seems all too important to leave unanswered.
So why is free speech so important? What causes so many to put so much faith and trust into the ideas of allowing others to speak freely of dissenting ideas?
Protection of Ideas, Values, Ethics, Morals, and More
Freedom of speech provides a baseline, unshakeable support for discussion of any and all beliefs.
To truly appreciate the protection of these beliefs, we have to consider a time when citizens never had them. Consider yourself living in Soviet Russia during Stalin’s purges. During this time, any dissent from citizens was punished brutally. From purges to death camps, anyone that disagreed with the Soviets was quickly silenced.
Through freedom of speech, you don’t have this fear. You can speak out against the government and its actors. You don’t have to toe a line and only openly discuss controversial issues in silence, or solely with a close family member.
While not perfect, free speech is better than the alternative.
Free speech gives you a platform to tell your views to anyone that will listen. That’s even what I’m doing on this website. If I had tried to create something like this during the Soviet years, I would very quickly be in a gulag.
But we don’t have this fear anymore. And it’s because of free speech. It allows us the opportunity to not live in fear of persecution for our ideas, values, ethics, morals, or any other belief system.
Not only that, but it gives us a microphone by which to shout these views, however controversial, to anyone and everyone that will listen. And subsequently, allows others to debate and demolish any beliefs which may be deemed harmful or logically unsound.
Protection Against Government Tyranny
It’s no doubt now that free speech gives us the protection aspect, but it also does something else very similar.
It stops the government from destroying opposing views.
Through free speech, we can openly talk out against things the government does that we do not agree with. We can also debate and correct the government when it states falsehoods.
In Mao’s China, the average person was indoctrinated with a set of beliefs from early schooling ages. They were never shown alternative viewpoints,. Because of this, they never were able to challenge the government’s narrative.
That can never happen in a free speech society. Simply because anyone that questions some of the government education material could quickly research the information on the internet. They can find the errors. The person can debate them freely. Then, they can understand that the government is not without-fault. They are human too, and may not always be right (or truthful) on certain subjects.
That would have been incredibly challenging to do in a society which limits freedom of thought through blocking certain websites, such as China.
So not only does free speech protect our beliefs, it also stops the government from indoctrinating us.
Freedom of speech gives us the ability to fact check, to research, and to disagree with the government. And to then protect us by allowing anyone to speak out against that government.
Protection to Not Get Involved and to Stay Silent
One of the under-reported benefits of freedom of speech that I have come to immensely respect is the ability to not speak.
In situations such as North Korea, all citizens must be active in the arena of speaking in favor of the government. As if it is some utopian society. If they don’t, they are never heard from again. People are forced to actively be involved.
Imagine if that were to happen in our society. Imagine if you had to speak in favor of some political agenda that you find morally reprehensible. Or face severe consequences for you or your family.
Luckily, that thought is not reality. We have free speech, and thus have the freedom to not speak when we don’t want to.
We’re not sucked into a forced conversion program; we can actively speak out against it. Our ancestors guaranteed us that right through a lot of hard work, philosophical inquiries, and bloodshed.
And it is most definitely not one for us to second-guess.
Free Speech Helps Dismantle and Debate Bad Ideas
The ideas and beliefs espoused by certain fringe elements in our society are controversial. Some of them are outright evil and terrifying.
These fringe groups can seem daunting. And make you feel as though it is unjust that they are allowed a platform to speak.
But there is a benefit with this element. With allowing them to speak, we can see their arguments. Their tactics. And their errors.
We can accurately point out and debate against these beliefs. In short, we can see them for what they really are. And prove that they are neither just nor rational.
Without freedom of speech, those theories would become boiling pots. Where anyone with a dissenting opinion could become radicalized because they couldn’t find the intellectuals debating these belief structures. There would be no open discussion on them, so only the arguments would be in favor of them.
It would lead to a lot of radicalization, and not a lot we could do to stop it. It’s much better to know your opponent’s case intensely. Which you can collect through open free speech discourse. That way, when you need to prove it incorrect, you have all the information, facts, and logical connections to make your case.
Free speech allows the smartest of our society to find the flaws in the weakest beliefs of that society. They can point them out, fully debunk them, and leave the opponents with a much weaker platform to further spread their agenda to other individuals. It reduces the possibility of others picking up on these bad beliefs and further spreading them, because the open discourse reduces their logical stranglehold on the conversation.
This can be done for any bad or controversial opinion. It doesn’t have to be censored. Let free speech do its job in promoting only the best of ideas, and debunking the rest.
Freedom of speech also provides us with a whole commune of ideas to choose from. We aren’t limited to a narrow list of things that are allowed to be thought. Any idea can be researched and chosen from. You don’t have to adhere to a strict political platform. We can incorporate views from all of them. You can even create your own and put it up to the test.
Protection of Correcting the Record
Similar to the dismantling of bad ideas; free speech also allows us to correct wrong previous information.
When a political candidate says something you disagree with, you can research, discover it was wrong, and argue against them over it. You don’t have to believe what they say. The actual data is available for review.
This also applies to any and many communications. If someone, even an authority figure, says something incorrect, you can retaliate with a wealth of knowledge.
This ability to retaliate comes from the protection of free speech. The wealth of knowledge comes from the open discourse allowed from freedom of speech.
Every single element involved in open and honest discussion revolves around free speech.
Every Other Value Relies on Free Speech
- Gun rights are protected by gun enthusiasts speaking out against gun control.
- Healthcare rights are protected by activists speaking out against centralization.
- Privacy rights are protected by vigilantes speaking out against government intrusion.
And the list goes on.
Every single human right we have and are able to produce is there because of individuals practicing their right of freedom of speech.
No one just received their rights, they were fought for. And they were fought for through speaking. Through spreading the message, challenging arguments, and thoroughly debating false claims and previously held ethical standards.
Things have only changed because of these people practicing free speech. And many of them died for it. They believed in it so strongly, because they knew that open discourse was the only way to change hearts and minds enough to actually make a change in society.
For this reason, free speech is the building block, the base of the pyramid, on all other human rights. And if we don’t have it, the others will fall with it.
Free Speech Allows Free Thinkers
You can’t claim to be a freethinker if you aren’t even allowed to voice those thoughts.
Freedom of speech protects this and encourages it. It encourages people to actively look for dissenting arguments, to escape their bubble, and to challenge the popular narrative. Simply because that’s the only way we will ever be able to honestly make a change for the better in human kind.
Free thinkers are the foundational brick masons of the society. They produce the philosophical thought necessary to drive our morals and ethics in the right direction. And without free speech, we wouldn’t have this cultural driving force. We would just have a narrative that forces upon itself, that silences the cultural drive.
Conclusion of The Importance of Free Speech
Free speech is the single most important aspect of an honest, open, and worthwhile society. It provides many kinds of protections for people of any background and provides society with the free thinkers necessary to drive the culture.
It allows bad ideas and false claims to be thoroughly debunked, so no one else falls for these logical misguided claims. And it allows us to not speak on topics we don’t wish to be involved with from a moral or ethical standpoint.
Freedom of speech allows everyone the ability, and the encouragement, to challenge all beliefs. It presents the basic building block of every other virtue and human right we have.
This is why free speech is such an imperative topic in modern society. It was hard fought for over many centuries.
We can’t ever stop fighting for it. For if we do, we will lose much more than just freedom of speech. We will lose all the benefits that come alongside it.