Freedom of Speech, Then and Now

In 1920, the famous Marxist Rosa Luxemburg wrote,

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken.

In 2012, speaking of Clear Channel Communications, which provides a variety of programs, including the Rush Limbaugh show, to the Armed Forces Network, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said,

I would hope the people that run it see just how offensive this is and drop it on their own volition.  I think that is probably an issue that should be left to the folks that run that network. … In other words, I’d love to see them drop it, but I don’t think I’d legislate it.

Gee, thanks Carl!  No doubt tears of gratitude should be running down our cheeks.  If you’ve ever wondered what kind of “progress” people are talking about in the context of “progressive” politicians like Levin, now you know.  When it comes to realizing that there’s no such thing as freedom of speech unless it applies to people who don’t think just like him, Levin doesn’t have a clue .  It was obvious enough almost 100 years ago, and to a Marxist, no less, but apparently Levin is a slow learner.

And what of Limbaugh?  The Left, in one of their signature fits of contrived virtuous indignation, is trying to silence him for a remark about a woman that pales to utter insignificance in comparison to the misogynistic bile their own paladins have poured on conservative women.  Why does it matter?  Because, whether you like his politics or not, Limbaugh has probably done more for genuine freedom of speech than anyone else in this country since H. L. Mencken resigned as editor of the American Mercury.  Before Limbaugh came along, individuals could say pretty much whatever they wanted.  However, the mainstream media had a virtual monopoly on what a Marxist like Luxemburg might call the “social means of communication.”  In other words, they controlled the “voices” that could actually be heard by a significant audience, and they saw to it that the ideological message that voice promoted had a relentless slant to the left.  Limbaugh was the first to succeed in making a genuine crack in that monopoly.  His lead was followed by numerous other conservative talk show hosts, and, eventually, Foxnews.

The country is better off for it.  Thanks to Limbaugh and others like him, freedom of speech really means something in this country.  Compare our situation with that of any major country in Europe, and you’ll begin to understand why there’s reason to be grateful.  Consider Germany, for example.  I happen to follow the media there rather closely.  They have big media on the “right,” like the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and big media on the “left,” like Der Spiegel, but they have nothing like Limbaugh or Foxnews.  As a result, the message as far as anything that really matters is concerned is surprisingly uniform.

For example, anti-Americanism in the media there expands and subsides, much as it does in other European countries.  During the most recent extreme, from about the last few years of the Clinton Administration through the first few years of the Bush Administration, anti-American hate reached truly astounding levels.  Occasionally, it was hard to find any German news on Der Spiegel’s website because the available space was all taken up with ranting diatribes against the evil Americans.   It didn’t matter whether you read Der Spiegel, or boulevard mags like Stern, or wannabees like Focus, or the FAZ on the moderate right, or the Deutsche National Zeitung on the brown-shirted fringe, or even if you only watched the news on TV.  The relentless, mindless anti-American bile was everywhere.

To their credit, a good number of Germans tried to push back.  Unfortunately, the only “voice” they had was a few little blogs.  So it is with most major ideological issues.  There are nuances and differences in tone between the “left” and the “right,” but the overall message is surprisingly uniform, particularly in the broadcast media.  Limbaugh put an end to that in this country.  When there is a slant to the news, it is immediately called out and recognized as such by loud and strong voices, regardless of whether it happens to be to the left or the right.  Hack politicians like Levin have always found that kind of genuine freedom uncomfortable.

One could cite many examples of the allergic reaction of the old media in Europe to the possibility that anyone who doesn’t “think right” might be heard by a significant audience.  The recent vicious “legal” persecution of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands comes to mind.  In the UK, the old media used their political water boys to resist erosion of their control of the message by Fox News, and Iranian Press TV was banned for “breaching the broadcasting code.”  They cheered loudly when the government went to the extreme of banning 16 people with some semblance of a public voice, including US radio talk show host Michael Savage, from entering the country.  If nothing else, Savage would have been a useful anodyne against the BBC’s relentless slanting of the news against Israel.  The UK once allowed pacifists a voice in her public media even as her troops were being evacuated from Dunkirk and she fought on alone against Hitler.  Obviously, times have changed.

In a word, be happy if Rush Limbaugh really irritates you.  If you can still hear him it means there’s still some semblance of freedom of speech in this country.

 

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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