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March 2, 2020 / Congau

Democracy Against Free Speech

Free speech and democracy seem to go well together, but they are not two sides of the same coin. It’s plausible that one could exist without the other. The idea of enlightened absolutism in the 18th century envisioned free speech amid total political control, and Athenian democracy of 5th century BC combined with harsh punishment of speech. It’s true that in our time free speech has had better conditions in democracies and that’s not a mere coincidence of course, but it’s also not a strict necessity.

Democracy is the rule of the majority, and if this majority decided to restrict free speech, society wouldn’t be any less democratic for that reason. In fact, the guarantees of free speech that exist in most democracies today, are actually measures that contradict total democracy since they put limits on what a majority can do. Implicitly that constitutes an answer to a question that is rarely explicitly heard: “What is more important, democracy or free speech?” The latter is clearly deemed more important.

Normally the contradiction is denied, and an increase of free speech is considered to be an increase of democracy. One just doesn’t like the idea that two good things may work against each other and both of them sound like sacred concepts that we can’t get enough of. Therefore, let’s have our cake and eat it.

Free speech is indeed more important than democracy because it speaks against the tyranny of the majority which is an enemy of truth. Absolute democracy favors arrogance and lies and works against a good and just society.

The majority don’t want to listen to reason because it’s stressful and inconvenient and ruins the tranquil state of self-satisfaction. They would shut up dissenting voices if they could. Democracy must be kept in moderation. Only free speech can be let loose.

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