The Doctrine Of Subtractive Liberty: Restrictions Of Free Speech

In July of this year, I proposed that “progressives”, liberals or whatever they want to be called these days, openly practice what I call a doctrine of subtractive liberty. This is the contradictory belief that in order to preserve liberty and freedom, one has to actually restrict it. In a post titled “Progressive Ideology: The Concept of Subtractive Liberty”, I asked these questions:

How can you profess an allegiance to liberty and freedom if you believe that you must restrict the freedom of some to distribute it to others? Doesn’t the restriction of liberty of one individual negate the premise that it is about liberty at all?

We are seeing this in practice with the pseudo anti-blasphemy laws and regulations now being enforced. A perfect example of this is the current assault on free speech by the government in New York.  Tim Cavanaugh at Reason notes this restriction on speech disguised as an effort to maintain proper order by allowing some agency or approval board to ban anything they decide “…would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.”

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority yesterday voted to prohibit advertisements that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.”

One day before the decision, journalist Mona Eltahawy made a partially successful attempt to spraypaint over an ad from a pro-Israel group. The MTA held its vote at a raucous meeting during which opponents of the ad shouted down speakers. The New York Times‘ Matt Flegenheimer reports:

The 8-to-0 vote by the authority’s board came three days after pro-Israel ads characterizing Islamist opponents of the Jewish state as being “savage” began appearing in subway stations, setting off vandalism, denunciations of the authority and calls for the ads’ removal.

The authority had initially rejected the ads, citing their “demeaning” language. The group responsible for the ads, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, sued, and in July won a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds.

So in order to “protect” one group from being “offended”, the rights of another to freely say what they wish – in a public space – is abridged. This is an example of the doctrine of subtractive liberty…and subtractive liberty is no liberty at all.

Folks, I don’t think the general public understand that without the freedom of speech to say anything we want, we cannot continue as a republic. Restrictions on speech are tantamount to restrictions on ideas, thoughts and opinions. There is a reason that these rights…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

…were the first rights amended to the new American constitution.

Because without them, we devolve into authoritarian and totalitarian control over what can be said, expressed or thought.

Speech (verbal and written) is simply the expression of ideas – it is how we transfer them from individual to individual, it is how we communicate.

Restrictions of speech are restrictions of ideas.

One of the contentious issues regards the political left’s new pet religion, Islam. Don’t be fooled, the American left doesn’t support Islam and they are not going to bat for them or trying to implement sharia, they hate religion in all its forms. Islam is being used as a tool, a means to an end. It is the vehicle by which they can be seen to be acting in a “tolerant” and “fair” manner while chipping away at the constitutionally guaranteed rights that are the most dangerous to their ideology.

From July of this year:

The issue is that there are good people who have had their reason confiscated by a belief that is contradictory to itself.

“Progressives” practice a sort of “subtractive liberty” where:

  1. All rights are bestowed by government, and
  2. The goal is equality of outcome, not opportunity, and
  3. Liberty is a finite commodity, for all to have liberty, some must have liberty (economic or political) taken from them and given to others.

How can you profess an allegiance to liberty and freedom if you believe that you must restrict the freedom of some to distribute it to others? Doesn’t the restriction of liberty of one individual negate the premise that it is about liberty at all?

Once you believe that government is the root of all rights and not Nature and Nature’s God, it is easy to think that liberty is finite, has man-made boundaries and can be meted out – as opposed to being a gift from a higher power and therefore infinite. “Progressives” focus on outcomes because they demand control and they can’t control opportunities and what people can do with them – those are as varied as the individual and what the individual can create but they can seek to control outcomes by placing limits on what can be achieved or by siphoning off part of the achievement to redistribute to the collective. “Progressives” also can’t abide the “inequality” of success that individualism brings nor conceptualize that there are simply people out there that can’t or won’t take advantage of the opportunities present in our own American system. Lastly, the way that they seek to create this false equality is by taking from some and giving to others through regulation and taxation, to achieve “fairness” – to resolve inequality though creating inequality, to promote success by penalizing and limiting it, to remedy discrimination by discriminating, to pay for benefits for all through the contributions of a few, to assure “freedom” through regulations and restrictions and to “create” liberty by compromising true liberty. See what I mean by stating that  “progressive” ideology is contradictory to itself? Black3 is correct, “progressives” understand these concepts to mean very, very different things as compared to the rest of us.

There is simply no logical way that a “progressive” can claim to support the core values of the United States as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers or the Constitution of the United States. It simply isn’t possible. No matter what they say, the end effect is the same – to provide freedom for all, freedom must be restricted for some. To provide “income equality” for some, income must be taken from others, to provide “social justice” for a few, religious beliefs of many must be rendered invalid (when God handed Moses the Tablets, what was on them wasn’t then put to a vote and the Israelites just picked what they wanted to go with).

Freidrich Hayek said this of economic matters – I would propose that it also applies to the marketplace of ideas:

I believe it was Lenin himself who introduced to Russia the famous phrase “who, whom?”– during the early years of Soviet rule the byword in which the people summed up the universal problem of a socialist society. Who plans whom, who directs and dominates whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others? These become necessarily the central issues to be decided solely by the supreme power.

As soon as the state takes upon itself the task of planning the whole economic life, the problem of the due station of the different individuals and groups must indeed inevitably become the central political problem. As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power. There will be no economic or social questions that would not be political questions in the sense that their solution will depend exclusively on who wields the coercive power, on whose are the views that will prevail on all occasions.

And a quote from The Road to Serfdom (pp 158-159):

Even the striving for equality by means of a directed economy can result only in an officially enforced inequality – an authoritarian determination of the status of each individual in the new hierarchical order.

Once a state controls speech, the aspect of who promulgates and enforces those rules becomes germane. Referring once again to Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and a chapter titled “Why the Worst Get on Top”:

Since it is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own. They must, above all, be unreservedly committed to the person of the leader; but next to this the most important thing is that they should be completely unprincipled and literally capable of everything. They must have no ideals of their own which they want to realize; no ideas about right or wrong which might interfere with the intentions of the leader.

There is thus in the positions of power little to attract those who hold moral beliefs of the kind which in the past have guided the European peoples, little which could compensate for the distastefulness of many of the particular tasks, and little opportunity to gratify any more idealistic desires, to recompense for the undeniable risk, the sacrifice of most of the pleasures of private life and of personal independence which the posts of great responsibility involve.

The only tastes which are satisfied are the taste for power as such and the pleasure of being obeyed and of being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful machine to which everything else must give way.

Friends, this is the beginning of the end of the American Republic.

If we allow this to continue, we will only have ourselves to blame. We have entered a very dangerous time when we have a national media that is a half-step away from becoming a state run propaganda machine, bans and limits on free speech are being spoken of openly and approvingly by academics, politicians and every other perpetually aggrieved party. There is intolerance being practiced in the name of tolerance. When we allow a group of people with political motivations to decide on the validity of speech, all speech becomes political and restrictions on “political” speech become restrictions on all speech.

2 thoughts on “The Doctrine Of Subtractive Liberty: Restrictions Of Free Speech

  1. All this devotion to free speech, and yet the only folks at the RNL who ever propose restricting speech–telling doctors what they can or can’t say, suggesting that the “liberal media” be shut down, etc. are conservatives.

    Let’s see, Joe, would that qualify as your precious “180-degree rule”? 😉

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