This Prof. will Challenge your Perspective on Free Speech

Release Date
December 13, 2013


Civil Liberties Free Speech Liberty Rights

Everybody loves free speech, right? It’s in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But Prof. Deirdre McCloskey complicates the picture of free speech by associating it with the Greek word for persuasion: rhetoric. Free speech and advertising go hand in hand. Advertisements and rhetoric both have a negative connotation, but they are essential to the functioning of a free society. The only alternative to persuasion by speech is persuasion by violence. Clearly speech is a safer and superior alternative. And perhaps advertising plays a helpful role in society. What better way is there to make decisions about what to buy or what to believe except by people trying to charm us? What do you think about the role of advertising in a free society? Should advertising fall under the first amendment protections? How do you like to be persuaded about things?

Speech Isn’t Free When Terrorists Are Involved (article): The Supreme Court case Holder V The  Humanitarian Law Project, which said that peaceful speech can be criminalized if it is “coordinated” to support a foreign terrorist organization named by congress, was upheld in its first test.
Reason and Free Speech (article/video): Reason magazine discusses the importance of free speech. Included is also a video asking prominent figures “What is the biggest threat to free speech?”
Free Speech (webpage): The ACLU resource page for everything free speech.
NSA Squabbles With T-Shirt Maker Over Free Speech (article/video): The NSA attempts to stop a t-shirt website from printing shirts that satirize their organization.
What Does Free Speech Mean? (webpage): A resource page by the SCOTUS that clearly lays out what the right to free speech entails.

This Prof. will Challenge your Perspective on Free Speech
Free speech is a sacred phrase in our society. Everyone thinks it’s a good idea. It’s in the first amendment to the Constitution. Hey, it’s great. But I want to complicate things a little bit, because I want to associate free speech with the ancient word for persuasion all the way back to the Greeks: rhetoric. Now that sounds like a bad word. People are always saying, oh, senate campaign mired in rhetoric.
Is being persuaded a bad thing? Well it would be a bad thing if there was something other than persuasion that could get us to the truth, but there isn’t. We’re humans; we depend on language. All we can do is persuade each other about the Pythagorean Theorem, or persuade each other about the virtues of General Motors products, or persuade each other about who to vote for in the next election.
Why is it the only alternative? Because the only other thing you can do besides trying to sweet talk people—trying to change their minds, as we say—is violence. I can change at least your actions if not your minds by drawing out my .38, which I keep in my purse, and saying, “You believe in economics, or I’ll shoot you.” And you say, “Oh yeah, yeah, I believe in economics. Yeah, economics is great.” And that’s all we have.
For example, advertising. Now advertising has a bad press. They always use the word manipulation, I mentioned before. Oh, it’s terrible. People are trying to persuade you. Now wait a second. If an alternative is violence, how else are we going to decide whether Coke is the real thing? How else are we going to decide what automobile to buy, except by people trying to charm us?
In a society of free choice, free ideas, free consumption, you have persuasion as the only alternative to violence. So a free society is an advertising of society. A free society is a rhetorical society. A free society is a speaking, rather than violent, society.