The Countermarch

Pontius Pilate, Ora Pro Nobis

To the leaders of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960’s, self-censorship—once known as civility and decorum—was as dangerous as the social enforcement of civility by private organizations and by public educational institutions, and those social norms were, in turn, just as destructive as attempts by government to limit the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.  Yet the chief aim of the Free Speech Movement was not the same as the aim of the authors and ratifiers of the First Amendment.  The provision that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech” was intended to prevent a legal stifling of political debate that would allow a dominant faction in the federal government to concentrate power at the expense of the states and the people.  (We can see how well that worked.)  That freedom of speech would eventually be invoked to defend the word f--k, the depraved imagination of Larry Flynt, and even the promotion of murder would have boggled James Madison’s mind.

The ultimate aim of the Free Speech Movement, on the other hand, was to make a decisive break with the institutions and practices that had emerged from, and sustained, what we once called Christendom.  Those who rallied behind the banner of free speech recognized that words had power—both the power to build up and (more importantly for their purposes) the power to...

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