Why Freedom of Speech doesn’t exist, why it isn’t a defence when you say something stupid and why the Met is right to arrest anyone who leaked documents
You do not have the right to free speech. It does not exist. Freedom of speech as Murray Rothbard so aptly put it is merely an extension of property rights.
This is not just a technical point. Claiming freedom of speech as a right, as Rothbard says ‘weaken[s] of the very concept of rights.’ You do not have a right to say what you want, where you want, when you want. If Freedom of Speech was a right then of course you would, not one would be legitimised in shutting you up at any point.
But Freedom of Speech is not a right. Property rights are. You have every right to say whatever you want on your own property. You can hire a hall and preach whatever message you want till you are blue in the face. You have no right to enter my property, my hall, my theatre and say whatever you like. Silencing you on my property is not infringing upon your rights at all.
The often used argument against Free Speech is the shouting fire in a crowded theatre example. But this again misunderstands free speech. You do not have the free speech to shout fire in a crowded theatre as you are breaking a contractual agreement. If you are a crowd member you have bought a ticket on the condition that you do not interrupt the performance. If you are the owner you sold tickets on the condition that the performance would not be unnecessarily interrupted.
Free speech is absolute, on your own property. Free speech elsewhere is contingent on the property owner agreeing to it.
Free speech also isn’t a defence when someone is criticised for saying something stupid. The number of times I have seen people defending others from criticism by citing free speech beggars belief. By all means defend their right to say whatever nonsense they have, but that is no defence against criticism, anger or even personal insults. You have every right to say something I find insulting. I have every right to be insulted and be angry. It is no defence to say ‘don’t criticise them it is free speech’ for I too have free speech to attack your ideas or label you a jerk.
Finally, the Met has been criticised by some (by some read people I saw on twitter) for arresting the man who may have leaked documents about plebgate to the media. Apparently this is a brutal attack on free speech. It isn’t. When you work for an organisation that handles sensitive information you sign a contract promising to respect the confidentiality of that information. A quick google search indicated that the Met seems to require some sort of confidentiality agreement, but I am willing to be corrected on this. In my eyes they are foolish if they don’t. When you leak information you are breaching the contract you signed, and your employer rightfully has a case against you. Of course if you leak illegal doings such as Bradley Manning did, you are not breaching your contract (your employer has invalidated your contract by doing or requiring you to do things that you did not agree to). In the case of this police officer there was no wrong doing by the Met, he chose to leak sensitive information against his contractual agreement. He broke his contractual agreement, it is not snuffing out free speech to take action against him, it is following contract law.
Free speech is not a right, it depends on a whole range of things such as whose property you are on, and what contracts you have agreed to. To call free speech a right is to misunderstand what rights are and where they come from. Stop doing it. You have no right to say what you want in my house, you have every right to do it in yours. As I said in the title of the piece – shut up and go home.
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