Partly because I’ve only had intermittent access to the blog over the past week, I haven’t got around to responding to Jason Soon and Andrew Norton on the debate over neoliberalism and free speech. Given this lag I thought it would be good to summarise the positions as I see them.
Neoliberals like Andrew and Jason are opposed to government restrictions on political freedom of speech with the usual narrowly-drawn exceptions (fraud, defamation of individuals and so on) but argue that
private property rights trump free speech as a general rule
. So, for example, employers and property owners can impose whatever restrictions they like on speech by their employees, tenants and so on, and government should not intervene.
I disagree with this, though not to the extent of arguing that no private restrictions on freedom of speech should be permitted. To give some substantive examples, I believe
- Employers should be prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of political beliefs or off-the-job political activities
- Similarly, landlords should be prohibited from discriminating against tenants
- Governments should ensure that there is sufficient public space (both physical and media space) to permit the free expression of political views.
On the other hand, assuming that there are a range of media outlets, I don’t believe that individual media outlets should be required to be ‘balanced’, except for a requirement to correct defamatory falsehoods.
Having summarised the two positions as best I can, there are a lot of questions that remain. Most obviously, there’s the question of which position is right, that is, which produces the best consequences? Second, there’s the semantic issue of whether issues like those of raised are, as Jason says
nothing to do with free speech at all.
Third, there’s the history-of-thought question WWMS (What would Mill say?). Finally, there are some more specific issues regarding press freedom and academic freedom that I’d like to discuss further.
That’s enough for now. I hope to pick up the pace a bit on this one, but I’d appreciate it if anyone who thinks I’ve mischaracterized the neoliberal position speaks up now.