Strategy & Free Speech

Nathan Robinson, who's rapidly becoming my favorite thinker, on free speech:

When it comes to the issue of free speech, a lot of people on the left now seem to subscribe to a position roughly as follows:

The traditional liberal idea that “everyone has the right to speak” is a fantasy. In theory, this may be true, but in practice different people do not have an equal ability to speak. Far right voices have far more of a mouthpiece (e.g. Fox News) than the voices of marginalized and oppressed people. “Free speech” therefore does not mean that we should allow more speech from the far right, but that we should try to elevate the speech of those who are not heard. Furthermore, being free to speak does not mean that you are entitled to a platform. Nor does it mean you are entitled to be free of social consequences for your speech. Besides, “hate speech” or speech that causes harm should not be protected.
Efficacy has to be part of any analysis of legitimacy, however. For example: if we are debating whether our country is justified in entering a war, whether we are justified depends in part on what we think will happen if we enter the war. It’s easy to say something like: Country A encroached on our territory and killed our people, therefore we are justified in retaliating. But what if we know that our retaliation will cause a cycle of violence that will kill millions more people, and that there is a diplomatic solution available that would result in no more loss of life? Retaliation, in that case, wouldn’t be justified. And yet so many of people’s conversations about justifications occur this way, dwelling on whether we have legitimate grounds for this or that action rather than whether the action will actually have a positive effect.
There is often an unstated assumption that because speakers use events to spread their views, shutting down events (whether through administrative action or forceful protest) will inhibit the spread of those views. But while this sounds obvious, it’s worth thinking more carefully about whether it’s actually true in practice. Milo Yiannopoulos actually makes a useful case study here. His entire pitch was that he was “dangerous,” that the left feared him and was unwilling to let him speak because they couldn’t stand to let the truth be heard. Attempts to get his events canceled made it look as if the left did fear him. Instead of dismissing him as the insignificant, ineffectual attention-seeker that he is, the left treated him as an existential threat to the safety of the student body. This was precisely what he wanted. It got him on CNN and got him a massive book deal (which he only lost after conservatives abandoned him for appearing to publicly defend pederasty).