“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Many people mistakenly attribute the above quote to French writer, deist and philosopher Voltaire.* And in recent days, too many conservatives have mistakenly abandoned this principle as they scurry to distance themselves from John Derbyshire’s piece, “The Talk: The NonBlack Version.”
It’s a familiar phrase in conservative circles, isn’t it? “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Conservatives rightly decry the social tyranny known as “political correctness,” correctly pointing out that liberals violate both spirit and letter of the law in their brash attempts to squelch conservative speech. But what happens when conservatives employ this tactic to discourage speech with which they disagree?
Our founders held that a citizen’s freedom of speech – especially political speech – was so important that they amended the United States Constitution in 1791. The first amendment they ratified reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
So the Constitution makes it clear that our Federal government has no authority to exercise control over the speech of a private citizen, no matter how disgusting or offensive. But what happens if fellow conservatives independently begin to “outlaw” certain speech, deeming it unacceptable?
Constitutional conservatives have long maintained that our First Amendment guarantees that vile, hateful, disagreeable, unpleasant, foolish and even outright stupid speech is protected by law. In other words, people are free to say almost anything that doesn’t actually endanger other people. It may not be wise to say it. It may make the listener or reader or viewer uncomfortable to hear it. But US citizens have an absolute right to speak, write and broadcast their opinions.
That is, until we get to the tenuous topic of race relations in America. Racism remains a subject where conservatives – especially nonBlack conservatives – dare not tread.
Make no mistake: We don’t defend Derbyshire or his ideas. He’s a lucid writer, and can do that himself, if he so chooses. Liberals, statists, and actual racists who oppose conservatism for a wide variety of reasons will castigate, ridicule, marginalize, and even threaten Derbyshire. They are the hypocrites who claim to defend free speech rights, but demand the head of anyone who makes what they deem to be an unsavory comment.
But a good number of self-proclaimed conservatives fell all over themselves condemning Derbyshire’s writing. “I disapprove of what you say…” was all we heard from them. And we’re still hearing that. There was absolutely no defense of a person’s right to express thoughts or opinions, even if we don’t like them. Perhaps this was an unthinking reaction by critics anxious to avoid being branded a “racist” themselves. Where is the arguably more-important “…but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”?
Whatever their motivation, this parade of harsh and instant conservative condemnation accomplished two things. First, it dramatically lessened the likelihood that Americans will ever have a serious, constructive conversation about race relations. We desperately need thoughtful conservatives to discuss the racial divide in America. And it isn’t going to be pretty. It’s a touchy subject for everyone involved.
Second, it strengthens the hand of racists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. With the assistance of a willing media, they have driven the narrative for decades. Now that conservatives have destroyed one of their own so swiftly in absolute obedience to the left’s dogma, these two have an even tighter lock on the issue.
Who will change this paradigm? Jackson and Sharpton? We now know that racial division is central to Barack Hussein Obama’s re-election plan, so it won’t be the President or his minions, either.
If you’re a conservative, no matter how offended you are by what Derbyshire has posted, you owe it to your country and to fellow conservatives to defend his right to speak and write.
And here’s something Voltaire really did say: “To hold a pen is to be at war.” Too many of our friends just retreated, taking their wit and writing instruments to the rear, riding unknowingly under the liberal banner “Raaaaaaaaaaacist.”
Reject cowardice! Burn that banner in open defiance of the left, and get back in the fight.
There’s a war on, you know: