Paste your essa Political Theory Essay 1, Ruby Rasmussen
Essay question 2) After the shootings at Charlie Hebdo, there was tremendous sympathy for the victims, but the debate over whether there are any limits to free speech continue. Are there any cases when expression should be limited? Why?
For centuries, philosophers, politicians and citizens have debated the grey area surrounding the topic of free speech. After the shootings at Charlie Hebdo on the 7th of January 2015, the sensitive topic resurfaced in a more urgent way, with many wanting to redefine what should and shouldn't be talked about in our society. The question remains is where do we draw the line at free speech, or should there be a line drawn at all? Should we, the citizens in our current society, be able to say anything we want, offensive, hurtful or otherwise, without any repercussions whatsoever?
Most supported the magazine's principles and the praised the complete right to free press and the right to free speech, with the phrase ‘'Je Suis Charlie'' marking the outcry of support and solidarity. However, some argued that the satirical magazine should have limited the publication of the offensive cartoons (Shabi, 2016). Mill would counter argue this as an ‘'offense'' and not a ‘'direct harm'' (Mill, “On Liberty”, 1869,).
Personally, I am of the opinion that it is completely impossible to have no limitations on what we can say.
As a 19-year-old, opinionated female student, of course I am an advocate of freedom of expression and speech. I am blessed and thankful to be living in a society where I have the ability to convey my personal and political views, and take part in our democratic society. Unlike during the times of Aristotle, a woman's duty is solely a familial one, her main focus being breeding and raising children. Aristotle quotes the poet Gorgias in ‘Politics', saying “silence is a woman's glory” (Aristotle, “Politics”, Book I, Chapter XIII). He goes on to discuss how women are indeed inferior to men, on a biological basis, saying that \"is as it were a deformed male\" (Aristotle, “Generation of Animals”, 737a. 28),” and how “he male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject'' (Aristotle, “Politics”, Book I, 1254b). In our modern society, we would consider these views to be anti-feminist and sexist. I would highly scrutinize support on Aristotle's views on women if they were being made today, whereas we somewhat give Aristotle some leeway under the basis of lack of scientific evidence and findings. Nowadays, such sexist comments would suggest a hindering on the free speech of women, and would be shot down immediately.
An argument that might lead on from this is that, if free speech was employed with a complete lack of limitations, shouldn't the person putting forward these so called anti- feminist statements be allowed do so?
The first amendment in the American Constitution states, “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” (United States of America, the American Constitution, 1789). The United States of America pride themselves on being ‘'the Land of the free'', and wholeheartedly support the notion of freedom of expression and speech. Donald Trump, the current Republican presidential nominee for the United States, has recently come under fire for making sexually offensive comments that hinted at him sexually assaulting women. These comments were recorded in 2005 unbeknownst to Trump, and were published this week by the Washington Post, ‘'when you are a star, they let you do it''. Abigail Wilson, a student at the University of Notre Dame said in an article published by the New York Times regarding the incident,” [Trump] “may not have physically harmed anyone with his words, but he has the power to do so by example” (Fahrenthold, 2016). To me, Wilson's comments perfectly sum up why it may be necessary to put limitations on free speech. Trump, as a potential US president, has the power to indirectly harm women by, in his free speech, showing complete disregard for the sexual integrity of a woman. Just as one in a powerful position may have the potential to use his expression for the advocacy of human rights, another can set an extremely bad example for our society.
In the same article of the New York Times, Karyn Sloas expressed serious doubts about Trump after hearing these comments, “She thought of the example that Mr. Trump had set for her 16-year-old daughter and her 18-year-old son. “I don't want him to think it's O.K. to talk that way,” Ms. Sloas said” (Barbaro and Chozick, 2016). Similarly, to the other source, Sloas thinks of the serious indirect repercussions to Trump's recordings.
Mill's “Harm Principle” states “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member off a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (“On Liberty”, Mill, 1869). This says that the only actions that can and should be prevented are ones that cause direct harm, and that ‘offense' does not fit into this category (“on Liberty”, Mill, 1869). Thus, unlimited free speech is allowed as words only technically cause offense. However, Trump's words highlight a scary possibility of him normalizing sexual assault. This in turn could indeed have grievous effects on the population he might influence.
I wondered if Mill would have agreed with the unregulated use of pornography. Many debate on the hypothesis that pornography has a negative impact on our younger generation (Broendel, 2009). Pornography is now extremely accessible with a few internet searches, and with the younger generation being exposed to unrealistic, extreme or perhaps violent portrayals of what sex is like, there is a serious risk of it being normalized. With porn so easy to get a hold of, would that leave one to believe that sex is as easy for the taking?
Yes, pornography doesn't have direct causal harm to females who are victim for sexual assault. It is ‘'offensive'' as Mill outlined. But could this ‘'offensive'' but ‘'free expression lead to something more sinister, or something that is indeed ‘'direct harm'' and non- consensual to another human being?
Another, if not far more extreme example of why there should be limitations of free speech, is Adolf Hitler, the direct causal effect being World War II and the Holocaust. With the idea of freedom of speech, Hitler would be entitled to his racist, hateful and xenophobic views. In an article written on BBC news, gay rights activist Peter Tatchell is quoted, ‘'denying [the Nazis] an opportunity to propagandise, gain respectability and enter the political mainstream might have thwarted their rise to power. Tens of millions of lives might have been saved if the free speech of Nazis had been suppressed early on” (Joyce,2007). I think this is a very strong counter argument to the limitations of free speech. Thankfully, in countries such Austria, views such as those of David Irving, a British Nazi sympathizer, are illegal and lead to his incarceration (The Guardian, Staff and Agencies, 2006).
Of course, we do have to remember the benefits of free speech, and advocators of it that have hugely benefitted our society. Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech (Luther King, 1963.) inspired and enlightened many of a society where African- Americans were not discriminated against. The first amendment allowed Luther King to express his views without the censorship of the then oppressive white males that were superior in the 1960's society. Unfortunately, racism is still common in a society where prejudices die hard, but thanks to Luther King's courage and his freedom of expression, times are completely different to that of 50 years ago. Barack Obama being elected as the first African American U.S. president in 2008.
In a perfect society, citizens could convey their differing thoughts and expressions in a peaceful manner, and engage in intellectual argument. Then, freedom of speech could be employed flawlessly. However, this is not the case. Without limitations to speech and expressions, in our world it has led to the unwanted encouragement of sexual assault, World War II, and the assassination of a civil rights activist. I think therefore it is necessary to have some limitations put on speech in regards to hateful, potentially and indirectly harmful speech.
1. Shabi, Rachel, 2016,“Charlie Hebdot Free Speech Debate: Nobody is Listening”, Aljazeera, 14th January, URL= http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/01/closed-debate-free-speech-charlie-hebdo-france-muslims-160114083733533.html
2. Brink, David, \"Mill\'s Moral and Political Philosophy\", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/mill-moral-political/
3. “Politics” by Aristotle Written 350 B.C.E Translated by Benjamin Jewett,
4. A. Parsons, B., 2002, ‘'Aristotle on Women'' Greenwood Press. Accessed: 9th October 2016 URL= http://gem.greenwood.com/wse/wsePrint.jsp?id=id49
5. Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 21, translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1944. URL= http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0058%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D1254b
6. ‘'First Amendment”, September 25th 1789. Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute. Accessed: 9th October 2016 URL= https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment
7. Fahrenthold, D, 2016, “Trump Recorded Having Extremely Lewd Conversation About Women in 2005” The Washington Post, October 8TH . URL= https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-recorded-having-extremely-lewd-conversation-about-women-in-2005/2016/10/07/3b9ce776-8cb4-11e6-bf8a-3d26847eeed4_story.html
Accessed: 10th October 2016
8. Barbaro, M and Chozick, A, 2016, ‘'Donald Trump Talks at Debate, But Many Women Only Hear a 2005 Tape'', The New York Times, October 10, Accessed: 10th October 2016 URL= http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/us/politics/donald-trump-women-hillary-clinton.html?_r=0
9. Brink, David, \"Mill\'s Moral and Political Philosophy\", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/mill-moral-political/>.
10. Broendel, K, June 12 2009, “Effects of Pornography on Perceptions of Women and Sexual Violence”, blog: AAUW URL= http://www.aauw.org/2009/06/12/effects-of-pornography-on-perceptions-of-women-and-sexual-violence/
11. Joyce, J 2007 ‘'The Limits to Freedom of Speech'' BBC News, 26 November. Accessed: 10th October 2016 URL= http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7113186.stm
12. staff and agencies, 2006, ‘'David Irving Jailed for Holocaust Denial'', The Guardian, 20 February. Accessed: 10th October 2016 URL= https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/feb/20/austria.thefarright?0p19G=c
13. Martin Luther King ‘'I Have a Dream'', March on Washington jobs and freedom, Washington D.C. 28 august 1963 URL= http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm
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