For the Love of Hate: Why We Have Little to Fear from the Westboro Baptist Church

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6 Responses

  1. birtelcom says:

    Is Mill’s comment about truth and persecution really a rebuttal to the optimistic view of the “marketplace of ideas”? The word “persecution” there seems to suggest Mill is observing not that truth often succumbs to falsehood in a free marketplace of ideas but rather that truth often succumbs to oppression in an environment which is not a free marketplace of ideas. You may be right that as an emprical matter falsehood may often defeat truth in an open environment, but I’m not sure that’s what Mill was saying in the specific quote you cite.

  2. Joe says:

    The fact the market needs to be regulated does not mean the market as a whole is a bad idea. Moderation in all things, even sound principles. Also, the “myth” of running free. If the truth will win out, it must mean that someone is promoting it. Again, for “the market” is not just an invisible hand.

    Any metaphor requires analysis and such, but you appear to go a bit too far in the other direction.

  3. Joe, I didn’t claim that the marketplace of ideas metaphor is a “bad idea.” I said that the metaphor was flawed. If what you are suggesting is that it is possible to have a sophisticated conception of markets that recognizes and addresses inequalities of distribution and access, and that this is the market idea we can export to the free speech context, I would agree. It’s the illusion that markets are actually “free” in any meaningful sense that I find flawed.

    birtelcom, I think Mill believes that truth’s susceptibility to persecution is an argument for expanding, rather than restricting, discourse. But it does not follow from this that we should embrace a “marketplace” model for speech, at least not the illusory free market model that the metaphor is often assumed to imply. The free market model presumes that there is some sort of “natural state” of markets that government regulation violates, as opposed to acknowledging all markets are always already-regulated. The government is imagined as the persecuting, restrictive force that ruins everybody’s fun. Mill, by contrast, had an expansive view of persecution, and he would not agree with any model that suggests that the government is the only or even the primary source of persecution:

    “Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things in which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.”

    If you are interested, I discuss Mill and the question of the market at some length in my article “Unwilling Avatars: Idealism and Discrimination in Cyberspace,” which you can find here:

  4. Joe says:

    I appreciate the reply. I think my comment (about markets specifically) should not be read to cover too much.

    You said this:

    The “marketplace of ideas” conception of free speech is deeply flawed

    If so, that sounds like “a bad idea,” but that wasn’t my focus. My focus is that since the market is regulated, in part to address inequalities and such, I don’t know why the metaphor doesn’t carry that along with it. It surely doesn’t, without additional adjectives, “presume” otherwise.

  5. Joe, the marketplace of ideas conception of free speech is a fairly well-established one, and it does carry with it the presumptions of free market ideology. As I’m sure you recognize, the fact that you personally may not be aware of these presumptions is not, without more, evidence to the contrary. More importantly, though, it sounds like we might be on the same page normatively on marketplace conceptions, even if not descriptively.

  6. Joe says:

    A “free market” remains a regulated market. So, where does that really take us? It remains the case that many who use the metaphor, often liberals that support economic regulation, do not use it absolutely.

    I don’t think we are that far apart, so won’t belabor the point. But, I would add that — having studied the matter to some degree — that “a level playing field and equal access” might not actually be assumed either. At least, in some senses of the terms. An equality rationale for campaign finance laws was actually rejected by the Supreme Court since it would reduce speech in promotion of equality.

    Money supplies an unlevel playing field but some who use the metaphor are not unaware of that. They accept it as part of the deal, just as the free market promotes inequalities.