Freedom of Speech: Its Source and Purpose*

Prof. Paul Eidelberg

According to the Sages of Torah, speech is the quintessential attribute of human nature. Freedom of speech is therefore a fundamental human value.

This value seems to have its home in liberal democracy. Indeed, liberal democracy exalts freedom of speech over all other values—including (with rare exceptions) public morality and even national security.

Now, if we exclude, for the purpose of this article, the current fear of saying anything critical of Islam, freedom of speech in contemporary liberal democracy, has thus been stripped of virtually all rational and ethical constraints.

Today’s liberal democratic exaltation of freedom of speech (or of freedom of expression) has led to its degradation. Witness the multi-billion-dollar pornography industry. Here let us pause for some clarification of terms by way of questions.

What is pornography if not a reduction of the human to the subhuman? Hence what is distinctively private is made public. Human beings become dogs.

What then is love? Is it nothing more than sexual desire, a self-regarding emotion devoid of any concern for the other? Doesn’t this kind of love make nonsense of Shakespeare’s Sonnets? What is love denuded of beauty? What is love stripped from truth—or from our human but exclusively human desire for immortality?

What a mockery of human nature if speech is severed from reason and truth, from beauty and love, from all that justifies the idea of human dignity. And what cosmic irony!

We exalt freedom of speech without realizing that it was with speech—with the words “let there be light”—that the universe was brought into being. May we therefore not say that the ultimate purpose of freedom of speech is to enlarge our understanding of the universe and of its Creator?

We need a new understanding of this freedom. Freedom of speech is a theological derivative as well as a political necessity. This is why we should be intellectually as well as politically concerned about preserving our Judeo-Christian civilization against its arch enemy, Islam.

Let me therefore say a word about the first Jew, to whom we trace the ethical and intellectual monotheism of our civilization, endangered not only by the absolutism of Islam but also by a mental disorder engendered by the university-bred doctrine of moral relativism. Let us recur to Abraham, whose dialogue with God may be deemed the original justification of freedom of speech.

Recall Abraham’s questioning the justice of God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah: “Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from Thee; shall not the Judge of all earth do justly?”

How humble and yet how magnificent is this God of the Jews! He permits Abraham to question Him, in effect to challenge Him! By so doing, the Creator of heaven and earth—the King of Kings—affirms freedom of speech as a fundamental human right!

But note well that this right, according to the Torah given to the Jews on Shevuot, can only be derived from man’s creation in the image of G-d. This concept, however, has been utterly forgotten by post-modern democracy. Indeed, this sacred concept is scorned by what is now extolled as “higher education” in the democratic world, which only democracy’s enemy, Islam, calls decadent! What an amazing irony!

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*Dedicated to a fomer colleague.

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