Prof. Paul Eidelberg
Freedom of speech is not an end-in-itself or merely an exercise in self-expression. Nor is it the meaningless prattle of children—although much babbling often occurs among adults. Rightly understood, speech manifests reason, the quintessential function of which is to communicate ideas, to inquire into their truth or falsity, their expediency or inexpediency, their justice or injustice.
Since speech is an intellectual/moral phenomenon, to sever it from reason, truth, and justice is to relegate this distinctively human faculty to a mere instrument of self-aggrandizement. This is the tendency of normless as opposed to normative democracy, a tendency that degrades man and makes a mockery of his right to freedom of speech. It has also made nonsense of the term “liberal.”
In the lexicon of America’s Founding Fathers, a “liberal” was a person free from prejudice, that is, from unexamined opinions. “Liberals” could be friends despite their differences because what they held in common was more important than their differences”: confident belief in the efficacy of reason and in the existence of immutable truths concerning justice. Hence Jefferson could say in his First Inaugural Address, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists”—a perfectly liberal sentiment.
Unfortunately, the pillars of classical liberalism were shattered during the twentieth century, primarily by invasion of historical relativism in the halls of learning. Today, in the minds of most liberals—also called “Progressives”—truth is relative to time and place. Like Darwinism, truth is evolutionary. But why “change” should be “progressive” and not retrogressive is hardly obvious. Nevertheless, it’s the mantra of politicians who know how to arouse discontent and democratic envy.
Indeed, as a result of democratic envy, justice in contemporary America has been reduced to equality—equality abstracted from a person’s efforts or contribution to the common good. We see, therefore, that just as freedom of speech has been severed from ethical constraints, so equality has been severed from merit.
Now, it needs to be emphasized that if freedom of speech is divorced from truth, democracy is no more justifiable than tyranny. Stated in a more general way, if there are no valid or objective standards as to how man should live, then there are no rational grounds for preferring democracy to tyranny. This is a logical consequence of moral relativism. Notice, moreover, that moral relativism does not logically justify the toleration of all lifestyles. Relativism undermines any objective grounds for preferring tolerance to intolerance. Even if relativism were true, it would be deadly, especial when confronted by Islamic absolutism, whose mantra is the love of death!
The only rational defense of freedom of speech or of intellectual freedom is that it can facilitate the quest for truth, including the truth concerning how man should live. But no such quest can even begin unless we already know, in some general and authoritative way, what is right and wrong. Clearly, the claim to academic freedom can have no justification unless it is commonly understood that it is wrong to cheat or deceive, to plagiarize or steal, to defame or murder. This suggests that moral relativists, who very much dominate the academia, take civilization for granted.
The true father of civilization is none other than Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. In his discovery of the one and only God—in Abraham’s monotheism—the God of Nature is also the God of History. This monotheism is the only solid foundation for the moral unity of human nature and the idea of the human community—an idea remote from Islam, which posits the primacy of force. To the contrary, the God of Abraham posits the primacy of reason. This is why freedom of speech has its home not in the dismal and distorted monotheism of Islam—a harbinger of death—but in the life-enhancing monotheism of Judaism.
In contrast to Islam, which regards all infidels as guilty, Abraham questions God that the imminent destruction Sodom and Gomorrah may result in the death of some innocent lives. But the point requiring emphasis in the context of this article is that the freedom of speech displayed by Abraham was manifested again and again by the prophets of Israel, who fearlessly admonished kings. Why so? Because the laws of God transcend the laws of men.
But isn’t this teaching of Abraham manifested in America’s Declaration of Independence, which admonished the king of Great Britain on behalf of the “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”?