Political speech is not free speech

written 2023-05-12, last updated 2023-09-11

Even the most absolute free speech advocates usually admit one type of speech that shouldn't be allowed: encouraging real violence. The reasoning is clear: if someone sends a hitman to kill you, you are justified to target the sender, not just the hitman. Likewise, if someone posts "I think we should kill trans people", that person is a legitimate target for defensive force.

When combined with the realization that laws are by definition threats of violence against those who defy them, and that most existing laws are unjust, this entails that most political speech, even what we regard as ordinary, is not free speech.

The enforcement fallacy

Why you should be an anarchist

Should all speech that advocates injustice be forcefully prevented? Probably not. If A punches B and C argues A should owe $30 in restitution and D argues A should owe $60 in restitution, at least one of C and D is wrong and is advocating something unjust, but both should be allowed to argue. Many situations feature ambiguity.

If your instinct is "that should be allowed because it's not advocating *violence*", you're wrong. There's no difference between of kind between punching and stealing, but even if there were, we can make a version of this scenario that clearly involves violence:

A has been scamming people for years and has recently been caught. They don't have enough money to pay back all their victims any time soon. B, one of the victims, wants to beat A up. C doesn't want that because injuring A might hinder their ability to earn the money required to pay back all their victims. You might need to tweak this scenario to make it work for you, but my intention is that B is advocating unjust violence, but their position is fair enough that they should be allowed to argue - not like "I think we should kill trans people".

One might object that if this is true it would also apply to most non-political ethical speech. For example, someone with the wrong opinion about the trolley problem is advocating an act that might be similar to murder. But I don't think that kind of speech should be prevented, because it's not necessarily connected to any real-world events. Those scenarios are usually mere intellectual curiosities, with little impact on one's views about real-world actions.

But much political speech isn't like this. For example, someone should obviously not be allowed to advocate for drug prohibition. There's no moral ambiguity here, and it absolutely has real-world impact.

It's up to you where to draw the line between this and "I think government funding (assuming we can't change the amount) should be allocated a slightly worse way", but the takeaway is that you should scrutinize the ethicality of political speech instead of automatically granting it the protection of "free speech" just because we're used to literally anything being tolerated as long as it's done through the government.

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