Authoritarianism and Free Speech

The first victim of authoritarianism is free speech. Generally, it is killed early in the process, even before the authoritarians gain complete control of the country. It begins with special interest groups, with the assistance of certain media entities, establishing categories of speech. Each category has its words and expressions parsed into racial, sexual, excessive, hurtful, degrading, hateful and other classifications. These words and phrases, we are told by lawyers and activists, cannot be used in conversation because they offend or hurt people. Since most people weren’t using many of the words or phrases to begin with, few object to this initial restriction of free speech. Once the campaign has begun activist groups push for legal action to codify the offense of using these words and you suddenly have a law against “hate speech.” Who gets to choose what constitutes hate speech are those who represent the special interest groups. Once such a law is in place the government, under the tutelage of the special interest groups, begins to expand upon the words and phrases in a manner such that it is not necessary to actually use the words or phrases, you need only convey the ideas that the words and phrases may, at the discretion of the government, communicate. This begins the transition from censorship of words to ideas. Privately funded institutions are created to further the suppression of these words and ideas. They promise to fight to protect people from being subjected to the ideas or having to listen to the words and phrases deemed objectionable. In the process they add more words, more phrases and more ideas to the list of aggrieved speech. Before long you have the use of many commonly used words and phrases of description being cited as prima facie evidence of an individual or group being outside the newly established norms of behavior and thus constituting a threat to societal order and safety which must be controlled at any cost.

Prominent members of the government, present and past, will begin to give speeches and hold seminars attempting to redefine the meaning of Free Speech in the Constitution. As before, they will tell us that feelings and emotions of listeners trump the ability to speak freely; that people should not have to feel offended or threatened and thus it is permissible to censor speech and ideas to protect the public. They will assert that some ideas are too hurtful to be explored in public fora or in the media and thus are prohibited. They will tell us that Free Speech does not apply in certain situations like privately held social media groups. They will ignore the centuries long battle to include people within groups and organizations regardless of color, sex, sexual preference or religion. Some will want to point out the hypocrisy of such presentation but that will not be allowed because such action would offend and hurt, thus it is prohibited. The politicians will explain that government must establish standards of speech and that not all censorship is a bad thing. They will almost assuredly tell us that elements within the country are seeking to upset and overthrow the government. They will proclaim it is your duty, as a citizen, and that of every other citizen to join in the suppression of these words, phrases, ideas and the people who profess them.

Yes, the first victim of a dictatorship is Free Speech. Can you see what is happening?

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