The Fall of the Robinson Wall? And, a traditionalist understanding of free speech

Steve R. writes:

Subject: NRO firing of Derbyshire

I just want to report that the Freepers have changed their colors. It seem that nine out of ten commenters are on Derbyshire’s side and a fair number of them are saying things that absolutely would have been banned from Free Republic a couple weeks ago.

Put another way, in reacting to the birth of Trayvianity, too many of the “partially sane,” the Freepers, have awakened for Jim Robinson to continue exerting his stranglehold on free speech.

LA replies:

Interesting! Sounds like the fall of the Robinson Wall.

However, to quibble, I would not say that Robinson has had a stranglehold on free speech. FR is a privately owned website and the owner may set whatever rules on speech he wants. The problem at FR has not been that it lacks some abstract freedom of speech; the problem has been that Robinson would not allow his commenters to say specific, important things (largely about race) that are legitimate and need to be said.

In other words, the problem is not the existence of any limits on speech; the problem is the particular limits that Robinson has had in place.

LA continues:

What I have just expressed is a traditionalist or conservative view of the issue of permitted speech, as a distinct from a liberal view. The conservative recognizes that any community or institution is going to have some limits on speech, with the types of limits depending on the character of that community. He does not argue for an abstract, unqualified freedom of speech, but for the freedom of particular types of speech which he thinks are good and in conformity with the good of that community (or at least not destructive of the good of that community).

In short (to use a distinction that Jim Kalb has defined as the essence of the difference between liberalism and conservatism), the controlling issue is not freedom; the controlling issue is the good.

LA continues:

And to add a clarification I have made many times before, traditionalism does not aim at the end of liberalism as such, but at the end of liberal rule. There are good things about liberalism which can be non-destructive of society, if they are kept in their place within a larger cultural and social order which is not liberal.

Here is the way I would put it. The older liberalism, a.k.a. right-liberalism, can work in harmony with a traditional social order, so long as the right-liberalism is ultimately subordinate to non-liberal values and understandings. But when right-liberalism becomes the highest principle of society, two things instantly happen: (a) the right-liberalism becomes destructive of society; and (b) it starts turning into left-liberalism, which is even more destructive of society.

- end of initial entry -

Jim Kalb writes:

In your entry, are there classical liberal thinkers who explicitly subordinate freedom to the good? I don’t think so. If something calls itself liberalism, it always seems to put freedom first. So the way I’d make the point is that “liberal” can be OK, but not “liberalism.” Liberal institutions and practices are often beneficial, but not liberalism as an overarching theory.

LA replies:

An intriguing point. I’ll have to think about it further and look up some classical liberal writers.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 09, 2012 11:44 AM | Send

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