It seems to me, for free speech to function everyone must allow it, if one intolerant faction doesn’t, that intolerant faction’s free speech will be allowed, while they smother everyone else’s. Of course the answer is when the vast majority reject any faction, out of hand, that rejects free speech. Sadly that is much easier to accomplish as a thought experiment than in real life. It is free speech however that gave and continues to give, the Enlightenment it’s reach and power. Return to a pre Enlightenment philosophy and we return to the horse and buggy, the Rights of Kings and human slavery. A true educator would keep one truth, above all, in the minds of their students, “Resolution of any question should always be decided upon the merits of the argument, rather than the authority of the speaker, and the best means to do this is free speech.”
Intolerant factions are and will always be the greatest threat to freedom. An intolerant faction is any group of people, no matter how small, that will not tolerate something, in the context of this article, the free speech of those they disagree with. Usually, it is not because they consider their peers so stupid as to fall for a fallacious argument, but because they themselves are peddling a fallacious argument, one that can be easily discredited by reasoned argument, and so, reasoned argument cannot be tolerated. The intolerant faction is always made up of people who are perpetuating a lie, know they are hawking a lie, and so use violence to silence anyone who would call it a lie. Yet, it is tolerance of their violence, in the face of their intolerance of our opinion, that gives them so much power.
The best answer to an intolerant faction is not to tolerate their intolerance. When a group shuts down a speaker at a college campus, the faculty has an obligation to blare that speaker’s words throughout the campus, so everyone must then hear it, to stop shutting down free speech by creating incentives. Lead by example, allow others to speak, then demand the same right for yourself that you gave them. Every time you or I bow to the violence of an intolerant faction, we empower that faction to smother more free speech… until only their intolerant ignorant version of truth can be heard, all other voices are silenced.
The Enlightenment was a watershed moment in the philosophy of Mankind. It allowed humanity to ascend above the narrow mindedness that always accompanies authority. Whenever someone becomes an authority on any subject they have an incentive not to change the paradigm. If it does, someone else becomes the authority, and that is unacceptable to an authority. For this reason humanity’s advancement in every field is hindered by the very people in authority… always has been and always will be. The thinkers that rejected bowing to authority and embraced, truth by reason, were geniuses. They lifted the lot of Man from perpetual toil to the comforts we have today. All of it rests on their shoulders, but they couldn’t have done it under any other religious doctrine than Christianity and Judaism.
It is free speech that empowers the Enlightenment. Without the ability to make a point, there can be no reasoned argument. If any voice is silenced then all voices cannot be heard, that should be common sense, but common sense is as dead as a door nail… killed by an intolerant faction. When someone claims there can be no argument, the authorities have spoken, they are trying to return to a pre Enlightenment philosophy. They are saying the only truth is what they say is truth and no other. Which is the very definition of pre Enlightenment thinking. Such sophistry is used all the time today, to promote global warming they spout, “the vast majority of scientists say…” or in the realm of economics you often hear, “Economists agree that…” both are examples of a return to pre enlightenment thinking, and as such, are by their very definition, unscientific!
Without the advances of the Enlightenment, humanity will revert to its natural state, the same state our ancestors existed in from times before ancient Greece to the industrial revolution. All the new scientific advances, technological marvels and comforts we take for granted, are founded on the pragmatic enlightened mindset. Take away that mindset, smash the foundation if you will, and the structure comes crashing down, in this case our technological civilization. It would be like the movie Idiocracy, people would have the machines, but when those machines broke down they would not be able to fix them, or build new more advanced ones. Eventually all the machines would break down, and horses would become the normal mode of transportation again, as they were for thousands of years, slaves would be needed to pick the cotton and gin it as well, tyranny would rule the land again without recourse, and the lot of Mankind would be set back centuries.
The answer is education, our children must be inculcated with the knowledge that there is truth, and the way to truth is by reasoned argument based on empirical evidence, not and never, by some snake oil salesman peddling some magical remedy that heals everything. They must understand that authority has something to say, but cannot ever be taken as the final say, reasoned argument must always and everywhere take place, else we become stilted and cease growing, because while authority has valuable knowledge, they are bound to the current paradigm… and growth always leads to paradigm shift. We may never get to the perfect truth of human existence, but as long as we sharpen our understanding of it through the honing reasoned argument imparts, based on empirical evidence, with all voices getting a chance to be heard… we can get pretty close.