The American doctrine of freedom of speech, as articulated in the Bill of Rights, is 200 years old. The absolutist doctrine of freedom of speech originates in the arguments and discussions of Pierre Bayle ( 1647- 1706). Although Bayle has long been seen as a major figure in literary studies and the history of ideas, his contributions to philosophy have, until recently, largely been ignored in the English-speaking world. Philosophers have, however, become more knowledgeable about Bayle in some measure because of the writings of A. A. Luce and Richard Popkin, writings in which the profound impact of Bayle’s thought on both Berkeley and Hume is made evident.
Bayle’s monumental “Commentaire philosophique” appears to be written as a response to the death of his brother. Given the circumstances, it is a remarkable document. Published initially in 1686 and 1687, it is as close to being a complete defense of religious toleration as appears in the seventeenth or any other century. I believe it also contains the first articulation of a truly “absolutist” theory of freedom of speech.
The history of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the history of attempts to withdraw what had been promised. Even before the end of the eighteenth century, Congress passed series of direct attacks on freedom of speech (and of the press) with the Alien and Sedition acts ( 1798), thereby beginning the long tradition of subversion paranoia that, from that day to this, has been a hallmark of American political discourse.
Alexis de Tocqueville detected a source of the problem 160 years ago: “I know no country in which there is so little true independence of mind and freedom of discussion as in America…. The majority raises very formidable barriers to the liberty of opinion: within these barriers an author may write whatever he pleases, but he will repent it if he ever step beyond them.”
During Clinton – Levinsky scandal some experts focused on a practical issue, advising people be careful what they say. “People think that if they hear something on TV or in the film, they can say it at work (without fear of the legal liability). But that, of course, is not the case.” Of course, freedom of speech must not create any form of hostile invironment, based on race, religion, sex and so on. People using their right for freedom cannot produce any form of discrimination of blacks or Jews or women.
There can be some restrictions put upon freedom during the state of war and other specific sircumstances. I have no doubt that there were instances in the 1960s where opponents of the American invasion of Vietnam violated the freedom of speech rights of others and that some of the rhetoric of the day had a McCarthyite ring. As. Searle once said: “To accuse a professor of conducting secret war research for the Defense Department nowadays has the same delicious impact that accusations of secret Communist Party membership did a decade ago.”
But restrictions, tolerance and political correctness must not prevent artists, producers of the movies from making good product. The achivement of individual self-fulfillment is trully essential for the whole cultural progress of human race. Many creators of works of art were burn by fire for their attempts to make spiritual life of human beings more advanced.
Why have conservatives become so concerned over the current condition of so-called high culture? This is relatively new terrain for them. What goes on inside art museums and films oftypically been viewed to have much political impact. Nonetheless, conservatives have clearly become interested in these issues, as witnessed by the support they have given to the books by Bloom, D’Souza, and Kimball. Perhaps the late Paul de Man was correct when he suggested that this course of events was inevitable, because the “stakes are enormous.”
I don’t recall hearing anyone called “racist” or “sexist” or “homophobic,” and I certainly never heard anyone (except perhaps the conservatives) use the phrase politically correct. A few years ago”PC” referred only to computers. Oppression against freedom of speech in movies clearly seen on the example of “South Park”. This movie is an act of real freedom speech which was a typical fingerprint of America. “SP” film is an answer for the restrictions put upon freedom of speech in our society which are hidden under the “PC” term.
Michael Rust states in his article, South Park is not a sign of impending apocalypse, although regular viewers do occasionally watch an animated Jesus and animated Satan square off in a kung-fu match. But it is another sign of yet another turn of the page in the ongoing saga of American humor.
In her classic 1936 work, American Humor: A Study of the National Character, critic Constance Rourke argued that the American comic spirit had helped the fledgling nation spread across a continent and assume a national character. American humor, she said, had a single, all-important function, namely creating “a sense of unity among a people who were not yet a nation and who were seldom joined in stable communities,” Humor, she said, developed “ideal images, those symbols which peoples spontaneously adopt and by which in some measure they live.”
Likewise, what can we say now about freedom of speech in movies, on telephones, via faxes, on television, in cyberspace, and in other media? By and large, the answer is that free speech jurisprudence has evolved to be comparatively medium-independent. Early holdings that movies are constitutionally unprotected have been reversed.
I defend a more defensible view, one based on the argument for toleration. Being political uncorrect doesn’t mean being a racist, antisemite, sexist etc. That means to protect values of trully American freedom founded by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln.
- Luce A., The Dialectic of Immaterialism, Hodder and Stoughton, London: 1963.
- Bayle Pierre, Oeuvres diverses, 4 vols. Den Haag: Husson et al., 1727-31.
- De Tocqueville Alexis, Democracy in America, trans. Henry Reeve. Schocken Books New York:, 1961. Vol. 1,310; [pt. 1, chap. 15].
- Smith Carol, Sexual Harassment Arena Is Broadened, Binding Employers, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, Oct. 30, 1998.
- Searle John, The Campus War: A Sympathetic Look at the University in Agony Penguin, Harmondsworth: 1972.
- De Man Paul cited in Hillis Miller J., Theory Now and Then. Duke University Press, Durham, N.C.: 1991, p. 382.
- Rust Michael “Laughs, Culture Yadda, Yadda”. Insight on the News, Vol. 14, June 8, 1998.
- Burstyn Joseph, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952), rev’g Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Comm’n, 236 U.S. 230 (1915).