The Radical Roots of Free Speech
Date Written: 25/07/2019
Year Published: 2019
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX23789
Interview with Laura Weinrib author of "The Taming of Free Speech: America's Civil Liberties Compromise."
Freedom of speech has been a battleground between the Left and the Right for at least a century. Yet, in recent years, this conflict has taken a peculiar twist, with leftists frequently presented as opponents of civil liberties and conservatives as defenders of freedom of expression.
Whether or not this is accurate (hint: its not), the depiction is a reversal from previous decades, when the Right launched censorship campaigns to further conservative causes and leftists cast themselves as unapologetic partisans of free speech. It also gets the origins of the modern civil liberties movement backward....
Q: How did conservatives come to advocate for civil liberties in this organization founded by radicals, and how did their defense of civil liberties differ from their liberal and left counterparts?
LW: Conservative support for civil liberties before the New Deal was pretty tepid. Although conservatives did worry about government intrusion on individual rights, they were more concerned about preserving the rule of law. During the first Red Scare, they pushed through a wave of state sedition laws and called for vigorous prosecution of labor radicals and alleged subversives.