What does a broad conception of free speech actually look like?

In my last post I argued against narrow, legalistic conceptions of free speech. In doing so I implicitly endorse a broader conception. What does that broader conception actually look like? My intuitions say something like this:

In the public sphere:

  • As an employer, never let an applicants ethics or politics influence your decision to hire them.
  • As an employee, never let your employers ethics or politics influence your decision to work for them.
  • As a consumer, never let a firm’s ethics or politics influence your decision to purchase from them.

My thoughts on the private sphere are more hazy and uncertain:

  • Politics is not the sum of a person. Don’t hate those with different beliefs nor try to exclude them from your social circles.
  • Don’t try to narrow the intellectual horizons of other people or manipulate them into believing what you believe. Manipulation includes lying but also extends to not telling others arguments you don’t find persuasive but think they would.

These norms are extensive and some of them, like the one about employees not discriminating against employers, are uncommon and deserve an article of their own. Still I think that it’s not really these specific intuitions or rules that are important. They’re just my rules and I could well be wrong. What’s important is the underlying principle which goes something like this: “A free society is one where people can hold any view they choose and speak as they wish without fear of reprisals”. My general litmus test for any behaviour is whether that behaviour universalised would lead to a society which is more or less free. If it’s the latter, there needs to be a damm good justification for it. Not being able to find employment if you have the wrong beliefs is coercive and an unjust restriction on speech. Not being able to found or lead a company if you have the wrong beliefs is also an unjust, coercive restriction both for the individual and for the belief-holders as a group because they are denied economic power. Ditto for a hundred other things we consider normal and acceptable but shouldn’t.


  • Conflicts with the individual freedom we believe people should have. Strongly so in the private sphere, you shouldn’t have to socialise with Nazi’s if you don’t want to, and more weakly in the private sphere, shouldn’t have to buy from regressive leftists if you don’t want to.
  • The general anti-open-society argument. Open societies lead to bad ideas and norms spreading. We should choose norms we like and enforce them. Not through violence but through social coercion.

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