There seems to be a belief that society should get together and create a body that decides what is good speech and what is bad speech. Recent noteworthy examples are Leveson, the gagging law and Mehdi Hassan, but I include the private correspondence of colleagues, in particular one or two colleagues who draw their views on speech from a popular religion.
As a believer in a marketplace of ideas – where false useless ideas tend to die and good useful ideas tend to flourish – this seems rather backwards. It’s backwardness is clear when one considers the question of how the collected members of society might decide how it’s collected members should be ruled (not that they have any right to). Answers to that question range from “benevolent king” to “leave me alone”. Which is best is the subject of discussion within the marketplace of ideas.
If you now consider the question of a committee deciding what speech is to be accepted by society then it becomes clear that you are loading the game. The ever disputed outcome of one discussion – who rules – is preempted by a decision to have someone rule over your speech. Is it not fairly obvious that those ruling over your speech are likely to have skin in the other game? What are they to do when someone comes along taking an extreme stance on that preliminary question? The temptation to fix the game in favour of the committee is obvious for all to see.
As such, speech should be left as open as practically possible so that society’s discussion over who should rule and what those rulers should do can be a fair fight. The legitimacy of a ruling institution comes from its constant prevalence in the market of ideas. If it loses it’s winning position, it’s rule should end. If it loads the game in its favour it’s rule must end, and allowing anyone into a postion where they are able to load the game is a dangerous proposition that ought properly to be discarded.