How important is free speech, anyway?
Some people are content to value the right to property. This right allows them to lay claim to various forms of property, with the assurance that this ownership will be protected. Of course, this is all good and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to secure whatever it is that one owns. Sure enough, being an owner of anything also presupposes that you have rights over that which you own. However, for a number of people, this right is hardly something that every person can relate to, precisely because not all people have property to boast of and exercise rights over, to begin with.
Here’s one right that’s freely available for everyone, though: the freedom of speech. With everyone being outwardly capable of expressing himself or herself, it is quite easy to see how and why the freedom of speech is a right that anyone and everyone can freely tap into and use, especially in times when you deeply disagree with something, and speaking against it seems to be the best thing you could do. (Suffice it to say that not everyone can afford an Amsterdam holiday, but everyone can afford an opinion.) So, here are some reasons why free speech is important (and why you should defend it at all times).
Reasons Why Free Speech is Important
First of all, freedom of speech is necessary for self-government. If you think that you are a citizen of a free country, then you do have a right to hear all sides of public questions. Your choice is not completely free if someone has the power to limit what facts and opinions you are allowed to hear.
Second, freedom of speech is important because it is an essential right of the individual. Being able to speak your mind without fear is necessary for human flourishing. Surely, nobody can be happy if they have to conceal their opinions out of fear. An example of how important free speech is the fact that anyone can build a website, and this website can contain any opinion.
Third, free speech is important also because it is a form of social contract. It provides a way in which people of radically different opinions can live together without violence. Thus, one person can freely and deeply disagree with another person, and that other person may feel the same way, but it’s better for both sides to get to a particular level of peace and agreement. It’s like showing the rest of the world that despite the disagreement you choose to be peace loving people and you choose to live in harmony with each other, so you don’t resort to violence. Instead, you simply choose to verbally and calmly express your disagreement.
Fourth, free speech is important because it is the most valuable right to the least powerful. The rich and powerful in any framework will be able to make their views known. Reformers, dissidents and the poor and marginalized are the ones most in need of the right of free speech, and that is true even if they have less of it than the powerful.