Formal power is easy to identify. One can always look to a political leader or a CEO and say ‘That man is in charge”. However, it is not always so simple to identify those who wield more informal power. A common example of this happens at many universities, in which the liberal students will decry how conservative the institution is while at the same time the conservative students will bemoan just how liberal everyone and everything happens to be.
Who is right? This appears to be a simple question, yet finding the answer is exceedingly difficult. However, this is one heuristic I’ve found that has yet to fail me.
Simply take note of which groups of people are more willing to restrict free speech.
Why does this association hold true? Simple. Allowing the proliferation of free speech necessarily increases the inherent chaos and conflict found in the marketplace of ideas. Chaos lends itself well to creativity and innovation, but not to stability and security. Now, stability and security are the foundations of any hierarchy, including a hierarchy of ideas.
Starting to see the connections yet?
If you remove stability and security, you threaten the hierarchy with disruption. This threatens those that are most reliant on the hierarchy to endure. Any threat to the hierarchy must be crushed if the status quo is to endure.
Lets make this a little less abstract. If you have two political parties, which one is more likely to call for restrictions on free speech? Answer: the one in power, because free speech leads to new ideas and new ideas threaten the existing system of power. Removing free speech removes the possibility of challenges to the hierarchy that could arise from the promulgation of unrestricted communication.
When you are in power, free speech is a liability. When you are not, free speech is a necessity. This is why Nazis burned books when they ran Germany and nowadays appeal to free speech protections with desperate vigor.
Free speech only threatens those in power. Those out of power need it too much to worry much about restricting it.
Voltaire once said “To learn who rules over you, simply found out who you are not allowed to criticize.” There is much truth in this statement. However, its scope is too narrow.
If you wish to know who rules over you, find out who is trying to restrict your right to speech in any form.
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