The Taming Of Free Speech –
America’s Civil Liberties Compromise
By Laura Weinrib
Harvard University Press – £33.95
When civil liberty becomes wholly compartmentalised and chartered as if a cheap and convenient package holiday, one ought to intrinsically know that dark clouds will eventually emerge.
Not by chance.
Not as if deemed there were ever a choice.
Not unless one were to contend with the recent hurdy-gurdy drone of contemptuous, spurious, US inflicted denial thereof. In other words, the bonhomie of Washington’s brazen eradication from that of its own written constitution.
So roll over Thomas Jefferson and tell Donald Trump the news: read this book. Read it at your peril.
Indeed, embrace The Taming Of Free Speech – America’s Civil Liberties Compromise for all it’s worth; as within its eight chapters, authoress Laura Weinrib subliminally invites America’s current administration, to grapple with the gauntlet of its own, high-octane induced folly. The triggered trajectory of which, all but the most inflammatory assistance of the President’s (current) Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon; continues to openly condone America’s roller-coaster of ride of complicit division. The constitutionally decided upon mandate, or so we’re told, whereby nationalism – that all permissive illness inherited from only God knows where – is now allowed to run amok with all the unqualified persistence that only rabid blind faith entails.
Presumably, Kellyanne Conway, ye unleashed Rottweiler of America’s buzzing news networks, would wholeheartedly disagree; but then she probably hasn’t yet gotten round to reading: ”the story of how the radical vision of civil liberties was born and how, very quickly it transformed.” Of how ”at its centre is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which framed popular and judicial understandings of civil liberties during the interwar period and after.”
It’s hard to imagine Conway and her ilk even having heard of ACLU and that which it represents; all the more reason these 328 pages (excluding Abbreviations, Notes, Acknowledgements and Index) are to be nurtured as if a mode of historical, behavioural instruction: ”[…] historians have long recognized the central role of anti-Red repression in the early annals of free speech, and they have underscored the labour leanings of early civil liberties advocates. Yet most have treated such connections as incidental to, even incongruous with, the underlying civil liberties project. With the modern First Amendment as their benchmark, they have regarded the radicalism of the civil liberties leadership as an impetus for attacking sedition laws or a precursor to a principled speech-protective position: a galvanizing source of outrage over viewpoint discrimination and selective enforcement, but ultimately a bias to be expunged, not an independent motivating vision. Perhaps as a consequence, the dominant literature on the interwar ascendance of expressive freedom has not adequately explained why or how the modern understanding of civil liberties triumphed.”
The key word here being ‘triumphed,’ which partially explains why if nothing else, this book is capable of packing a mighty elongated punch, right into the face of Trump’s very own misconceived trump-card. Namely that of free speech itself – from whoever, from wherever – will not prevail.
Suffice to say, he’s wrong.
And in time, all those myopic, perhaps horribly misguided rust-belt voters with a penchant for the easy way out, will realise as much.
So too, hopefully, will the President’s prime Brexit compadres, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and to a lesser degree, Theresa May herself.
All of three of whom are at the moment, embarrassingly vying for the big man’s attention.
As if the current cull of Rule, Britannia, weren’t enough.
As if a menagerie of Britain’s lionised lambs ever had it in them to actually know any better.
As if unconditionally led into the epoch of the country’s own disparaging, pending slaughter – ever ”more dreadful from each foreign stroke.” A lullaby of sorts, which, unbeknown to all but the most wizened electorate of sanctified democracy minus free speech, has now been unduly lulled unto a vicious knee-jerk reaction of vainglorious, hateful countenance.
To which many have already pronounced: let the vengeance commence, despite the fact that in: ”in the early decades of the twentieth century, business leaders condemned civil liberties as masks for subversive activity, while labour sympathizers denounced the courts as shills for industrial interests […]. As self-proclaimed partisans in the class war, the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union promoted a bold vision of free speech that encompassed unrestricted picketing and boycotts. Over time, however, they subdued their rhetoric to attract adherents and prevail in court […]. Conversely, conservatives eager to insulate industry from government regulation pivoted to embrace civil liberties, despite their radical roots. The resulting transformation in constitutional jurisprudence – often understood as a triumph for the Left – was in fact a calculated bargain.”
A bargain, surely worth it’s weight within the fine parameters of free- speech-actuated gold?
With such chapter headings as ‘Freedom of Speech in Class War Time,’ ‘The Citadel of Civil Liberty,’ ‘The Right of Agitation,’ ‘Old Left, New Rights,’ ‘The Civil Liberties Consensus’ and ‘Free Speech of Fair Labour,’ The Taming Of Free Speech – America’s Civil Liberties Compromise is an overtly bold and authoritative account of the history of free speech in America. Its assimilation thereof, might in some quarters be considered a little too dense, perhaps a little too dry for its own good; but given Weinrib’s acute account of what is clearly a complex subject, this is by the by.
As Mark Tushnet of Harvard Law School substantiates: ”Weinrib’s important reconstruction of the history of our notions of free expression shows how an idea first offered on behalf of labour radicals became transformed into a general account of why all dissent from the conventional should be protected.”
All in all, a major contribution to civil liberties; especially right now – in 2017.