Many ongoing “speech controversies” of the modern era involve a certain amount of tension between ostensibly private actors – media outlets, tech companies, universities – and the freedom of expression. While we must acknowledge the right of private entities to chart their own rules of content and expression in their respective fora, recent congressional hearings amply demonstrate that political actors are often lurking closely in the background of these controversies, ready to nudge the private sector toward censorious design.
Free speech is more than just a political right. It is a desirable social norm that sustains and promotes a culture of tolerance around the free and open exchange of ideas, even if we find some of those ideas objectionable. When the pressures of the state align against free expression, even indirectly and through private actors, it imperils this norm.
Unfortunately, the United States government has a long and sordid history of applying pressures to silence disliked political speech. One such episode actually threatened the existence of AIER itself in its infancy, when our founder E.C. Harwood ran afoul of the New Dealer economic designs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.