Friday, February 17, 2006

Free Speech and Realpolitik

Can freedom of speech be quashed, not through barbarism, but through smart politics?

The cartoons that were published angered many people. Right or wrong it happened. And I won't pretend to know all the details of the fall out. But if you would, imagine for a moment that all protests against the cartoons were valid from the liberal democratic view of the world. Sit in's, for instance, in the liberal democratic tradition are valid along with boycotts and talking and writing about disapproval. And just such activities can put pressure, the very real economic pressure in the case of boycotts, on decision makers. These pressures, thus, may put such a persons in a position to chose a loyalty to economics or rights.

While the idealist may see this as a simple question it becomes very grey when we consider that much of the strength of the liberal democratic movement has come from the free market system. But these two ideas are inconsistent as demonstrated above. Economics says to suppress the cartoons so as to not offend those with money so that our institutions may persist and liberal democracy says to print them so that all who wish to can see them so that the ideals they try to spread may persist.

This is one inconsistency and there may very well be others. And there may be other systems that we will later find to be inconsistent. Two questions now come to mind: Can liberal democracy and free market economics live together? and Can they live apart?

To keep them together could be simple enough by deferring to a commonly respected superior body when such inconsistencies arise. Though both of the systems will have to take turns making sacrifices. Another option is to keep one of them in its pure form and let the other degrade in order to maintain the integrity of the first.

Which ever path is chosen if it is not done with proper respect for the potential of the division of the liberal democratic world we may be inviting a conqueror.


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