In all our contentiousness about what free speech is (and unlike the Supreme Court, I for one elect not to hold that it is unlimited cascades of money pouring into purportedly non-plutocratic but putatively democratic elections) and about our rights to exercise it, nobody says much about what secures these rights. Sure, it’s a formal part of our political culture, enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution, where we read that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; …”. However correctly or perversely (depending on your own point of view) the abstraction that is free speech is translated into actual practice in any given circumstance, everybody pretty much takes it for granted.
But, as I say, what ultimately secures these rights of free speech?
Yes — free speech even for those sophisticates who are so busy these days excoriating the military and blaming America for everything under the sun and above it.
It certainly is not secured by the spittle-flecked narcissist in designer sun-glasses stoked to the gills on God-knows-what who’s playing at revolutionary and ranting incoherently on the steps of the campus administration building. Yeah, he promises the millennium, the new freedom, paradise on earth – if only you help him get rid of the capitalist oppressors and Western neocolonial hegemony.
Duh, dude! Heard that, been there – about forty or fifty years ago when one half of you wasn’t even that gleam in your mama’s eye.
And it surely is not secured by his older cousin, that trendy leftist weenie now ensconced on all campuses, the assistant professor in English / Comp Lit / International Film Studies who hasn’t had an original idea since she cribbed the Cliff Notes to Marcuse and Fanon, still thinks the Berlin Wall is standing all worldly evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, and pontificates with tedious and tiresome predictability in front of her captive freshman audiences that Stalin and Mao somehow got marxism and communism — those addictive opiates of the Western intellectual — all wrong (and here she’s not referring to Mao’s closing down of the universities for a decade!). “Just put me in charge,” she intimates, and you’ll finally have the millennium, the new freedom, paradise on earth.
Sure, sweetie, when would you like to start?
Now just move along, honey!
Nor is it the swarms of lawyers who, promoting this argument or scuttling that one, merely — to cite Frank Sinatra’s version of Jobim’s maahvelous One Note Samba — “talk and talk and talk and just say nothing, or nearly nothing,” and so do their own endless and unmusical versions of this legal one note samba.
And it is not the tortuous pronouncements of a judge — pronouncements that will please some and enrage others until the next judge comes along and enrages some while pleasing others.
Although some of these people – and some (like the latter) a very great deal more than others (like the former), I hasten to add — are absolutely instrumental at a more immediate stage in seeing to it that people like you and me and everybody else may say and write pretty much what we want, ultimately it is none of them who secure that right for us.
For – and this is an absolutely crucial point! — they are all arguing within a closed system, and if that system were ever breached, almost all speech and all argument in America would fall as silent as they are today in hieratic or militarized societies like those of Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq and North Korea – to name just a sad few in a long and dreary list. How many uncensored blogs, for example, are there actually in those countries and many others of that ilk?
For ultimately you simply cannot get around the fact that it is the citizen soldier in a military commanded by a civilian leader who secures for us our free speech and guarantees us the exercise of that most precious right.
I am neither nationalist nor militarist nor fascist, but I do know, more than ever – given the almost daily horrific events parading across the groaning globe — what side of my intellectual bread the butter of my expressions is on and how it is allowed to get there, and to all those men and women who have died, been maimed, served, are serving, and will serve at home and abroad in the United States military and thereby secure for me the right to say what I want I for one say an unapologetic and heartfelt
“Thank you, soldier! Thank you so much!”