In my last few posts, I have argued that the government has a duty to protect every citizen equally, and the support and preserve the world view upon which that government is built. This is all part of the Social Contract. In the U.S., we know this Social Contract as The U.S. Constitution. However, in my last post, where I argue that the government has a duty to support, preserve and defend the world view upon which it is based, I no doubt opened the door to objections based on the freedom of speech. In this post, I propose to argue the specifics of how one can advocate for a change in society without violating the principles of Natural Law and, therefore, the Social Contract that allows free speech in the first place.
Before we can determine the proper way to advocate for social change, we need to understand the areas where we can rightfully exercise our rights. In addition tot hat, we need to understand what — exactly — is included in our right to advocate for that change. In almost every case, this will include the right of free speech and a free press. So, let’s start with a discussion about these rights.
I believe in and support the notion of free speech and a free press. I do not believe that a just government has the authority to suppress either. However, I strongly disagree with the modern definitions of ‘speech’ and ‘the press’ in the United States. Speech is the written or spoken word. It is not an action. A demonstration is not speech. The press is a form of publication. It can be printed or electronic in form, but it is nothing more than another way to convey or express speech. But there is a catch here that too many of us fail to recognize or understand.
Let’s deal with speech first. You have the right to speak your mind, but you do not have a right to be heard, nor do you have a right to demand others help you with your speech. As long as you do not obstruct the free movement of others, or their ability to use the property equally, you are free to set a box down in a public place and give a speech on public property. You are free to speak at the public meetings of our various governing bodies. You are free to try to get people to listen to you wherever you meet them. But you have no right to force others to listen, or to take your agenda into a public institution. Your right to free speech extends only to the extent that you — personally — can voice your thoughts by your own efforts, and then, only so long as you do not trample the rights of another in the process. The moment you try to place a demand on another person, your right to free speech ends. This means that there is no right to carry an agenda into the schools or any other public institution. This is because those institutions are supported by all taxpayers, which means, by using them to spread your message, you are using the money and labor of every citizen. That is a demand and it is a violation of Natural Law.
Next, we have the press. The restrictions on the free press are a little more difficult for people to understand and accept. If you have your own means of printing and distributing something you want others to read, you have the right to do so. If you have the means to publish some form of electronic publication on your own, you have the right to do so. You even have the right to contract with other private citizens to help you do these things. You can pay a printing shop to print your pamphlet, or pay YouTube to publish your video channel. You have a right to do all of these things. However, the moment you cross the line and enter into the public square, you no longer have a right to a free press because you are no longer acting as a private person. This is the key. The right to a free press only applies to the private person or group of citizens. If the public square is required, then the government not only has the authority to regulate your message, it has a duty to do so. This is because the government has a duty to make sure that tax payers are not forced to pay for something that tramples their rights, and forcing one person to work for the benefit of another is a violation of their rights.
So, how does this look in our society today? What forms of ‘press’ have intruded upon the public square? Well, the first area that comes to mind is the public air ways. Anything broadcast over the public radio spectrum is subject to government regulation. Our schools are another area where the government has a duty to regulate ‘the press.’ If an industry has been turned into a utility, then it part of the public square and, therefore, the government has a duty to monitor any form of ‘press’ that uses that utility to publish its content. An example here would be, if the telephone system were still a legal monopoly, the government would have the authority to control the information that was transmitted over that phone system. In any case involving public resources, the government has a duty to regulate ‘the press’ (as well as speech), but this duty is not without its own limitations.
The government’s duty is to support, promote and defend the world view upon which it is based, but this does not mean it has the authority to censor voices that advocate for change. It only has the authority to make sure the public is not forced to finance those voices and those voices that are subversive or seditious in nature. In other words, the government can prohibit the use of public resources and shut down speech that seeks to undermine or destroy the Social Contract (i.e. the government) and/or the world view that supports it. The first duty — to insure the People are not forced to fund a movement — is restricted to the public square. Individuals are free to advocate for change so long as they do not use public resources. But the duty to silence subversive or seditious voices extends to all corners of society. This is part of the government’s duty to defend the People and it is based on the Social Contract. If the world view that supports that contract is attacked, then Society is attacked; and if society is attacked, every individual within it is attacked, which means the Natural Rights of every individual is attacked. Since this is the primary duty of the government — to defend these rights — the government has a duty to stop subversion and sedition.
OK, so now that we have a little better understanding of what we mean by free speech and a free press, and the extent to how and where we can justly exercise that right, what does this mean for those who want to affect change in society? If we are not allowed to use the public’s resources to spread our message, how do we do so? Well, there are many ways, and several notable historic examples of how well they can work.
In my last post, I mentioned the changes affected in the Greco-Roman Empire by the early Christian Church. The Christians had no money, no property, no political power and no legal status. In fact, for a time, it was illegal to be a Christian. Yet, by nothing more than the way the early Christians lived and the way they treated others, they changed the entire ancient world. In the process, they paved the way for what we now know as ‘The Western World.’ Gandhi and MLK both modeled their movements on this example. So we have three powerful examples of how people can advocate for social change without using public resources.
Then we have the example of men such as Karl Marx, Thomas Hobbs and John Locke. These men used the press to publish their ideas. From their, they gained disciples who started to spread their ideas by word of mouth. Slowly, the movement grew until it became a major part of the public conscience. However, in the case of one or more of these men, they advocated the usurping of public resources as a part of their agenda. In these cases, they should have been shut down.
Then we have the example of the American founding. They used a combination of these two methods. The generation leading up to the American Revolution saw a great deal of public discussion, especially in the churches and local pubs. Later, this spread to the private press. So, by the time of the Revolution, the majority of the Colonial Society had been made aware of the thinking that eventually lead to the American Revolution. Now, it is true, this change resulted as an act of violence. But there is a great deal more that lead up to that war that was not violent. If we will read, we will find that the founders said the change had happened before the shooting started, and it had happened in the hearts of the People — which is exactly what we are discussing here: how to peacefully change society by convincing the People to go along with that change.
“The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”
— John Adams
So, this is how one can advocate for change in society without violating the Natural Rights of any member of that society. No, it is not easy. No, it will not happen quickly. But it isn’t supposed to be. If we are going to ask society to make wholesale changes to how it is set up and how it operates, we have a duty to every member of that society to convince them that our ideas are worth the change. Otherwise, we are nothing more than a domestic enemy who is seeking to destroy society so we can re-make it according to our own desires. In short, we are presuming to play God with the lives and property of others. We have no such right, but the people we presume to have the authority to attack most certainly have a Natural Right to defend themselves against us — up to and including killing us!