Rob Breakenridge has started a debate on how people of faith view freedom. He wrote an Op-Ed to the Calgary Herald here, accusing Christians of having double standards.  On the one hand, he claims, we Christians want the right to criticize the gay lifestyle, but on the other hand we don’t want gay porn to be promoted in Canada and licensed by the government. This, he says, means we are inconsistent.

Tim Bloedow wrote a rebuttal here, in which he said:

And they do. It is not philosophically inconsistent to be a strong opponent of “pornographic freedom” while also vigorously championing speech freedom. It may be inconsistent if your starting point is libertarianism and a view which does not recognize a qualitative difference between speech freedom and crass or carnal impulses. But libertarianism is by definition relativistic, so libertarians would be hard-pressed to require others to either accept their philosophical starting point as objectively true or concede to being logically inconsistent.

…to which Rob Breakenridge’s responded here:   

Folks like Mr. Bloedow believe that porn is too “icky” to count as freedom of expression, just as defenders of human rights commission believe that anti-gay or anti-Semitic rantings are too “icky” to count as freedom of expression. The test for whether one supports freedom of expression is how much you’re willing to tolerate that which you find “icky”.  

As I pointed out in my two pieces on this subject (which can be read here and here),  the libertarian view of free speech does not recognize two fundamental principles.  Firstly, they don’t recognize an absolute truth, or if they do, they do not believe it can be known definitively.  Recognition and obedience to the truth defines what it means to be truly free.  By definition, if what you are doing is objectively false and against human dignity, then how can you be said to be truly free?  Doing what you want or expressing what you want can hardly be considered “freedom” apart from a moral context, any more than the drug addict who has the “freedom” to continually poison his body.

Secondly, libertarians naïvely believe that any kind of expression – whether in speech or through “art” – will have no negative consequences to themselves personally or to the society in general.  Or if they do recognize this potential, they even go so far as to justify it.  Both of these beliefs are obviously erroneous and quite dangerous. 

Libertarians, of course, have no problem holding on to the beliefs they do because, for the most part, if someone trashes their beliefs, it’s not a problem since they have an underlying nihilistic mentality.  And so “free speech” serves their purposes quite well. They can say anything what they want; and they can permit the pornification of the culture because it matches their relativistic and valueless ideals.  Rarely can someone personally offend a libertarian.  But as I pointed out in those two pieces above, the inherent nature of freedom, if it not undergirded with, and respectful of, the Truth will turn into license.  And that is what essentially a libertarian is proposing.   He’s not for “freedom” understood in a Judeo-Christian way with its respect of human nature. He’s for “freedom” understood through the so-called “Enlightenment” which seeks to sever the link between freedom and truth.  If you don’t think so, ask a libertarian to distinguish between freedom and license.  He can’t or he won’t because he doesn’t believe in a binding, universal morality. In other words, he doesn’t believe in the idea of a truth. 

Libertarians have no problem defending “freedom of speech is under attack by religious zealots”.  If there is a truly grotesque offense of Jesus Christ, hey man, it’s all good.  Freedom means the freedom to offend.  And the people who receive this slander have to take it because we live in a “democracy” with “free speech”.  But, if we were to turn the tables on them, would they be so accommodating?  Suppose someone were to come up to a libertarian and call his deceased wife every filthy name in the book. Then suppose this person were to pull out a violently pornographic picture of her and plaster it around town, what would the reaction of such a libertarian be then?  If he aims to “take matter into his own hands” by ripping the posters down and taking other such measures, would he not be betraying his belief in “free speech”?  You may say he would be betraying his beliefs, but you would probably understand the reaction.  Yet if he did not take such measures, would he not be considered a coward and loser, someone who is cold and unloving to his late wife’s memory? 

Libertarians are all for free speech when it does not affect them personally, but unless they are some kind of super human species, if someone were to hit them hard personally, we’d see a good number of them reacting like most people would:  not with exceptional reservation and principle but with anger, frustration, and unprincipled retaliation.  It’s all well and good to preach to people of faith not to resort to “violence” or “attacks on free speech” when some offensive events happen. It’s quite another to live through it yourself.  For the libertarians to claim that they would, as a group, take their lumps and shut up if the shoe were on the other foot, is one big, fat, and convenient lie.

8 Responses to “A False Conception of Freedom”
  1. Steve says:

    Hi John,

    Another great post.

    I told you that you should have written a letter to the editor :)

    Perhaps you should send your article to Tim Bloedow to give him some ammo in this debate. I’m not sure he has presented the case as forcefully and convicingly as you have.

  2. Giuseppe Gori says:

    Very good stuff!
    Unfortunately it is quite over the heads of the new generation whose brain has been plastically modified to retain only ten second sound bytes and barely understand what they feel, but with no concept of truth.

  3. Tegan Millow says:

    Let me get what your saying straight: freedom is good as long other people choose to use their freedom in way that is consistent with YOUR beliefs, not theirs?

  4. Pacheco says:

    No. That’s your line, not mine.

    My line is that there is an objective truth and that truth impacts how we understand freedom.

  5. Citizen says:

    Democratic Canadian society has to be careful what they allow their elected officials, and Supreme Court Justices to legalize;because the Human Rights Act of Canada now considers the legalized act a Canadian human right, and social justice to be normalized by adults, to formerly innocent impressionable schoolchildren. The minority is now socially engineered to become a legalized majority. The indifferent and apathetic citizens also lost the first democracy to the oligarchs.

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