No freedom of speech

by Don Hartness

This week’s quote comes from Alexis de Tocqueville.  As I contemplate opening up my writing and really letting it rip, I am reminded of the many obstacles, of which platform and publishing are trivial.

No, the far greater challenge and danger is the fact that freedom of speech is just one of many illusions we entertain here in America.  Instead of writing a post about this, I thought I would defer to a historically brilliant observer of American culture and society, a thinker who’s words ring true today.

As Tocqueville points out, one need not fear as long as one’s words are within the realm of acceptable debate.  Woe to him or her that steps outside the lines…

I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. In any constitutional state in Europe every sort of religious and political theory may be freely preached and disseminated; for there is no country in Europe so subdued by any single authority as not to protect the man who raises his voice in the cause of truth from the consequences of his hardihood. If he is unfortunate enough to live under an absolute government, the people are often on his side; if he inhabits a free country, he can, if necessary, find a shelter behind the throne. The aristocratic part of society supports him in some countries, and the democracy in others. But in a nation where democratic institutions exist, organized like those of the United States, there is but one authority, one element of strength and success, with nothing beyond it.

In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them. Not that he is in danger of an auto-da-fe‚, but he is exposed to continued obloquy and persecution. His political career is closed forever, since he has offended the only authority that is able to open it. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to him. Before making public his opinions he thought he had sympathizers; now it seems to him that he has none any more since he has revealed himself to everyone; then those who blame him criticize loudly and those who think as he does keep quiet and move away without courage. He yields at length, overcome by the daily effort which he has to make, and subsides into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth. – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Ch 15.