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America Needs Defenders Who Understand Freedom

Summary:
Former government bureaucrat has epic fail. When I was a journalist, I loved Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s assertion that the Constitution and the First Amendment are not just about protecting “free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” But as a government official traveling around the world championing the virtues of free speech, I came to see how our First Amendment standard is an outlier. Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that? That’s from Richard Stengel, “Why America needs a hate speech law,” Washington Post, October 29, 2019. Stengel is someone who one

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Former government bureaucrat has epic fail.

When I was a journalist, I loved Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s assertion that the Constitution and the First Amendment are not just about protecting “free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

But as a government official traveling around the world championing the virtues of free speech, I came to see how our First Amendment standard is an outlier. Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that?

That’s from Richard Stengel, “Why America needs a hate speech law,” Washington Post, October 29, 2019. Stengel is someone who one would expect to have a passing familiarity with the virtues of free speech even when it allows people to burn their own property. He’s a former editor of Time and was later undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2016.

Stengel apparently did not have a good answer.

That reminded me of a conversation between Dwight Eisenhower when he was a general during World War II and Soviet general Marshal Zhukov.

One evening for three hours, two top generals of World War II parried with words. In one corner, defending capitalistic democracy, stood Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Defending communism from the other corner was Marshal Georgi Zhukov.

At a recent White House press conference President Eisenhower, in recounting this World War II experience in Germany explained:
“We tried each to explain to the other just what our two systems meant, to the individual, and I was very hard put to it when he insisted that their system appealed to the idealistic, and we completely to the materialistic, and I had a very tough time trying to defend our position.”

This is from Koji Ariyoshi, “Ike’s Great Failing,” Honolulu Record, Vol. 10, No. 3, Thursday, August 15, 1957.

It leaves out the next lines Ike said, which I found in the Congressional Record. This is Ike recounting the conversation:

You tell a person he can do as he pleases, he can act as he pleases, he can do anything. Everything that is selfish in man you appeal to him, and we tell him he must sacrifice for the state.

Let’s see. Stengel can’t think of how to defend free speech from the criticisms of “sophisticated Arab diplomats” who probably are from countries whose governments have little respect for free speech and some of which probably murder people for exercising it.

Ike couldn’t think of how to defend capitalist democracy from a guy representing a totalitarian dictatorship, one of whose applications of “idealism” was to murder millions of innocent people. I know, I know, Ike might not have known about the extent of the Soviet murders. But he surely knew about the Moscow show trials and various other bloodthirsty moves by the Soviet government. Moreover, didn’t Ike see any idealism in allowing people to do as they please, as long as they didn’t violate other people’s rights? Apparently not.

Stengel pulled an Ike.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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