Giving Awards for Free Speech is a Strange Idea

[ To award and celebrate some kinds of speech (but not others) will inevitably mean drawing distinctions between good speech and less-good speech, no matter how hard you try to pretend that what is being honored is simply courage, in the abstract. The Islamic state’s A/V club is also “courageous” in expressing its point of view, if literally the only thing we mean by that word is commitment to expressing an embattled point of view in the face of great obstacles. And we obviously don’t only mean that….

You cannot honor “Free Speech” in the abstract without hollowing it out. I am opposed to violence against artists, journalists, writers, and dissenters because I am opposed to violence. And that’s why it’s just a bad idea to praise Charlie Hebdo, which represents (or is saddled with) a very particular, aggressive, and arrogant form of weaponized speech. You cannot honor Charlie Hebdo as the embodiment of courageous speech without honoring the content of their speech, their politics, and what they do with their courage. To praise “expression” in the abstract by honoring a particular version of what might make it praiseworthy makes it no longer abstract.]

Read the full piece | THE NEW INQUIRY


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