Don’t Fall for “Free Speech Socialism”

White nationalism is the controversy du jour in the United States, as elements of the alt-right have made headlines for violent rallies and clashes with counter-protesters. While free speech is protected in the United States, a growing list of companies and social media platforms have begun to refuse the business of Nazi sympathizers, drawing criticisms and accusations of squelching free speech. This idea that the right to hateful expression extends beyond government behavior is what I like to call “free speech socialism,” and shouldn’t be tolerated in a free society. No, Facebook doesn’t need to keep Nazis’ accounts active. Here’s why.

“Free speech” as we know it is a government invention

Let’s not forget that the primary purpose of the modern concept of free speech was to keep the government in check. We are all naturally free to speak our minds until someone comes and bashes our head in because they don’t like what we’re saying. The common concept of free speech refers to the gist of the 1st Amendment of the American constitution, that government can’t oppress the people for expressing unpopular or dangerous views. That right to free speech is precious, but remember: it’s about preventing violence from being used to silence you, not giving you a mandatory platform from which to speak freely. That part is your responsibility.

Mandated “free speech” doesn’t apply to private companies

Here’s where we get into some different territory: private property. In your own home or business using your own property, as well as in public, you are free to express whatever views you see fit. However, when you enter someone else’s home, they can kick you out if they see fit, particularly if you’re expressing views they consider to be abhorrent. The same largely applies to businesses with the right to refuse service to anyone, as well as platforms run by for-profit companies which include terms of service. No one is owed a Twitter account, and if you conduct yourself in such a way on that platform that its operators decide to remove you, there’s no room for justified outrage. Free speech hasn’t been abridged, private companies and individuals have simply exercised their choice of customers and associates.

Provocateurs thrive on “speech redistribution”

Here’s where the term “free speech socialism” comes in. Remember, in a truly free society you aren’t entitled to the fruits of someone else’s labor. Companies, including those providing a platform for facilitated speech, are the product of someone’s labor. They do not have customers and users out of some sense of public duty, they have them because they choose to, because such a relationship is mutually beneficial. When that relationship is no longer beneficial to one or more of the parties involved, it tends to get scrapped. Any sense of lasting outrage at being boycotted by a private business over controversial views is, in fact, a sense of entitlement to the fruits of someone else’s labor. Arguing for companies who disagree with you to be forced to provide a platform for your speech is advocating for redistribution of resources, giving you a guaranteed use of something you didn’t work for. There’s a word for that: socialism.

The most provocative elements of modern political discourse (predominantly neo-Nazi groups, though certainly not exclusively) take advantage of free speech sympathy to demand a platform from those they detest. In general, trolls and other undesirables fiercely demand protection from the rules they themselves flaunt, thriving on the wager that other people will follow the restrictions they won’t. Groups advocating for the silencing, removal, and straight up murder of dissidents not only claim the right for their hated point of view to be heard while advocating for the removal of this right for others, but want others to be forced to subsidize their speech for free. This is because they’re weak, their cause is weak, and they know they would never have a platform for their hate if they had to earn it and build it themselves. So instead, they pursue redistribution of resources in their favor. Remember, national socialists remain, at their core, socialists.

The speech debate all too often ignores the public/private divide

The whole argument over whether or not “we” should allow certain kinds of speech blurs the line between public and private policy. “We” as a nation-state should absolutely allow all kinds of abhorrent speech, but we as individuals and businesses should allow what we see fit. This is the best we can do at this point in time, but in a truly free market this issue wouldn’t exist at all. Without hard and fast government-enforced rules, the “free speech” defense wouldn’t apply at all, and people would simply decide for themselves whether or not to humor toxic viewpoints. In the mythical libertarian utopia, Nazis would likely have so few options available to them as far as businesses to patronize and platforms and areas for speech that the philosophy would all but die out. In a way, government involvement is all that’s preventing that from happening currently.

The next time you see a Nazi, Klansman, or other clear-cut undesirable whining about being cut off from using a particular service, remember that this is in no way a threat to free speech, but a threat to involuntarily subsidized speech. And that, in my opinion, deserves to be threatened, if not exterminated entirely.

Joël Valenzuela
Joël Valenzuela
Joël Valenzuela is the editor of The Desert Lynx. He is also the founder of the Rights Brigade, a mover for the Free State Project, and a martial art instructor.
  • David Colpo

    Too bad the standard isn’t applied equally. The firms banning so-called “right-wing hate speech” are applauded, but on the other hand, there’s a rising level of complaining that Google is censoring only leftist websites, which most certainly have been spewing their own brand of hate for years.

    • That’s true, and we’ve seen a response: the shift to alternative media channels that favor a more right-wing perspective. The free market does a great job of solving these kinds of things, which is why I feel it’s dangerous to view free speech protections as extending to private entities.