Connexions Quotations

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Censorship and Free Speech

Apologists for censorship invariably profess noble motives. They tell us that of course they are in favour of freedom of speech ‘in principle’ – then they go on to explain that ‘the greater good’ requires denying freedom of speech to people whose views they dislike.
- Ulli Diemer

Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever.
- Noam Chomsky

Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.
- Leonardo da Vinci

If you can control a people’s economy, you don’t need to worry about its politics; its politics have become irrelevant. If you control people’s choices as to whether or not they will work, and where they will work, and what they will do, and how well they will do it, and what they will eat and wear, and the genetic makeup of their crops and animals, and what they will do for amusement, then why should you worry about freedom of speech? In a totalitarian economy, any “political liberties” that the people might retain would simply cease to matter. If, as is often the case already, nobody can be elected who is not wealthy, and if nobody can be wealthy without dependence on the corporate economy, then what is your vote worth?
- Wendell Berry

Every thing secret degenerates... nothing is safe that does not show it can bear discussion and publicity.
- Lord Acton (John Dalberg-Acton)

It’s not enough to hold opinions like property. It’s not enough just to listen to opinions, as though the world were an all-night, call-in radio program. A true absence of censorship includes the right to make up our own minds, to change our minds, to act carefully on the basis of our judgment. All this takes time. It means putting up with a lot of nonsense, some of it dangerous nonsense, but refuted dangerous nonsense is less perilous than tolerantly ignored dangerous nonsense. And all this is inefficient. It makes taking other people seriously and expecting to be taken seriously in our turn. And all this might be too much to expect, given our system of censoring incoming information, ideas, and language.
- J. Kates

The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. This is why free speech is essential not simply to the practice of democracy, but to the aspirations of those groups who may have been failed by the formal democratic processes. The real value of free speech, in other words, is not to those who possess power, but to those who want to challenge them. And the real value of censorship is to those who do not wish their authority to be challenged.
- Kenan Malik

Of course, many of those who give offence are not progressive at all, but bigots &ndash racists or homophobes. But people must be as free to offend against liberal orthodoxies as against reactionary ones. Free speech for everyone except bigots is not free speech at all.
- Kenan Malik

Some want a full censorship, others a half censorship; some want three-eighths freedom of the press, others none at all. God save me from my friends!
- Karl Marx

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize
- Voltaire

The very fact that we talk of ideas as ‘offensive’ is indicative of the political shift that has taken place. There are many ways of disagreeing with someone’s views – we may see them as irrational, reactionary, or just plain wrong. But to deem an idea ‘offensive’ is to put it beyond the bounds of rational debate. Offensiveness is an affront to an entrenched tradition, a religious precept or one’s emotional sensibilities that cannot be erased by reasoned argument. It is a notion that sits well with the moralising, emoting, often irrational approach to politics that we all too often see today.
- Kenan Malik

First they arrested the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then they arrested the trade unionists and I did nothing because I was not one. And then they came for the Jews and Catholics, but I was neither a Jew nor a Catholic and I did nothing. At last they came and arrested me, and there was no one left do anything about it.
- Martin Niemoller

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
- Noam Chomsky

It is part of the mechanism of domination to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces.
- Theodor Adorno

Wherever they burn books they will also end up burning people.
- Heinrich Heine

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.
- George Orwell
  Nineteen Eight-Four

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To learn more about Censorship and Free Speech, explore the Connexions Subject Index Censorship page and the Free Speech page.