With Freedom of Speech, No Ideas Are Ever “Dangerous”

Everywhere you turn these days, someone claims someone else’s ideas are “dangerous.”

Latest example: Santa Clara University students hoping to form a chapter of Turning Point USA were denied by their peers after claims the nonprofit organization stands against “humanity.”

Turning Point USA is a youth group that promotes limited government, free markets and fiscal responsibility on over 1,000 campuses nationwide. A chapter request by conservatives at Santa Clara University was rejected by a 16 to 10 vote on Feb. 2 due to unfounded claims TPUSA is linked to white supremacists.

Advocates of unlimited government, unfree markets, fiscal negligence and (in the case of Black Lives Matter) black supremacy and anarchy naturally don’t like groups or movements with dissenting views. But is that any reason to call their ideas dangerous, or as somehow “against humanity”?

In truth, there’s only one dangerous idea: The false idea that someone else’s idea can be “dangerous.” Yes, ideas can be toxic or wrong. Racial supremacy groups (from either direction) are toxic and wrong. So is militant Islam, which teaches savage intolerance and death to nonbelievers. So are Communism, socialism, Nazism, fascism or any other form of collectivism.

But just because ideas are toxic and wrong does not mean it’s dangerous to express them. Holding an idea and acting on it are two different things. Such an irrational fear of ideas can only come from one thing: an insufficient confidence in the use of reason to refute them.

That’s why there’s no need for laws against freedom of speech. Unfortunately, that’s not the dominant attitude today. It’s especially not the dominant attitude on college campuses, where the free exchange of ideas ought to be the most prevalent.

I view this as a sad and dangerous byproduct of the decline of reason. There’s so little rationality left in our culture that people with strong views feel they have no choice but to obliterate, even physically attack, those with differing ideas. While it’s entirely reasonable to reject/eradicate ideas you dislike on your own property or in your own personal mental/intellectual space, there’s no basis for extending that policy to the entire society.

While I know that movements such as Nazism, Communism, fascism and Islamism will — if put into consistent practice — lead to the murder of millions and despair for the planet, I feel no need to authorize the force of government to prevent people from holding these ideas. So long as that same government protects the right of the individual above all else, there’s nothing to fear from the mere existence of an ideology that doesn’t.

America flourished for more than two centuries largely because of its preservation of free speech, despite the presence (if not dominance) of bad or mistaken ideas throughout that entire period.

“Your ideas are wrong. That makes them dangerous.” But an idea is only as dangerous as your inability to refute it.

People like these Santa Clara University students who define as “illegal” any ideas which differ from their own, have made the same confession as those students who respond to differing ideas with ranting and shouting: That they have no means of refuting those ideas. Undoubtedly they already know that Turning Point USA does not stand for white racial supremacy. If they did, it would be easy to refute them, and they would not be widely popular.

The problem is that Turning Point USA does stand for things like free markets, individual rights, a strong defense and a tougher stance against indiscriminate Muslim immigration. Reasonable people could debate any of these points, but unreasonable and unthinking people have nothing but name-calling and ultimately censorship on their side. It’s sad. And it’s dangerous, because the battered (yet still standing) First Amendment is all we have left between America as we’ve known it and the kind of miserable societies that have been most of human history. If and when that goes, everything else will go with it.

People who hold ideas without objective reason on their side inevitably resort to threats, intimidation, screams, shouts and other forms of immaturity and irrationality. Don’t give them more power than they deserve. Instead, uphold freedom of speech, private property and individual rights, including the right never to fund or listen to these ideas, if you choose not to do so.

Freedom is the only thing that works.

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