Freedom of Speech and Expression in accordance with the Principles of Autonomy and Tolerance


This subject might as well be one of the most important talking points of the 21st Century and one of the turning points for the enriching of democracy. The question of the Freedom of expression of an individual will never go out of the discussion, the scope and relevance are unlimited. That’s basically the reason why due to the waves of democratization, no government could ill-afford to turn away their heads from the question of the freedom of speech of their citizens in these contemporary times. Especially when liberal thinkers like J.S Mill, Jeremy Bentham, John Locke, Frederick Schauer and many more have laid the groundwork and foundation for the importance and relevance of Freedom of Speech in the lives of one individual as well as direct and indirect citizen-institution interactions. When patriotism is given such sacrosanct value, then legitimizing the idea of critics as ‘anti-national’ becomes very easy and thus is a very manipulative approach which any institution of the government should refrain from. Not only does it allow convenient labelling of constructive criticisms and questions as anti-national, but it also undermines the very basic factors of what constitutes a fair democratic government of the people as there is no scope for accountability for any governing situation. This evading of answering to the masses is one of the dire consequences to the very existence of democracy and it all traces back to the idea of freedom of speech and the very question of censorship. However we cannot deny the existence of a legitimate dangerous side to freedom of speech which aims at instilling negative sentiments between the masses or an individual, how does the authority take that into account? How is it curbed without undermining the rights of the individuals? These are the kinds of questions we’re going to address while tracing back the genesis of this idea of free speech and censorship and its origins. The debate of Freedom of speech is a tough cookie to crack, especially in contemporary times. While on the one hand, everyone agrees that freedom of speech and expression are important and they enjoy rational-legal protection which isn’t replicated in any other class of acts in society, at the same time philosophers, legislators, citizens etc. never seem to be in agreement on why is it so important and to what extent should we go about unprecedented with this, or put it simply, how much freedom is too much freedom? Because hate speeches attack the dignity and safety of citizens and thus is an aspect of specific individuals, communities or institutions which gives out a very controversial twist to the widely accepted concept of free speech. That’s where Censorship comes into play; James Fieser called it ‘suppression of free speech, often on the grounds that an act of expression harms the public.”(“From Moral Issues that Divide Us”)

Lee Bollinger- The Tolerant Theory

The Tolerant Society, by Professor Lee Bollinger, offers an intensive, more insightful examination of our uncertainty. As great researchers do, Professor Bollinger shuns introducing any obvious goals to my contentions. Or maybe, he advances a reasonable image of the explanations behind our national irresoluteness and recognizes the shortcomings of the different contending schools of Free speech. He contends that the organization of free discourse, set up by the First Amendment, works essentially as a sort of instructional ceremony: by expecting us to be tolerant of the most despicable expressions and speech, the First Amendment instructs us to be tolerant all through political life. Bollinger's essential spotlight is on what he calls “extremist speech. His book outstandingly mirrors the sort of "tolerant mind" that its creator regards. Bollinger's tone is enlightened, delicate, and limited. His contentions have none of the "my hypothesis, right or wrong" quality that occasionally describes hypothetical lawful composition. He convinces by being sensible and conceivable; he is cautious to give the contentions he dismisses the credit they merit.

The Paradox of Tolerance

When we talk about the principles of tolerance and how it develops the predicament of human nature to listen to the other side, it shouldn’t mean that free speech is in its absolutist sense available to anyone and everyone. That’s what I have already talked about in the Introduction of this paper as well that Freedom of Speech is no ordinary right, it’s the kind that is susceptible to overlapping. As the debate on the limits to Free speech heats up, Karl Popper’s definition of this paradox really hits the nail on the head. “The paradox states that if a society is tolerant without limit, their ability to be tolerant will eventually be seized or destroyed by the intolerant. Popper came to the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.” - Karl Popper, in his book ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies” But this doesn’t give a Self Righteous Thuggery, the far right or left read Popper and justify that if even tolerance is intolerant itself then it gives the state the authority to convict anyone they like. This, however, is a gross misinterpretation of Popper. The liberal society that safeguards itself despite destructive viciousness is not the slightest bit equivalent to the gatherings that would obliterate it. That is on the grounds that to protect itself, a liberal society first attempts things like rational ideas, open discussion, casting a ballot, and an arrangement of laws that permit even nefarious convictions to be investigated and held unafraid of abuse. Nonconformists go after viciousness just if all else fails, if at any point, and just when the ideal techniques have fizzled. We use savagery just seldom and just protectively, with the point of coming back to a progressively cultivated method of presence when we can. For illiberal gatherings, savagery isn't the final retreat. It is the primary retreat, or about so. Popper's oddity, in any case, there is a universe of good distinction here. To Popper, Intolerance is possibly justified when we are confronting "fists and guns," or, probably, more terrible.

Regulation of free speech

This is where the crux of the debate lies. How can we hope for autonomy and sovereignty of an individual to co-exist with its tolerance when there is a clear cut paradox that none can exist in absolutism. As Lord Acton said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Thus that cannot be a sustainable context as an ulterior motive of the authority is at some point going to surpass both the principles of autonomy and tolerance of its people. If we had to base our research on data, The Law Library Report, June 2019 is sure to provide us with great insight on its comparative analysis of 13 countries from all over the world namely Argentina Brazil Canada China France Germany Israel Japan Netherlands New Zealand Sweden Ukraine and lastly the United Kingdom. In their Comparative Analysis, their study on mainly two types of regulation stand out, Direct Limits on Free Speech and Indirect Limits on Free Speech. Under Direct Limitations, countries like China came under scrutiny. Despite the fact that the Chinese Constitution proclaims that residents appreciate the right to speak freely of discourse and opportunity of the press, these opportunities are firmly confined by explicit laws and guidelines. For instance, China's Cybersecurity Law denies the utilization of the web to “endanger the sovereignty, overturn the socialist system, incite separatism, break national unity, advocate terrorism or extremism, advocate ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination, . . . [and] create or disseminate false information to disrupt the economic or social order.” Under Indirect Limitations, the study folds in many countries that have many restrictions against hate speech or as in ‘seditious activities’ against the nationality. Germany, Israel, and the Netherlands explicitly perceive restricts on the discourse that establishes a disavowal or acclaim for barbarities submitted during the Holocaust, with German law denying aggravation of “the public peace in a manner that violates the dignity of the victims [of the Nazi regime] by approving of, glorifying, or justifying the National Socialist rule of arbitrary force.”

The idea that Freedom of Speech cannot exist without tolerance is true but also has a paradox ring that forces us to dwell into the question of Regulation in free Speech, however, it will be wrong and extreme still to say that freedom of Speech and Expression has the ability to exist without the component of tolerance. It goes against human nature to base our understanding of the fact that direct human to human interaction is never going to be possible because that’s just downright wrong. The second idea that free speech will be redundant without autonomy is also true and proven as we state the fact that the Millian Principle highlighted by Thomas Scanlon embraces the notion that freedom of speech and expression is important because restrictions on them seriously compromise individual autonomy. He noticed that acknowledgement of individual power over-explanation and convictions requires that an individual must be allowed to examine his/her perspectives and evoke responses. Moreover, it also requires that one should not be, “ protected against exposure to views that might influence him/her in ways others deem pernicious, but that have the responsibility to make up their own mind about whether to accept or reject them. -


● J.S. Mill ‘On Liberty’

● Thomas Scanlon ‘A Theory of freedom of Expression’ - Frederick Schaur ‘ On the Distinction Between Speech and Action’

● Lee Bollinger ‘The Tolerant Society’

● Karl Popper ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’

● John Locke ‘A Letter Concerning Toleration’ The Law Library Report, June 2019


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