Of all the freedoms that we have and which we try to respect, freedom of speech is the most difficult to fully understand. Laws have been passed about inciting violence as well as a law to help determine what are “hate” crimes, both of which can relate directly to free speech. This is tricky territory and yet it is clear that “free” speech can be incendiary. In a democracy, the debates about free speech are a constant.
The value of free speech was not lost on 18th century writers. Consequently, much of the satire of the early periodicals such as “The Spectator” or the “Gentleman’s Magazine” were usually quite gentle and often published anonymously. The aim was more to poke fun at the powers that be rather than to directly criticize them, an ill advised strategy in a monarchical society. Displeasing the King was just too dangerous and a writer’s chance of earning a living, just too tenuous.
The subtlety of what free speech really embraces is often lost in social media venues. Between blatant vulgarity and wolf pack political correctness, free speech becomes a standard that has no standard. We are all allowed to pontificate endlessly and yet, without doubt, it beats living in Russia or China. It is truly a cherished freedom, but one that is cloudy and opaque even at the best of times. We should consider ourselves very lucky indeed.