The Right to Offend

by Mark Steyn

When I wrote over the weekend about the trial of Australia’s most prominent columnist for expressing his opinions, I did not expect it to be quite so immediately relevant to the United States. But perhaps what’s most disturbing about Lindsey Graham’s dismal defense of his inclinations to censorship is the lack of even the slightest attempt to underpin his position with any kind of principle. He all but literally wraps himself in the flag, and, once you pry him out of the folds of Old Glory, what you’re left with is a member of the governing class far too comfortable with the idea that he and his colleagues should determine the bounds of public discourse.

I’m sick of that. I’m sick of it in Canada, sick of it in Britain, in Australia, in Europe, and I’m now sick of it in America — in part because, as Senator Graham has demonstrated in his fatuous defense, guys like him aren’t smart enough to set the rules for what the rest of us are allowed to think. In his column in The Australian, James Allan usefully reminds us of what it’s like to live in a world where Grahamesque types presume to regulate individual expression in the cause of identity-group harmony. I like his conclusion:

The only valuable sort of freedom of speech is the sort that allows people to do or to say what others find wrong-headed, offensive, distasteful and intolerant.

Being free to say and do what everyone else wants you to say and do is not a liberty or freedom you will ever have to fight for; it will make little difference to anything . . .

I think any good, well-functioning democracy requires its citizens to man up and grow a thick skin. If you’re offended, tell us why the speaker is wrong. Don’t ask for a court-ordered apology and some two-bit declaration.

I’ll take my chances with blowhard pastors, drearily “transgressive” artists, and flag-burning provocateurs. I’m far more worried about a blundering clod like Graham presuming to protect us from them.

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