Today I received an e-mail that sought to make the categorical argument that violence is not protected speech. Alas, that is not so, and it has never been so, and it is certainly not so in contemporary society or in any future that any of us are going to experience. It might seem odd to connect speech, silence, and violence as being related to each other, and on being worthy of protection, but it ought to be understood that each of them is to be protected within certain limits and for certain purposes. Let us therefore enter into a brief discussion of these unpleasant but always topical matters.
One of the most predictable realities of the life in which we live is that those people who cannot successfully argue their point are quick to resort to violence or threats of violence to enforce through their deeds the compliance that their words were unable to attain. For some people, not coincidentally those who often resort quickly and easily to violence, silence is taken as violence, for silence means a refusal to affirm whatever popular idiocy someone wishes to promote, some claim that makes sense only within their own demented mind and among those similarly deluded as they are. When it is impossible to give honest agreement and one does not wish to lie, one next resorts to silence, often sensing that the folly and lack of moral sense (or sense of any other kind) is not worthy of rational opposition that would only make oneself a target of their violent hostility. But this silence itself is rightly seen as disagreement all the same, so one need not speak one’s disagreement to be recognized as being in opposition to the orthodoxy of folly that exists in evil socities and around wicked people.
What is it that ought to be protected? It is the right and good that ought to be protected, wherever that is found. Sometimes it is found in speech, sometimes it is found in silence, and sometimes, lamentably, it is found in violence. To the extent that we wish to protect the good, we must be willing to protect all three of these things under certain circumstances. We ought to protect speech that is true, even when (especially when) it speaks unpleasant truths. There are a great many unpleasant people who delight in telling unpleasant truths, and such people ought to be free to speak them–if they are willing to listen to unpleasant truths directed back at them, as it is proper to pay people back in their own currency. If people are willing to be silent because they wish to refrain from saying things that would be unpleasant for me, I will honor their silence by not counting them as enemies because their combination of politeness and delicacy forbids them to tell pleasant untruths but also from giving speech that would not be useful or edifying. Similarly, I reserve to myself the right to respond with violence should people direct violence at me, to defend myself and that which I hold dear, and I would certainly hope that other people (and indeed God in heaven above) would be willing to defend me likewise.
The problem is not that speech, silence, and violence are not worthy of protection under certain circumstances, but rather that there is such violent disagreement as to what is good and proper and worthy of protection that it seems impossible to define tolerable standards of what sorts of speech, silence, and violence ought to be protected in ways that will not be immediately weaponized against us by other people who refuse to accept the same treatment in response. A lack of reciprocity is always the surest sign of someone lacking justice in the way that they live their lives, but unfortunately a great many unjust people seek positions of authority where they may exercise protected speech, silence, and violence against other people without fearing or experiencing such things directed against them in response. Should such people be immune from the misery that they inflict upon others? To the extent that we bring suffering into being, ought we not to be subject to that which we have forced others to endure? And if so, are not such things as we deserve worthy of protection?