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Adler, Philip A. (ed.) / The Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XVI, Number 4 (January 1917)

Herrod, Jeremiah
Some implications of "free speech.",   pp. 115-116


Page 115

WISCONSIN LITERARY MAGAZINE
Some Implications of "Free Speech.
T      HE doctrine of the Freedom of Speech implies
something more than the qualified promise from
vested authority to refrain from hanging the half arti-
culate advocates of an unpopular or even of an unrea-
sonable cause.
Freedom of speech, to be of any significance, re-
quires three qualifications.  It requires, in the first
place, that each side of any pertinent question shall be
given an impartial opportunity to be discussed, and
that the conventional impediments to the expression of
ideas, intimidation by threats or implications of evil
consequences, exclusion from places of public audi-
ence, and undue influence of economic or other nature,
shall not be brought to bear against such expression,
by those whose position in the social order has made
them potent to hamper as well as sustain the working
of democratic principles. Further, free speech im-
plies an opportunity to be heard. An idea can be
suppressed quite as effectively by refusing it a hearing,
or by causing it to appear disreputable, as by prevent-
ing its expression. A dead infant is none the less
dead, whether still-born or post-natally strangled,
and a man or a movement can be rendered quite as
fruitlessly defunct by driving off the audience as by
shutting up the advocate. And finally it must be re-
membered, that as speech is devised but to give ex-
pression to thought, so freedom of thought is at once
the aim and the sanctification of freedom of speech.
With this in mind, it is conceivable that we may
profit by a consideration of the extent to which stu-
dents are in the habit of availing themselves of the op-
portunities the university affords for the freedom of
thought, and to what extent, if any, such opportuni-
ties are restricted, and in how far, if at all, restrictions
of this kind influence the result of our educational
system, that is, the College Man When He Gets Out.
If one enters the inner sanctum of his prayer closet,
and closes the door, and addresses the Spirit of the
Universe in a suitable undertone, there is nothing to
restrict his expression but his brain capacity, his vocab-
ulary, and perhaps his conscience.  If he opens the
door of his closet, and thereby brings his roommate
into the range of his ideas, his expression, if not his
thought, is hereby limited, and if he opens the door
into the hall the landlady may have a further numb-
ing tendency on his intellectual sensibilities.  If he
takes the street into his confidence, his speech and his
ideas become more formal and more reserved, and by
the time he reaches the class-room his eloquence and
his thoughts are buried beneath a weight of conven-
tions and regulations that render his soul inarticulate.
Thus it appears that there are strata of ideas, and
stratified restrictions that lie back of them, and a too
academic insistence on an ideal of liberty may easily
result in a ridiculous pose. For instance, few would
wish for prayer in the class-room, or a discussion of
current love affairs about the festive lunch-counter.
And we may have a reasonable ideal of free speech
which does not demand the inappropriate, nor insist on
the inapropos.  But the ideas whose squelching is
oftenest resented, and most righteously; the ideas most
often associated with free speech controversy, are not
of this obviously intimate and informal variety.  Let
us see what their character is.
On the street, at church, at the theater, in the home,
in the billiard hall or the saloon, or the rooming house
parlor, people who associate together share ideas in
common, about their common life. These ideas are
of public concern in so far as they are held by large
groups of people, or deal with public or socially signi-
ficant activities. Social groupings are characterized
by their stand on these questions; we have radical ele-
ments, conservative elements; a socialist club, or a suf-
frage league; a "Y. M. C. A. crowd," a "bunch of
atheists," or "some of our church people."  Princi-
ples of theology, of political or social organization, of
ethics or morals, of personal and social conduct, these
are some of the things in which there is common in-
terests, and of which discussion is profitable.  And
such discussion is going on constantly, in our college
life and outside, and usually it flows in one of two
channels.
There is personal discussion, and there is what one
might designate as institutionalized discussion.  It is
the latter which figures in heresy trials, in free speech
fights, in the censorship of literature or the intricate
"molding of public opinion" which in various guise
may become the last word in the suppression of
thought. For as long as one man speaks with an-
other, no man says him nay, but when the expression
of ideas becomes organized and socialized, safeguards
are in order for the freedom of speech.
And the thing that concerns us at present is this:
is there in the life of this student body, as an organ-
ized social group, that freedom of discussion, in pub-
lic, that no one denies to its members in their prayer
closets, or even in their billiard halls?  Does the insti-
tutionalized expression of the thought of the campus,
on principles of conduct, social organization or theol-
ogy, or what not, as evidenced in public lectures, in
115
January,1916


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