20 April 2018

“Free speech” isn’t everything

Extract from Charles McCreery’s Abolition of Genius.

One might ask how it is that in the past men and women of genius have been able to make original contributions to thought in countries that had no offcial freedom of speech, publication, or assembly, if these so-called ‘human rights’ are as crucial as their modern protagonists imply. The answer is that these people of genius achieved what they did thanks to private incomes, their own or that of someone else. The societies in which they lived may have been indifferent or even hostile to freedom of speech and the like, but they tended to have a tolerant attitude to the concept of private property.

Let us consider some examples. Descartes’ thinking led him to two conclusions among others: that the earth rotated and that the universe was infnite. He included these ideas in a book he was writing called Le Monde, but when he heard that the Inquisition had condemned Galileo for expounding similar views, he decided not to publish it. However, there is no reason to suppose that he stopped thinking about such matters. The Inquisition may have been indirectly responsible for the non-publication of his book, at least during his lifetime, but they did not have any direct control over the private income which enabled him to write it.

It is even questionable whether the sort of censorship imposed by old-style capitalist societies is an effcient method of preventing the emergence of new ideas or works of art. Publication is only the last and most peripheral link in the chain of production of a new artistic or intellectual work. It is clearly more effective to attack the original thought at its psychological source, in the stages of preparation, conception or execution, by depriving the original mind of its fnancial independence or any hope of achieving it. Then the mind in question will be unable to provide itself with the necessary conditions for its work without first gaining the support and approval of the collective. If the results of its work are likely to be of the kind that the collective will want to censor, then this support will not be forthcoming and not only will the work never see the light of day but it will never even be begun.