A certain fantasy has plagued the modern American conservative movement. In this fantasy, a society of civic-minded gentlemen meet in an open forum, have debates in the purest good faith, and allow the strength of their arguments to win on any question. It is a true marketplace of ideas, and even if disagreements arise, mutual respect and civility would ensure that all perspectives were validated in some form.
As Michael Knowles makes clear in his recent book “Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds,” this fantasy has crippled conservatives again and again. In the real world, arguments are often won on the basis of the volume and force behind them, rather than on facts and logic. And no amount of free speech advocacy and appeals to classical liberalism are going to change this.
From the outset of his book, Knowles recognizes that today’s speech is less a matter of semantics and etymology and more a matter of who holds the power.