Herbert of the New York Times refers in a recent column
to "that most fundamental of freedoms – freedom of thought."
I doubt this assertion will elicit many objections from Times
readers, but it is specious and reflects a representative alienation
from what is the fundamental freedom.
freedom of thought shouldn't be belittled. Whether inflicted by
campus commissars or imperious politicians, foreclosure of particular
viewpoints guts the marketplace of ideas and is anti-capitalistic.
(There is thus a horrible logic to communist regimes' absence of
philosophic pluralism. Andrei Sakharov noted in the context of Soviet
tyranny, "[W]hat hits you in the eye is the state's extreme
concentration – economic, political, and ideological – that is, extreme
monopolization of these fields.")
of thought, however, is derivative from and subsidiary to the paramount
right of self-ownership. A couple of examples will suffice:
War on Drugs criminalizes the consumption of particular chemicals.
Citizens can condemn the drug war, assemble in protest against
the drug war, petition legislators to abolish the drug war;
and if they smoke a joint they may be dispossessed of their
livelihood, imprisoned, and consigned to a de facto caste
law is passed in Florida that requires residents to obtain permission
from a Bureau of Travel if they wish to leave the state. Floridians
can send mass mailings in opposition to the wretched policy;
they may establish websites to hasten the bureau's abolition;
and in the interim they are enslaved.
of thought is unmolested in each instance (the first one an actuality),
and fundamental freedom is subverted.
without self-ownership is like a Whopper without meat, and speaking
as one carnivore, I don't like a meatless Whopper. Two buns does
not a Whopper make, and freedom of speech does not freedom make.
sensitivity to self-ownership produces pronouncements such as Herbert's.
These bromides are not made in bad faith, but they are nonetheless
perilous. Disconnect self-ownership from freedom, and the consequence
is a rootless, fuzzy conception of human rights. Where the stakes
are one's spiritual and material quality, fuzziness isn't desirable.
course censorship should arouse the indignation of freedom's defenders,
but it's not the ultimate tyranny. Yes, freedom of thought is important,
indeed precious; but physical autonomy is even more precious.
Black Book of Communism, Pascal Fontaine quotes a Cuban
dissident: "A prison where you eat well is still a prison."
Likewise, a prison where you think freely is still a prison.
Mr. Autocrat, I've read Vladimir Nabokov's Bend
Sinister and want to visit Russia.
AUTOCRAT: You're much too important where you are. Thumbs down,
Mr. Autocrat, I think your decision's deplorable!
AUTOCRAT: It's certainly your right to think so. Your request remains
doubt Mr. Herbert would enjoy such an imprisoned existence with
expressive freedom. Upon reflection, I'm confident he would modify
his original assertion.