#NeverLiberal

A new meme that came to me when reading this story at Volokh about the American Bar Association’s new proposed rule concerning, inter alia, professional misconduct sanctions for lawyers who engage in “verbal conduct” (which sounds rather like speech) that “manifests bias or prejudice” or is “derogatory or demeaning” on matters related to “race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status.” The proposed rule applies to the “practice of law,” which includes “participating in bar association, business or social activities in connection with the practice of law.”

Eugene Volokh offers some interesting questions of the proposed rule’s application. I’m more interested in the ABA’s changing view of speech–from a traditional liberal view to an anti-liberal view. Haven’t we been lectured time and again by the titans of the bar (not to mention the Supreme Court’s sanctimonious diatribes on the matter) about the value of offensive ideas? About the civic importance of tolerating the expression of those ideas which we reject. Here’s one little refresher: something from Justice Douglas’s opinion in Terminiello v. City of Chicago, though many others would have sufficed:

The vitality of civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion….[I]t is only through free debate and free exchange of ideas that government remains responsive to the will of the people and peaceful change is effected. The right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas and programs is therefore one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes. Accordingly, a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute….Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.

This sort of view could, of course, be challenged. Is it really true that because Terminiello’s advocacy of fascist ideas and race and class hatred might actually persuade people–might convince them to abandon all of those nasty “prejudices and preconceptions”–that the government is therefore powerless to regulate it? Is it better to be governed by fascist ideas than to regulate the consumer’s taste for them?

Right or wrong, it was ostensibly the liberal view. How different the ABA’s approach today seems to be. But I wonder, in this paper, whether the 20th century approach to freedom, and to free speech in particular, was really ever an end in itself, or instead was a gateway (and was even perceived by some of its proponents as a gateway) from one sort of legal culture to another. The classical liberal position is an attractive one in many ways. It’s a pity that so few people have been, and are, really committed to it. Were they at some point? If so, when did that commitment change, and why? There were those in the legal academy and elsewhere who never purported to be liberal and are now feeling pretty darned good. But classical liberalism, as those who know more than I have observed, seems to be on the ropes. Or was this all part of a larger movement away from one culture and toward another? Were most people plying the liberal view actually (even if unwittingly) #NeverLiberal at all?

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