In general, we have as natural a right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk, and hazard. I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know of none which has done real evil. Theologians, or pretended politicians, cry: “Religion is destroyed, the government is lost, if you print certain truths or certain paradoxes. Never dare to think , till you have asked permission from a monk or a clerk (Voltaire, 1977).
Though I risk comparing my wit to Voltaire’s, I must expand his point in this final essay. Those words which are not controversial, do not need to be defended. It is the extremists like us who need to defend our minority rights.
Have no doubt that we are extremists. We will be extremists until atheists aren’t considered a minority. I’ve heard frequently, of late, that change comes from the moderate. I find this to be a pernicious lie. The moderates among the abolitionists proposed a compromise on slavery; we’ll just send those english speaking, darker colored Americans back to Africa where we took them from. Would anyone like to defend their viewpoint? How much more to we agree with the extremists who argued that not only should slavery be abolished, but that blacks were are equals? Extremists like John Brown argued not only this, but acted on it as well. He sought to give black Americans arms, so that they might defend themselves like humans, rather than ineffectively petition their rights for them, as if they were children.
Another of the moderate’s brilliant ideas was to contains slavery, rather than end it outright. This includes the very first of many compromises on the subject: that 3/5ths bit of which you may have heard. To quote another master on the subject of indefinite compromise:
Until 1850, perhaps, the “peculiar institution” of slavery might have had a chance of perpetuating itself indefinitely by compromise. But the exorbitance and arrogance of “the slave power” forbade this accommodation. Not content with preserving their own domain in its southeastern redoubt, the future Confederates insisted on extending their chattel system into new territories, and on implicating the entire Union in their system (Hitchens, 2012).
Yet the profiteering racists were not the only extremists to prompt chance. John Brown was tired of the abolitionist’s snail-pace. He remarked that “[t]hese men are all talk. What we need is action—action” (Rhodes, 1892). His actions, though doomed, instilled a nervousness in the South that ended the fruitless moderation. There can be no doubt that the South sought to silence him.
No, The Innocence of Muslims is not an abolitionist masterpiece, but it is controversial, which makes it the front line fight -and the only fight- in the freedom of speech. We must always endeavor to separate in our minds the right to say something, and agreeing with what’s said. A work of fiction does only as much harm as our over-reactions to it allow. The work itself is quite tame.
Dissenters need their rights, and by their nature, they will be minority rights. That means, unpopular rights. I suspect all those who tell me change comes from the moderates, because that seems to be the easy way out. They may as well say: “We don’t have to be controversial, we can agree our way to justice.” Moderation is mediocrity for everyone but the politicians. Leave it to those who’ve already sold their souls, and speak your closest approximation of the truth regardless of what people will think of you. You can know, at least, that I will do my best to defend your right to say it.
Hitchens, Christopher (2013). Arguably: Essays (29). New York, NY: Twelve
Rhodes, James Fork (1892). History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 (385). Cambridge, MA: Harper & Brothers.
Voltaire, Francois (1977). The Philosophical Dictionary. (Peter Gay, Trans.) New York, NY: Penguin Group. (Original work published 1764)