Most people seem to enjoy liberalism and its spin offs, but what is it exactly? Where did the idea come from?
- Liberalism, for all its influence, is only a few hundred years old.
- Many great philosophers formulated the ideology, but their arugments often don't make it into popular discourse.
- While classical liberalism endures, modern liberalism dominates current political discussions.
Over the past several hundred years, one moral and political philosophy has left a greater mark on the world than any other. Often opposed by other ideologies, it has defeated all those which sought to banish it to the dustbin of history. This philosophy is known as liberalism and continues to have a tremendous influence on modern life.
Somehow, despite its prevalence, a surprising number of people couldn't begin to explain what the philosophy they ostensibly support is or what the arguments in support of it are. To correct this, let's take a look at the philosophy and the ideas and arguments of some of its founders.
Before we begin, I should say that today we are focusing on classical liberalism; it differs from the term "liberalism" as Americans tend to use it and has some significant points of disagreement with its modern decedent. What those are and why they exist are the subject for another time.
Liberalism begins with the assumption that people are or should be free and that restrictions on their liberty must be justified. Liberal thinkers debate the proper role of the state and often agree that it is a limited one which would result in very few restrictions beyond those needed to secure the rights of everybody living under its jurisdiction. When this was first proposed, during an era of absolute monarchy and nearly unchecked power of institutions over individuals, it was a radical claim.
For classical liberals, "liberty" usually means what might be called "negative liberty" today. These liberties are "negative" in the sense that they can be seen as "freedoms from interference." This contrasts with "positive" liberties, which are "freedoms to do" or the capacities to accomplish something. Classical liberalism is very concerned with the right of people to be left alone to live their own lives.
This means a liberal society will let people decide things like their own religion, their idea of what constitutes a good life, and what organizations they want to be a part of, among other things. Importantly, since cohesion is not applied in these areas of choice, people are free to join a church or civic group when it suits them and leave when it suits them and face no government reprisals for it. Liberal theorists typically advocate for tolerance of others to assure that these freedoms of choice are applied to everyone.
Classical liberals also tended to argue that the economy, or some version of it, existed before or independently of the state. As a result, they maintain that the right to private property is natural and should be fairly unlimited. For some thinkers, this also ties into ideas of independence from external authority, as a person with enough property to be more or less financially self-sufficient would be able to tend to themselves and select when to engage with institutions that could help them but might infringe on their rights.
Let's take a closer look at three of the more prominent classical liberal philosophers, what they thought, and why they thought it.
Considered the Father of Liberalism, John Locke wrote two treatises on government attacking absolute monarchy and supporting a more limited view of government. While his conception of liberalism is explicitly based on a theology many people would dispute, his reasoning has been applied in secular conditions to great success.
Like many other thinkers at the time, Locke turned to an idea of what life was like before the existence of governments, known as the state of nature, to make his arguments. For Locke, people in the state of nature were free within the boundaries of "natural law" and generally get along. However, in this condition, there is nobody to turn to if somebody else violates your rights, like if they steal from you, and no neutral arbitrator to turn to if you and somebody else have a dispute.
Locke argues that these issues eventually drive people to want to create a state to protect people's rights by enforcing natural law and acting as a neutral arbitrator when people have disputes.
The state he envisions people would create in this situation is a minimal one that focuses almost exclusively on protecting people's natural rights of "life, liberty, and property." It does not try to determine how people live their lives within the confines of natural law. It tolerates various religions and worldviews- since to promote one above all others would go beyond its prerogatives. It cannot operate in ways contrary to the rule of law, features a representative legislature with majority rule, the separation of powers, and is founded by people explicitly consenting to be governed this way.
His defense of private property is noteworthy. He argues that some variation of the economy exists in the state of nature and that nobody would willingly create a state if it were going to take away their property.
However, he holds that property can only be held if it will be used before it spoils, was acquired by the labor of the person who owns it, and if after acquiring it there is still enough of the resources it is made of left in the commons for the next person. What limits these principles place on a person going into Sherwood Forest in 1690 to cut down a tree to make lumber with and a person trying to start a business today is still debated.
A German philosopher, Kant is widely considered one of the most influential thinkers of all time. He worked in every area of philosophy there was to work in, political philosophy among them.
Kant based his liberalism on the idea of freedom from other people's choices and universal rationality. He maintains that all people have a fundamental dignity as rational and moral beings. This both obligates us to act accordingly and to respect the dignity of others. From this starting point, he argues that the state should exist to assure that individuals enjoy "Freedom, insofar as it can coexist with the freedom of every other in accordance with a universal law."
This freedom is limited by what is consistent with reason but is wide-ranging; a large number of liberties are required for a rational, autonomous person to be able to utilize those capacities. These liberties include the freedom of speech, religion, and the right to pursue happiness in any way a person wants to, so long as it is consistent with everybody else being able to do the same. Anything less than this conflicts with a person's moral autonomy and borders on treating them as a child.
He further argues that no state should make a law that "a whole people could not possibly give its consent to." That means things like laws granting privileges to one group of people and not others would be prohibited, as no rational group would sign a contract giving them the short end of the stick. It allows for other things, such as a generally applied tax of debatable value, as a rational person could consent to such a thing if the arguments for it were sound.
While he thought that an elected representative government was the best option for providing these protections, but didn't rule out other models. He also strongly asserted the necessity of constitutional governance.
While most interpretations of Kant maintain that his idea of freedom is "negative," there is some ambiguity in his writings which led some commentators to suggest he is open to ideas of positive liberty as well. Given his reliance on and admiration for some of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's ideas, this idea is not absurd, though it is difficult to prove.
While better known as an economist, Adam Smith was also a philosopher who considered the problems of society as a whole. Between how important his economics are to classical liberalism and the nuanced approach of his political philosophy, Smith remains an essential figure in the liberal tradition.
Unlike some of the other thinkers we're looking at, Smith thought it was a legitimate goal of government to help the poor and promoting the virtue of society. He went so far as to say:
"...[the] civil magistrate is entrusted with the power not only of … restraining injustice, but of promoting the prosperity of the commonwealth, by establishing good discipline, and by discouraging every sort of vice and impropriety; he may prescribe rules, therefore, which not only prohibit mutual injuries among fellow-citizens, but command mutual good offices to a certain degree."
However, this isn't a call for a moralizing government. It is a call for the government to do less than it was at the time.
As he thought with economics, Smith thought society would work best when people were generally left alone to handle things themselves. He argues that people can only develop virtue on their own; if they are only doing it because the government is telling them to do so, they aren't actually virtuous. Additionally, he didn't think that politicians would be very good at promoting virtue or prosperity, suggesting that they can handle issues like defense and criminal justice while leaving other tasks to individuals with better knowledge of the conditions on the ground than far off bureaucrats.
His economics, based on the idea that markets often provide the best possible outcomes when left alone, became the basis for the classical liberal stance on capitalism. While he wasn't quite as opposed to government intervention as many people think, his arguments in favor of fewer restrictions on business meshed well with other liberal ideas on property and freedom.
This overall approach is important in how it differs from our two other thinkers. While Locke and Kant both appeal to natural rights or individual autonomy to support their ideas on liberty, Smith leans on arguments showing how a society that values liberty will be a better place to live in than one that does not, in addition to it being morally defensible.
While few people will want to base their freedom on the idea that it is expedient, the appeal to tangible benefits has proven to be one of the more convincing arguments for liberty.
These ideas seem a bit different from how we run things today; why is that?
Many philosophers, arguably starting with John Stuart Mill, continued to work within the liberal tradition but considered the new problems of industrial society, market failures, and what happens when there is no longer a "nature" to take resources from like there was in 1690. Their work, combined with critiques of liberalism from other ideologies, notably socialism and conservatism, led to an evolution of liberal philosophy into the modern version we see today.
Despite some elements of liberal thought dating back to ancient times, the political philosophy of classical liberalism, which changed the world by elevating the rights of man and continues to influence our thinking even as we move past it, is surprisingly young. It achieved a lot in its few hundred years of existence, and its arguments for liberty, equality, democracy, and the right to get on with our lives and business continue to resonate today.
While most people may not be classical liberals anymore, taking time to consider the philosophy is an exercise that we can all benefit from.
7 scholars and legal experts dissect what you can and can't say in America.
- The free speech debate typically happens at either end of a spectrum — people believe they should be able to say whatever they want, or they believe that certain things (e.g. hate speech) should be censored. Who is right, and who gets to decide?
- While they acknowledge that speech is a powerful weapon that can cause infinite good and infinite harm, former ACLU president Nadine Strossen, sociologist Nicholas Christakis, author and skeptic Michael Shermer, and others agree that the principle should be defended for everyone, not just for those who share our views. "I'm not defending the Nazis," says Strossen, "I'm defending a principle that is especially important for those of us who want to have the freedom to raise our voices, to protest the Nazis and everything they stand for."
- However, as Strossen and attorney Floyd Abrams point out, there have always been boundaries when it comes to free speech and the First Amendment. There are rules, established by the Supreme Court, meant to ensure that speech is not used to inflict "imminent, specific harm" on others.
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.
- SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) started as two separate bills that were both created with a singular goal: curb online sex trafficking. They were signed into law by former President Trump in 2018.
- The implementation of this law in America has left an international impact, as websites attempt to protect themselves from liability by closing down the sections of their sites that sex workers use to arrange safe meetings with clientele.
- While supporters of this bill have framed FOSTA-SESTA as a vital tool that could prevent sex trafficking and allow sex trafficking survivors to sue those websites for facilitating their victimization, many other people are strictly against the bill and hope it will be reversed.
What is FOSTA-SESTA?
SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) were signed into law by former President Trump in 2018. There was some argument that this law may be unconstitutional as it could potentially violate the first amendment. A criminal defense lawyer explains this law in-depth in this video.
What did FOSTA-SESTA aim to accomplish?
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims. FOSTA-SESTA started as two separate bills that were both created with a singular goal: curb online sex trafficking. Targeting websites like Backpage and Craigslist, where sex workers would often arrange meetings with their clientele, FOSTA-SESTA aimed to stop the illegal sex-trafficking activity being conducted online. While the aim of FOSTA-SESTA was to keep people safer, these laws have garnered international speculation and have become quite controversial.
According to BusinessWire, many people are in support of this bill, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and World Without Exploitation (WorldWE).
"With the growth of the Internet, human trafficking that once happened mainly on street corners has largely shifted online. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 73 percent of the 10,000 child sex trafficking reports it receives from the public each year involve ads on the website Backpage.com."
As soon as this bill was signed into law, websites where sex workers often vetted and arranged meetings with their clients could now be held liable for the actions of the millions of people that used their sites. This meant websites could be prosecuted if they engaged in "the promotion or facilitation of prostitution" or "facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims."
The bill's effects were felt around the world — from Canadians being unhappy with the impact of this American bill to U.K. politicians considering the implementation of similar laws in the future.
Heather Jarvis, the program coordinator of the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP), which supports sex workers in the St. John's area, explained to CBC in an interview that the American bill is impacting everyone, everywhere: "When laws impact the internet — the internet is often borderless — it often expands across different countries. So although these are laws in the United States, what we've seen is they've been shutting down websites in Canada and other countries as well."
Jarvis suggests in her interview that instead of doing what they aimed to do with the bill and improving the safety of victims of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation, the website shutdowns are actually making sex workers less safe.
While one U.K. publication refers to FOSTA-SESTA as "well-intentioned but ultimately deeply-flawed laws," it also mentions that politicians in the United Kingdom are hoping to pursue similar laws in the near future.
Has FOSTA-SESTA done more harm than good?
Is this really going to help, or is this bill simply pushing sex work and sex-related content further into the dark?
Credit: Евгений Вершинин on Adobe Stock
While supporters of this bill have framed FOSTA-SESTA as a vital tool that could prevent sex trafficking and allow sex trafficking survivors to sue those websites for facilitating their victimization, many other people are strictly against the bill and hope it will be reversed.
One of the biggest problems many people have with this bill is that it forces sex workers into an even more dangerous situation, which is quite the opposite of what the bill had intended to do.
According to Globe and Mail, there has been an upswing in pimps sending sex workers messages that promise work - which puts sex workers on the losing end of a skewed power-dynamic, when before they could attempt to safely arrange their own meetings online.
How dangerous was online sex work before FOSTA-SESTA?
The University of Leicester Department of Criminology conducted an online survey that focused on the relative safety of internet-based sex work compared with outdoor sex work. According to the results, 91.6 percent of participants had not experienced a burglary in the past 5 years, 84.4 percent had not experienced physical assault in the same period, and only 5 percent had experienced physical assault in the last 12 months.
PivotLegal expresses concerns about this: "It is resoundingly clear, both from personal testimony and data, that attacking online sex work is an assault on the health and safety of people in the real world. In a darkly ironic twist, SESTA/FOSTA, legislation aimed at protecting victims of and preventing human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, will do the exact opposite."
Websites are also being hypervigilant (and censoring more content than needed) because they can't possibly police every single user's activity on their platform.
Passing this bill meant any website (not just the ones that are commonly used by sex traffickers) could be held liable for their user's posts. Naturally, this saw a general "tightening of the belt" when it came to what was allowed on various platforms. In late 2018, shortly after the FOSTA-SESTA bill was passed, companies like Facebook slowly began to alter their terms and conditions to protect themselves.
Facebook notably added sections that express prohibited certain sexual content and messages:
"Content that includes an implicit invitation for sexual intercourse, which can be described as naming a sexual act and other suggestive elements including (but not limited to):
– vague suggestive statements such as: 'looking forward to an enjoyable evening'
– sexual use of language […]
– content (self-made, digital or existing) that possibly portrays explicit sexual acts or a suggestively positioned person/suggestively positioned persons."
Additionally, sections like this were also added, prohibiting things that could allude to sexual activity:
"Content in which other acts committed by adults are requested or offered, such as:
– commercial pornography
– partners that share fetishes or sexual interests"
Facebook wasn't the only website to crack down on their policies — the Craigslist classifieds section being removed and Reddit banned quite a large number of sex-worker related subreddits.
Is FOSTA-SESTA really helpful?
This is the question many people are facing with the FOSTA-SESTA acts being passed just a few years ago. Is this really going to help, or is this bill simply pushing sex work and sex-related content further into the dark? Opinions seem to be split down the middle on this — what do you think?
A new look at existing data by LSU researchers refutes the Trump administration's claims.
- The United States Department of Defense gifts surplus military equipment and clothing to local police departments.
- The militarization of police coincides with a significant loss of trust in law enforcement from the American public.
- Militarized police departments are more likely to interact violently with their communities.
Watching coverage of protests in American streets, many of us have been shocked to witness what modern policing often looks like. Even putting aside the reason for many of these demonstrations in the first place—allegations of police brutality—what we see onscreen marching towards protestors is chilling. We witness police garbed in helmets, flak jackets, tactical dress, and carrying assault rifles, backed by weaponry designed for the battlefield, not the nation's thoroughfares.
The primary source of this equipment and clothing is the Federal government's 1033 program, which has been described as "Uncle Sam's Goodwill Store." This surplus military equipment (SME)—or "reutilized" gear as the Department of Defense (DOD) calls it—is granted, for free, to local law enforcement agencies, or "LEAs." WIRED estimates the Pentagon has gifted to local police some $7.3 billion worth of military equipment and clothing.
Concerned about the manner in which this militarization has affected policing, and following 2014's Ferguson protests, President Obama curtailed the program. The Trump administration removed these limits in 2017, claiming research had proved militarization reduces crime.
A new study from Louisiana State University (LSU) revisits that research, finding it incomplete and inconsistent. The researchers, led by LSU political scientist Anna Gunderson, collected their own more comprehensive and accurate data and concluded that militarizing local police does not actually reduce crime.
A wide lack of support
Credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images
It's no wonder that more than half of the American public no longer trusts the police. It's hard not to get the impression that for many police departments, the mission has changed from one of support for its communities to an attempt to intimidate and dominate its members.
Studies back this up. Police whose departments use military equipment are more often violent with community members and are more likely to kill them. Neither is this a small problem at the margins of policing: Over 1,000 people are killed by police annually.
In spite of the Trump administration's faith in the soundness of the 1033 program, others from across the political spectrum disagree. On the right, the Charles Koch Foundation asserts, "This erosion of public confidence in law enforcement and low support for militarization impedes law enforcement's ability to effectively secure public safety." From the left, the American Civil Liberties Union says, "We advocate for a return to a less dangerous, more collaborative style of policing. We should not be able to mistake our officers for soldiers."
Credit: JeremyAdobe Stock
Gunderson explains to LSU Media Center that, "scholars rely on accurate data to track and analyze the true effect of police militarization on crime. Policymakers also need accurate data to base their decisions upon. However, to-date, we do not have reliable data on SME transfers to local police and sheriffs through the federal government."
The research cited by the Trump administration was a study done by the American Economic Association based on SME data collected through a 2014 Freedom of Information Act request. Having a look at that data themselves, along with other FOIA 2014 data released by National Public Radio and newer data from 2018, the LSU researchers found that things didn't quite line up. Where FOIA suggests certain counties received SME, NPR's data showed no such transfer. Similarly, NPR reported departments receiving items such as weapons, grants that were not reflected in the 2018 data as expected.
"When we looked at the data and ran the replications, nothing looked like the results being cited by the Trump Administration," Gunderson recalls. "We spent a year trying to diagnose the problem."
The LSU researchers' conclusion was the the previously released SME data from the DOD was too inconsistent to produce reliable insights. They conducted their own analysis, aligning newer data with country-level LEA data, to derive a cohesive, accurate picture that allowed them to more definitively assess who got SME transfers and who didn't, and what effect it had on local crime statistics.
They found no indication that SME transfers led to a reduction in crime. The study concludes, "we find no evidence that federal distributions of SME to local LEAs across the United States reduce crime rates, neither violent nor nonviolent crime rates, in the jurisdictions that receive it."
"This is a cautionary tale about the importance of oversight. The most important thing for policymakers and the public to know is that you can't justify giving surplus military equipment to police departments on the grounds it will lead to a reduction in crime. There is no evidence for that. You can't claim this program is important because it reduces crime."
What's more says, the report, "because of serious data problems and debatable methodological choices in prior studies, the empirical foundations on which social scientists, along with policymakers and the public, stand when making causal claims about the effects of the transfers of SME may be no firmer than quicksand."
What speech is harmful, how do we know, and what do we do if we find out?
- Modern debates over free speech rage on the internet, but what do experts say?
- Some think it is easy to go too far in limiting public debate by offending parties, others argue limits are part of normal discourse.
- While the debate isn't settled, these thinkers can give you some starting points for your next discussion.
If you've been online in the past few weeks, you've probably come across at least one person discussing free speech. The debate over if it is threatened, who has it, who needs it, what it is, and what form it should take goes back long before the days of social media and the 24-hour news cycle.
Recently, the debate over what limits are being put on public discourse is the center of attention, with a great deal of focus placed on the question of what conversations are worth having. Some, including the signers of the famous Harper's Letter, fear that free speech is threatened. Their detractors fear this is a front to keep the traditionally marginalized from expressing their concerns. Previous controversies have centered around who gets to speak at what institutions and if the withdraw of an invitation to speak, or the denial of it to begin with, is a kind of censorship.
But, are any of these concerns valid? What do experts on argumentation have to say about these issues? Today, we'll consider three experts' stances on when speech can be harmful, when people shouldn't be given a platform, and when we should grit our teeth and suffer their opinion.
Stance #1: Meta- argumentative allegations are a tool that should be used sparingly.
Dr. Hugh Breakey of Griffith University lays out his case in the essay "'That's Unhelpful, Harmful and Offensive!' Epistemic and Ethical Concerns with Meta-argument Allegations."
Breakey argues that "meta-arguments," statements that focus on external features of an argument rather than an argument's soundness, can be used to critique arguments by pointing out the harm that an argument might cause.
As an example, imagine that somebody tells an armed mob without evidence that grocers are the cause of a crippling food shortage. Pointing out that this argument might cause harm provides an ethical good (the speaker might not make the argument now that they know harm may come of it) and an epistemic good (the argument might be improved or abandoned if the weakness of it is pointed out). While meta-arguments aren't good or bad by themselves, this example shows how they can be used positively.
However, other times critiques that seem clear to one party in an argument can seem groundless to others. In these cases, meta-arguments can derail discussion rather than clarify it. Worse, it can be impossible to get back on track after these allegations are made.
Big Think reached out to Dr. Breakey, who offered this elaboration on his position:
"When we call out what someone says in an argument as offensive, harmful or unhelpful, it can feel like we are applying an impartial standard. We're setting down sensible, objective rules within which constructive civil debate can occur. But the reality is that our judgments about such matters are likely to be as controversial and contestable—and, unfortunately, influenced by emotional and cognitive biases—as our views on the original topic of the debate. Reasonable people can disagree on the risks of harm created by speech, the ethical weight that should be given to those harms, where the moral responsibility for those harms properly lies, and how these factors relate to the importance of freely discussing the original topic of the debate. These are all complicated and difficult questions, and will be answered differently by people with different political views and life experiences. As a result, we need to exercise great caution in leveling allegations of harm and offence during an argument. Otherwise, the very differences that led to the original debate—and that make that debate worthwhile—will be used to foreclose it."
Given these concerns, the essay ends with a call for "argumentational tolerance" that is weary of using meta-argumentative allegations in general, but is open to using them when the speech in question is obviously harmful, such as instances of hate speech or calls to violence.
Stance #2: Platforms lend credence, and some people shouldn't be given that.
Another stance is taken by Professor Neil Levy of The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, in their essay "Why no-platforming is sometimes a justifiable position."
They agree with many others that free speech is valuable and that good-faith arguments are generally good. However, they find the idea of deplatforming for meta-argumentative reasons more compelling than others might.
In Dr. Levy's essay, they ask you to imagine that a university has invited a speaker who rejects climate change's existence to speak on that topic. While that position is bunk, the very act of being invited to speak by a prestigious university grants credence to what the speaker has to say, which cannot easily be refuted by other, better arguments.
Things like being invited to speak by a prestigious school or having seemingly valid credentials can be "higher-order" evidence in favor of their position. Higher-order evidence, Dr. Levy explains, influences how we evaluate arguments. Higher-order evidence in favor of our position can make us more confident in it, while opposing evidence can lead us to moderate our stances.
However, Dr. Levy points out the difficulty of countering higher-order evidence, or the legitimacy it confers, by rational argument alone. They further out the usefulness of attacking the credibility of the speaker's bunk arguments by focusing not on the argument but on the higher-order evidence's validity. Here, ad-hominem attacks and meta- argumentative critiques of their speaking at all can remove the higher-order evidence. Deplatforming, often critiqued as the suppression of speech, can also be useful, as it prevents a person from being granted the legitimacy that a speaking invitation can bring.
There is a difference between this position and that of Dr. Breakey. Dr. Levy is more concerned with matters of fact rather than debates over what constitutes acceptable discourse. However, this stance is clearly more open to the idea of using meta-argumental allegations to keep speech non-harmful and productive than other common positions are.
Stance #3: Deciding what speech is “acceptable” is a fundamental aspect of public discourse.
Lastly, we have the stance described by the University of Illinois Professor Nicholas Grossman in an essay titled "Free Speech Defenders Don't Understand the Critique Against Them."
Professor Grossman considers the current debate around "free speech" and suggests that the debate is really over what we consider socially acceptable these days—a discussion which we've had before and will have again.
As he points out, most people would agree that there is nothing wrong with deciding that Holocaust denial is odious. Furthermore, they would likely also agree that private actors can (and should) use their capacities to limit the space available for a Holocaust denier to speak in. Most people would also hardly shed a tear if the denier faced social consequences for their speech. However, not everybody agrees on giving the same treatment to J.K. Rowling in light of her statements concerning transgender individuals.
Professor Grossman argues that our current discussions are really about where the line of "acceptability" is. Are people, like Rowling, crossing that line when they imply transgender women are not women? If so, what social consequences should they face, if any? What else might be on the other side of that line now? How do we know? The line has moved before, consider how common the public use of racial slurs was in the past, is the idea of moving the line now any different?
They agree with Dr. Breakey in thinking that these are big questions without easy answers. However, Professor Grossman suggests that, in determining what speech is socially acceptable, these discussions can, and must, take place for debate to move forward. In contrast, Dr. Breakey suggests that these concerns can derail other debates if not used properly.
How can I use this?
Perhaps the most obvious take away is that all three of these thinkers agree that certain speakers, notably those inciting violence or those deliberately trying to cause harm using racial slurs, can (and perhaps should) be challenged. It suggests a semblance of agreement exists around the idea that some speech does harm and that this legitimizes certain follow up actions to prevent the speech.
This idea is nothing new; even John Stuart Mill agreed with the idea of censoring speech that could cause immediate violence.
The three thinkers considered here also all agree on the importance of open debate in general. None of them are suggesting that you should be arrested for giving an unpopular opinion. They all argue in favor of using reasoned, respectful debate to advance our understanding of various issues.
However, they disagree on how easy it is to know what is respectful debate and what is speech worthy of critique, deplatforming, and social consequence, and what to do when that line is crossed. While the three do seem to be concerned with slightly different scales, Professor Grossman focuses on societal debates while Dr. Levy focuses on institutional level problems, the differences endure, and each stance can be applied at various scales.
Despite this lack of agreement, they all provide strong arguments for their position and a launchpad for further debate. Though, we might need to already agree on a few points before that debate can even happen.