Eric Daniels Defends Free Speech

Linn Armstrong and I are coming out with a column on free speech this Monday; see Grand Junction’s Free Press. We quote Eric Daniels, Research Assistant Professor at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. Unfortunately, we had space only for a few of Daniels’s comments. Thankfully, he has agreed to let me reproduce the entire interview here.

My purpose in contacting Daniels was not to cover familiar ground, but to elicit responses about some of the most difficult implications of free speech. Until I thought more carefully about the matter on October 23, talked with another friend about it, and contacted Daniels, I wasn’t sure about my position on the matters of campaign-finance disclosure and campaigns by foreigners. Now I am sure. I am for freedom, not controls.

Daniels’s answers follow the questions in bold:

Briefly, why do you think free speech has come under attack by both right and left in recent decades?

Fundamentally, the reason free speech is under attack by both is because both fail to understand the nature of individual rights. The majority opinion in politics today holds that rights are gifts from the government that allow individuals to do some things as long as they do not upset certain vested interests. In the case of free speech, politicians believe that you should
be allowed to say what you want as long as it does not, for example, offend religious or ethnic groups or as long as what you say is not backed by too much money, or as long as what you say meets some vague notion of community standards. But that is not free speech. Free speech means the right (not privilege) of individuals to express their opinions without government
censorship of any kind, whether by hindering speech through regulation or through restricting it through prosecutions after the fact.

Should the law require disclosure of campaign-related expenses? I’m leaning no. People have a right to speak anonymously. There’s no clear way to distinguish between advocacy and education. And, the voters can demand disclosure with their votes. Do you agree with this? Explain.

I do not think the law should require public disclosure of campaign-related financing. If politicians wish to disclose the source of their financing to the public, they are free to do so. Likewise, if they choose to keep their donors’ identities to themselves, they should also be free to do so. The electorate can indeed decide through voting whether to support candidates who do or do not disclose their financing. Contributing money to a political candidate or to supporters or opponents of a ballot measure should properly be a matter between the private parties themselves. It does not matter how much a person gives or how much air time he buys, voters always remain free to take the message for which he has paid in the appropriate context. No one
forces the voters to believe or discredit any given message, they do so of their own will.

Should the law prohibit campaign contributions from foreign entities and people? For instance (Diana Hsieh raised this example), if the U.S. were going impose a tariff on British goods, should British citizens be able to campaign against it in the U.S.?

Giving money to a political campaign is an issue of individual right — that is, the donor who has earned his wealth has a right to give it to whatever candidate he chooses, and the candidate has a right to accept money from anyone he chooses. Foreign citizens or political action committees have just as much right to speak as do Americans. Again, if there is some belief on the
part of voters that foreign influence is unduly affecting some candidate, the voters retain the right to demand that the candidate disclose the source of his funding or face losing their votes.

Is there anything else we should know about free speech in the modern era?

Even though much of the recent controversy about free speech is tied to speech about political issues, it is important to remember that we have the freedom of speech not just because it facilitates a robust discussion of public policy
(which is the unfortunate modern interpretation), but because it is a right of each individual to express his ideas in the manner he chooses and to reach whatever size an audience his rightly-earned wealth will allow.