Why Free Speech is Not Absolute

Domestic Abuse chart

There have been some who have claimed that Julien Blanc – self-proclaimed pickup artist and dating coach – should not be denied entry to work in the UK or Canada, nor should he have been banned from doing so in Australia. The reasoning here is that if we want to live in a society within which we allow freedom of speech, this must also include the freedom to say things that few, some or the vast majority find offensive.

I accept that in order to allow freedom of speech I must put up with many views and opinions that I find offensive. In fact, I actively encourage opinion contrary to my own, some of which I find offensive. The benefit here is two-fold. Firstly, it keeps the perceived undesirable opinion out in the open, not driving it underground, thus allowing it to be challenged more easily. You only have to look at the recent rise of Ukip in British politics who have gained immense support over the past few years while the political establishment has all but refused to engage them in any form of debate.

Secondly, as the great political philosopher John Stuart Mill pointed out in his 1869 book On Liberty, challenging contrary opinion has many potential benefits and is healthy for society. Arguing against contrary views may reinforce my own opinion, giving me more reasons for holding my belief, it may change my opinion – traditional views are often replaced, over time, by more radical ones – or it may make me revise my views to incorporate and account for the inconsistencies the contrary belief exposes in my own.

Despite the benefits of free speech, it does not mean that it is absolute. There still needs to be some sort of curtailment. For instance, I should not be allowed to scream “Bomb!” in a crowded airport – not unless there is an actual bomb, but even then there is a safer way of alerting authorities and vacating the building – as this will likely cause harm to many people as they scramble for the exits.

Thus, free speech should only be curtailed by what Mill calls the ‘Harm Principle’. That is, a person’s right to free speech must only be limited to prevent them from harming others. We can relate this to this case of Julien Blanc. Admittedly, we should not deny him his right to make such comments, although I believe we should be allowed, morally, to limit his ability to fill rooms with lonely, horny men with promises that he can get them laid when really his practises amount to nothing short of sexual assault.

His views can and will cause harm if we allow him to conduct his seminars. Men who have paid somewhere in the region of £550 to attend – before travel and other expenses – are at least going to try some of the techniques they are taught. And with such advice as contained in this chart likely to be articulated, these seminars are little more than a breeding ground for sexual predators and domestic abusers.

This will undoubtedly cause harm to others and is the reason I believe we should limit Julien Blanc’s right to free speech.

We can still, however, challenge the views of Blanc without granting him the right to repeat them to more and more rooms of men who he encourages to go to Tokyo, grab women and push their faces towards their dicks while yelling “Pikachu!”