1229 Selected Quotations On Freedom of Expression,
Censorship, Civil Liberties and Individual Rights
Compiled by Laird Wilcox
Third Edition - 2002
...One would think that given the rather explicit language of the First Amendment there wouldn't be much ambiguity about what it intends. However, two centuries of various forms of legislation, litigation and eventual Supreme Court Decisions suggest that this is not the case. While Americans have retained a large degree of expressive freedom relative to other places in the world, there will always be repressive forces in our society - political, religious, gender or racial interest groups - ready and willing to restrict these liberties in order to advance their own particular agenda, usually in the form of restricting or prohibiting criticism, discussion and debate on particular issues.
These restrictions are often quite subtle, as in the emergence of various forms of "political correctness," which has both left and right-wing varieties, or quite explicit, as in the case of speech codes on college and university campuses. What is disarming about these forces is their frequent alliance with "humanitarian" concerns, such as movements for equality and elimination of discrimination, which frames concern for freedom of expression as opposition to otherwise legitimate grievances. Nevertheless, no interest group should be allowed to impose their own exceptions to the First Amendment on other Americans.
Another threat to freedom of expression has re-emerged with renewed vigor following the 11 September 2002 World Trade Center tragedy, and that is from an understandable but often overzealous desire to deal with the threat of terrorism. There's little doubt that this horrible crime was totally indefensible and while there are reasonable and even necessary safety measures that might be considered, the "War on Terrorism" is bringing with it the draconian laws threatening basic freedoms Americans have taken for granted since the founding of the Republic. In addition to a dramatically expanded definition of "terrorism" to take in more and more behaviors and events, new threats to freedom of association, assembly and speech are emerging from the rush of legislation on all levels of government. Moreover, opposition to these measures is sometimes taken to imply a lack of patriotism or even disloyalty, although it can easily be argued that precisely the opposite is the case. This is a truly frightening development, and especially so given the rationalizations of "wartime" and national security.
This collection contains quotations from a wide variety of political perspectives, from liberal and socialist to libertarian and conservative. What they all have in common is some degree of relevance to human freedom and individual rights, with an emphasis on freedom of expression. What I have tended to avoid is quotations pertaining specifically to class, ethnicity, religion or gender and instead I have favored quotations pertaining to everyone, inasmuch as I believe human freedom and individual rights should apply to all human beings.
These quotations come from a wide variety of sources, the principal ones being previous collections I have authored or coauthored, most particularly, Be Reasonable: Selected Quotations for Inquiring Minds, by Laird Wilcox and John George (Prometheus: 1994), and Selected Quotations for the Ideological Skeptic, by Laird Wilcox (Editorial Research Service, 1992). Other sources include my own notes, quotations sent to me by friends, extensive internet searching and a very large number of books.
It's important to bear in mind that quotations are, almost by definition, statements removed from their original context. It isn't difficult to find contradictory statements in the writings of many individuals, and some writers may be surprisingly ambivalent about an issue, at times taking a stand diametrically opposed to an earlier statement. Many of our nation's founders, for example, had both a liberal and tolerant side, and a conservative and authoritarian side - a trait that attests to their essentially fallible human nature and persists in human beings to the present day. It is, of course, not possible to know exactly what someone was thinking or referring to when they made a statement that is subsequently quoted, so we tend to interpret the quotation in terms of current meanings and current issues. In most cases what they had in mind was religious and political freedom in the form of the written and spoken word. To imagine that John Stuart Mill or Thomas Jefferson would feel comfortable defending the rights of pornographic film producers is almost certainly quite a stretch. On the other hand, most late 20th century writers quoted here have an awareness of censorship pertaining to erotic and sexual words and images and their quotations would likely include those forms of expression as well, although even that would have to be taken on a case by case basis unless otherwise indicated.
Freedom of expression and civil liberties can never be taken for granted, and especially so for writers, journalists, researchers, scholars and librarians. These professions are among the first to feel the chill of repression and experience its personal, professional and legal consequences. If in some small way this collection of quotations is useful to raise awareness of this issue, it has been worth the effort to publish it. I would be especially grateful to anyone sending me corrections or additions to this compilation. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
No copyright is claimed or implied and this document may be copied, added to any website, printed and distributed as you please.
For further information on my publications please check my website at LairdWilcox.Com.
The following is a sampling of quotations from "The Writer's Rights":
"Government by idea tends to take in everything, to make the whole of society obedient to the idea. Spaces not so governed are unconquered, beyond the border, unconverted, a future danger."
Lord Acton (1834-1902)
"The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear."
Herbert Sebastien Agar (1897-1980)
The Time for Greatness, 1942.
"A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider godfearing and pious."
Aristoltle (384-322 B.C.)
Politics, 343 B.C.
"Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities."
Alan Bloom (1930-1992)
Closing of the American Mind, 1987
"There can be no assumption that today's majority is "right" and the Amish or others like them are "wrong." A way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no right or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different."
Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice
U. S. Supreme Court
Wisconsin v. Yoder, 15 May 1972
"Censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. In the long run it will create a generation incapable of appreciating the difference between independence of thought and subservience."
Henry S. Commager (1902-1998)
Freedom, Loyalty & Dissent, 1954
"Liberty is not a matter of words, but a positive and important condition of society. Its greatest safeguard after placing its foundations in a popular base, is in the checks and balances imposed on the public servants."
James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
The American Democrat, 1838
"If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things."
Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
Principles of Philosophy, 1644.
"Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be a spirit of tolerance inthe entire population."
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Out Of My Later Years,1950.
"There have existed, in every age and every country, two distinct orders of men - the lovers of freedom and the devoted advocates of power."
Robert Y. Haynes
United States Senator
Speech, 21 January 1830
"The sword of the law should never fall but on those whose guilt is so apparent as to be pronounced by their friends as well as foes."
Thomas Jefferson (1743- 1826)
U. S. President
"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself."
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1846)
U. S. President
Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782
"Those who are convinced they have a monopoly on The Truth always feel that they are only saving the world when they slaughter the heretics."
Arthur M. Schlesinger (1888-1965)
"False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil."
Socrates (469-399 B.C.)
"Laws are like cobwebs which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through."
Johathan Swift (1667-1745)
Gullivers Travels, 1726
"We enact many laws that manufacture criminals, and then a few that punish them."
Benjamin R. Tucker (1854-1939)
Instead of a Book, 1893
"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause to reflect)."
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
"To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily deprives others of the right to listen to those views."
C. Van Woodward(1908-1999)
"Report On Free Speech,"
New York Times, 28 January 1975
"No nation, ancient or modern, ever lost the liberty of speaking freely, writing, or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves."
John Peter Zenger (1697-1746)