Friday, March 17, 2006

Tom Stoppard's qualms about the right to freedom of speech

in the Guardian Review:

'Is there ever a time and place for censorship?' On the one hand, we have Voltaire: 'I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.' On the other hand, we have hate speech. I will add something personal. I was proud to be British before I was British. I arrived in 1946 when I was eight, and that was that. Czechoslovakia, which I couldn't remember; Singapore, which I could barely remember; and India, which I enjoyed, fell away like so many ladders. It was a love affair, and I was not very much older when I first articulated to myself what it was that was the foundation of my anglophilia. It was the Voltairean credo, enshrined in my adoptive country.

But note: the appeal of the Voltairean credo was precisely that it was voluntary, his choice. He was not conceding his antagonist's possession of an overriding right, he was choosing to accord that right. He was putting down a marker for the kind of society he favoured, for an ideal. The underlying question remains as before: does Voltaire's credo hold good at all times in all circumstances?

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