This week I’ll be doing a blog audit, which means I’ll look back on my blog posts this semester and evaluate what I’ve written about and why it matters. Initially, I set out to write about free speech this semester. As I did more research, I found myself writing about a niche topic within free speech discourse: radicalism. This refers broadly to left wing ideologies like communism and anarchism, often lumped together because of associations between leftism and the labor advocacy movement, as well as the classic American tendency to conflate any ideology on the left as communist. This more focused topic interested me because of the dynamic of such radicalism and the inherent conflict it creates with free speech, though it can be argued that American independence was founded on principles upheld by anarchism. Anarchism tests the American construction of freedom of speech on a very fundamental level. Most of Supreme Court history relating to radicalism has been an effort to define the place of radicalism in a society where it exists to the discomfort of American citizens and their ideals.
My posts so far have been an effort to understand the Supreme Court’s definition of freedom of speech in circumstances where that speech apparently opposes the institution of government. I analyze cases individually to track how this definition has changed over time. I started out with Texas v. Johnson and Tinker v. Des Moines because these two cases sought to define what freedom of speech entails, as in, what can be construed as an expression even beyond vocalized speech. The next week I strayed into historical analysis by looking at Sacco and Vanzetti’s trial and how it completely circumvented the concept of free speech in a way that was puzzlingly legal. I followed this with analyses of Gitlow v. New York, Schenck v. United States, and Dennis v. United States. These last three posts in particular looked at how each Court compromises the ideal of free speech with the governmental need for stability. In these analyses in particular, my posts seem formulaic, presenting the context, Court decision, and the framework that the Court utilized to reach such a decision. It is telling that many cases reached similar decisions in that they limited the scope of free speech. The Court reached these decisions using guidelines that recognize the potential harm that such speech can proliferate. Each vary, however, in the degree to which they set a threshold of liability on this speech.
Weekly blogging has offered a surprising benefit in that it objectively allows me to evaluate today’s circumstances through the lens of the past. What I mean is that many conflicts that I uncovered through my research seem to mirror or at least run parallel to contemporary issues involving freedom of speech and government censorship. A running theme in such conflicts is that anti-radicalism operates as a proxy by which nativism, anti-immigrant and anti-labor sentiment can flourish. It is difficult to not juxtapose this framework with the rhetoric that is becoming increasingly dominant within our government and media. The right of the alt-right has proliferated nativism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and islamophobia within daily rhetoric. Not only is radicalism being used to dehumanize some of the most marginalized members of our society, but our president has shown a shocking disregard for freedom of the press and constantly undermines the role of the media. The framework of past cases can offer a glimpse into the propensities of the future. It is imperative to understand the structure of oppression from past lessons so that it may be more readily recognized and undermined in the future.