Milo Yiannopoulos Learns About Unlimited Speech

Milo Yiannopoulos has finally got caught saying something that has cost him a speaking engagement, a book deal, and even his job at Breitbart. It wasn’t a specific rant against anyone in particular this time, but rather a video of him defending limited forms of pederasty. Considering all of what he’s said for attention in the past. it’s not too terribly surprising that he finally said something he can’t defend.

Mr. Yiannopoulos has been thriving off controversy masquerading as free speech advocacy.
He’s a walking, talking example of the mistake many people make conflating unlimited speech with free speech. When he’s been banned from speaking engagements, there’s usually an outcry about free speech that follows. The idea is that despite the awful things he says and does, he should be allowed to talk no matter what. Some people even go so far as to say that he’s being censored.

Sadly for them, that’s not what being censored means. Censorship involves an official, a government agent that can restrict speech according to law. Without the use of law, nobody can censor anything. Those people are merely restricting speech in some capacity.

Free speech only exists in the context of legal rights to speech. For example, if a local municipality revoked a license for a rally Mr. Yiannopoulos hosted, that’s a free speech issue (like those Nazis wanting to march through Skokie, IL). Barring that, the issue only becomes one of whether he can have his speech restricted in other ways. When people are screaming that Milo’s free speech is getting violated, they’re really trying to argue he should be able to speak without restriction.

Unlimited speech causes more problems than it solves.
Essentially unlimited speech advocates call for a world where everyone has to host and put up with everyone else’s bullshit. Reacting to speech is a greater public sin than saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times. Sometimes the view goes so far as to imply that people can’t control their own spaces when it comes to conflicting speech. You can see a lot of this in public back-patting with regards to refusing to moderate Internet forums.

Mr. Yiannopoulos highlights why this isn’t tenable. If saying he can’t speak at a private university is censorship, it means universities can’t control what is said on campus. By extension, it means they can’t control what gets taught in their classrooms. Media outlets can’t control what gets said on their shows. Website operators can’t control what stuff gets said on their websites. It all has to go through no matter what.

In other words, I’m saying that speech cannot overrule certain private property rights. Just as I have a right to make sure some jerk with a bullhorn isn’t talking about global warming on my lawn at three in the morning, I also have the right to determine what speech I listen to in places I control. Otherwise, I can’t control them. This is true whether I’m talking about private housing or a campus I own or a television station I own.

Here is a helpful comic strip to further make my point.

Image source. Reprinted under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license.

Image source.
Reprinted under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license.