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Reisman on Free Speech; Not Quite There


George Reisman does not (fully) understand the libertarian view on free speech.

In this otherwise excellent article of his George Reisman states: “Nevertheless, by the logic of the prevailing view of freedom of speech, protesters in the future will be able to storm into lecture halls and/or seize radio and television stations in order to deliver their message and then claim that their freedom of speech is violated when the police come to eject them, even though the police in such cases would in fact be acting precisely in order to uphold the freedom of speech. Indeed, since the days of the so-called Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, back in the 1960s, disruptions of speeches delivered by invited guests have occurred repeatedly on college campuses, in the name of the alleged freedom of speech of the disrupters. No attention has been paid to the actual violation of the freedom of speech of the invited speakers.”

In his analysis of the occupiers occupancy of Zuccotti Park, Reisman was astute enough to place free speech rights exactly where they belong; as part and parcel of private property rights:

A major lesson to be learned from the occupation is that hardly anyone nowadays understands the meaning of freedom of speech. Contrary to the prevailing view, freedom of speech is not the ability to say anything, anywhere, at any time. Actual freedom of speech is consistent with respect for property rights. It presupposes that the speaker has the consent of the owners of any property he uses in speaking, such as the land, sound system, or lecture hall or radio or television studio that he uses. Had the owners of Zuccotti Park invited the protesters to camp on their land and propound their ideas, and then the police had ejected them, the protesters’ freedom of speech would in fact have been violated.

However, when Reisman arrives at his discussion of Berkeley, he forgets all about this keen insight of his. Rather, he writes as if this campus of the University of California, like Zuccotti park, was private property. But even a fraction of a moment’s reflection will reveal this to be a total falsehood. Rather, this institution is state — not private property, and any analysis of private property that does not take into account this primordial libertarian fact must go off the rails.

This is precisely the error committed by Reisman’s mentor, Ayn Rand, as exposed in this article of mine. For further support of the view that the University of California at Berkeley is not private property, and that this is crucial for any accurate libertarian analysis, see here.

Let us be clear on what I am not saying. I do not aver that the “invited speakers” at Berkeley, the ones invited by the administrators, that is, the thieves in charge of that institution, were in the wrong. They, too, have free speech rights (although these must be truncated, given that they are invitees of the ruling class exploiters). What I am saying is that Reisman, in treating this university as if it was private property, errs in his otherwise excellent analysis of free speech. This author full well understands the issue of free speech. But, in using the University of California, Berkeley as an illustration, he made a particularly bad choice.

Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at Loyola University, senior fellow of the Mises Institute, and regular columnist for LewRockwell.com.

Click here to see an extensive online compendium of Dr. Block's publications.

Click here for a complete list of Dr. Block's books.

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