FREE SPEECH FOR FASCISTS?
Eleven distinguished men and women answer a question vital to the times
In its December 7 issue, NEW MASSES published a discussion, "Free Speech for Fascists?" between Dr. Alexander Meiklejohn, one of America's foremost educators, and Earl Browder, general secretary of the Communist Party. Dr. Meiklejohn asked Mr. Browder whether he advocates "abridgement of the freedom of speech of American 'fascists'." It was Dr. Meiklejohn's contention that if Mr. Browder advocates this, "then here is a clear case in which his 'war mentality' has made him hostile to the First Amendment." In his reply Mr. Browder said: Of course we demand the suppression of American fascists! We fight for complete, merciless, and systematic destruction of fascism in all its aspects, everywhere, including the propaganda of anti-Semitism, racism of all varieties, and its resultant pogrom-like activities in America..."
NEW MASSES sent this discussion to a number of leading Americans and invited them to reply briefly to two questions: (1) Do you believe that individuals or organizations that disseminate fascist propaganda and incite hatred of Negroes, Jews, and other minority groups should be accorded freedom of speech, press, and assemblage? (2) What measures, if any, should be taken against such individuals or organizations? We herewith present the replies. Our own position on this issue has been made clear on many occasions. We wish merely to underscore the plea made by one of the contributors to this symposium, Rev. Stephen H. Fritchman, for passage of the Lynch-Dickstein bills which would bar from the mails literature inciting racial or religious hatred. -- The Editors.
Howard FastNovelist, author of "Citizen Tom Paine"
In answer to question one, my answer is flatly--no. Take Voltaire's old epigram--and I call it that with reason--"I do not agree with what he says, but I will defend to the death his right to say it." How often that has been quoted, and what arrant nonsense it is!
Are we to defend to the death Adolf Hitler's right to promulgate his vicious race theories? Are we to defend to the death the right of all other fascists, native and foreign, to mouth their lies, their attacks upon democracy? Is it inherent in democracy that it must, for the sake of a vague and mystical ideal, give its enemies a legal opportunity to destroy it?
I don't think so. Article I of the Bill of Rights states: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." Such is the guarantee of free speech, as written into the Constitution of the United States; but obviously, as represented through a century and a half of practice, this guarantee is interpreted to operate as a defense of that democracy which is defined by the Constitution. And such was its original conception--free speech as a weapon to forge and uphold the republic.
But let it be noted that again and again, during times of crisis in American history, when free speech was used as a weapon to destroy American democracy, such free speech was ruthlessly proscribed. During a state of war, this is and has been the case; treason could be defended--if any voice were raised to defend it--according to the right of free speech. And in this war, by the very nature of the war, any promulgation of fascism or its child, race hatred, becomes a degree of treason to the United States.
In answer to question two, a nation at war has ample methods whereby to prosecute traitors.
Other respondents included: Rev. Stephen H. Fritchman, editor, "Christian Register" and director, American Unitarian Youth; Don Luigi Sturzo, former leader of the Italian Popular (Catholic) Party; Heinrich Mann, noted German novelist; Carl Murphy, president, Afro-American Newspapers; Rev. Dr. D. De Sola Pool, Rabbi of Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel; Vida D. Scudder, professor emeritus, Wellesley College; Peter Cacchione, New York City Councilman...