Over the last few days, I’ve posted several posts about liberal vs. conservative attitudes on a range of free speech questions, including “hate speech,” anti-religious speech, and more, both based on questions from the General Social Survey and based on an analysis of Supreme Court Justices’ decisions on these questions (whether from the 1970s to now or the 1990s to now). All the results show a similar pattern: (1) liberals tend to be somewhat more sympathetic to free speech protection, including for racist speech, than are conservatives or moderates, (2) the difference is fairly slight, and (3) all three groups are divided on the subject, often sharply divided.
As readers might have gathered, these posts have been triggered by the common argument that I hear from conservatives — for instance, in the comments to these very posts — about how liberals are supposedly eager to support restrictions on “hate speech” and on anti-Muslim blasphemy. Being someone who generally leans more conservative than liberal (and definitely more Republican than Democrat), I would have liked to endorse this argument, and see liberals as culpable in the occasional moves to impose such restrictions. But I think the argument is misguided, for four closely related reasons.
1. It’s factually unsound. Liberals are generally no more likely than conservatives to support restrictions on “hate speech,” and are probably somewhat less likely to do so (though the apparent distance between the groups generally isn’t that great, and is small enough that it’s possible that true distance is virtually nil).
It’s true that some “hate speech” restrictions, such as campus speech codes and even more aggressive restrictions, have been mostly proposed by liberals (in this instance meaning generally people who are left of center). But some of the leading opponents of such restrictions, such as Nadine Strossen [...]