“Every man is entitled,” said Samuel Johnson, “to utter what he pleases, and every other man is entitled to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test.”
Our view is different. We believe that every man is entitled to utter what he pleases, and the police are there to see that nobody knocks him down for it. Martyrdom makes trouble.
Our attitude to free speech, like our attitude to everything else, is opportunistic. In this, as in other matters, we are guided by expediency. We do not imprison atheists because we do not think atheism matters. We imprison men who seek to sow disaffection in the army or navy because we value more highly our defences against Germany than our defences against atheism. We are not less intolerant than our ancestors, but we are intolerant about different things. A man may say roughly what he likes in Hyde Park, but in free England he is not permitted to wear a black shirt in a procession. “Damn Baldwin” is not provocative to Earl Baldwin, but a black shirt is highly provocative to those who are working for a dictatorship of the Red Shirts. We don’t mind people saying what they like about the next world because we are not sure there is a next world. We strongly discourage people from saying what they like about rich people because we are certain that there is such a thing as property.
We believe in religious toleration up to a point, but only up to a point. We imprison conscientious objectors in wartime, and even in peacetime we should not be prepared to tolerate the indiscriminate propaganda of all religions. Hinduism, in which little girls act as temple prostitutes, is a case in point. If a Hindu missionary made converts in Hyde Park, and if as a result little English girls were sent out to India to serve as temple prostitutes, the apostles of Hinduism would deservedly receive short shrift.
Meanwhile, as Randolph remarked, people are free to damn whomever they please.
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