The American Dream is based on freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech, philosophies cannot be expressed,Â groups cannot form, and agreements cannot be made. To illustrate these ideas, let us examine the Pope's recent statements about Islam
and the reaction than they have drawn from parts of the Islamic world
Â and the general connection of the underlying philosophyÂ to the American Dream. Both the Pope's statements, when read in context, and the Islamic reaction makes the philosophic divisions in the War on Terror much clearer.Â However, even the idea of freedom of speech can be perverted to disparage free agreements between individuals, as we see in the recent case of Bill Maher
The American Dream is based on a very specific philosophy.Â Â It saysÂ that social interactions shouldÂ determined byÂ the free agreement between of individuals. The state doesn't exist to control our social interactions. It exists to prevent individuals (criminals) andÂ other states (enemies) from depriving individuals of their ability to make those agreements. The American Dream allows individuals to pursue wealth, fame, glory, or God. However, theyÂ must pursue their goals within the boundaries of influencing the free choices of others through speech rather than physical force or the threat of force.
The power of the state is inherently coercive.Â Â The police and army exist to neutralize individuals and groups who would use coercion to force others to agreement. For this system to work, people must be free to speak andÂ to replace their leaders.Â The coercive power of the state cannot be used for private gain.Â Â Contracts,Â those who make the civilÂ law,Â and those execute and decide the law must arise from communication, reason, and theÂ free choices of the electorate.
This very American Dream stands in opposition to another dream, the desire for coercive power. Every child dreams of having magical control over his or her world including the actions of other people.Â Those who are dissatisfied with their ability toÂ control their relationships through speech alone often desire controlling them through coercive power. This is especially trueÂ for those who see their superior qualities as being under-rewarded. These people frequently join groups which feed their sense of superiority and promise them the power to coerce others. Those who see themselves as superior often believe that coercion offers them a reasonable routeÂ to prove their superiority.Â Â Those who stand in opposition to the use of their coercion, such a democratic government, are therefore seen as these people'sÂ "oppressors."
This logic leads us at last to current event. What did the Pope say that angered the Islamic world? Simply put, he said that "converting" people throughÂ the threat of forceÂ is evil. Those in the Islamic world who seek to create conflict with the West truncated his remarks to incite their followers. The quote I first heard in the media stripped away the salient parts of Benedict's quote of Emperor Paleologos, leaving only the insult:
Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman...
Those who cut off the rest of the quote apparently do not think we can follow complete sentences, much less complete paragraphs. Those looking for an insult here must close their eyes to the context and real meaning of what the Pope was saying. Trusting that my readers can follow complete paragraphs, I offer the context surrounding the partial quote. The Pope said:
The emperor must have known that Surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.
But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qurâ€™an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the â€œBookâ€ and the â€œinfidels,â€ he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words:
Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.
God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death....
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature.
The question for the Muslim community is whether they are angry against a half sentence, taken out of context or whether or not their real anger is aimed at the Pope targeting the idea that coercion has no roll in religion, or, in a larger sense, the modern civilizedÂ world.
TheÂ American dream springs from twomillennia of tradition that says as Constantine did: "Whoever would lead someone by faith need the ability to speak well and reason properly, without violence of threats."
Do those in the West who truncate the quote and say that the Pope "misspoke" or "made a mistake"Â do so because they cannot read and understand this idea?Â Â Or do they advertise the Islamic claims of insult because they do not feel the ideals of the freedom of speech, freedom from coercion,Â andÂ the American dream worth defending?
Free speech must be protected by government and from government coercion so individuals are free to make agreements. To serve this vital role, the term "free speech" cannot be perverted to mean other things thatÂ have nothing toÂ do with thisÂ idea central to our ability to communicate.
For example, "free speech" cannot be redefined to include coercive actions because those actionsÂ "express a point of view." When Muslims bomb churches
in response to the Pope's speech, this is not an act of expression but an act of coercion. Those who equated hurtful words with coercive actions (or the threat of them) undermine the very foundation of our freedom. If we allow certain groups the right to coerce others under the guise of "freedom," we destroy the whole basis for individualÂ freedom. For example, if the Netherlands agrees to recognize Sharia law
for governing the Muslim community, they are basically abandoning their responsibility as a state. If the Netherlandscannot protect people with any group in their countryÂ from coercive violence, the Dutch people are no longer free and the state no longer serves a purpose. This idea that certain populations, let us call them "elites," have the right to coerce others within their group is antithetical to the idea that role of government is to protect its citizens against the coercion of those who see themselves as "elites."
To preserve freedom, we must be very clear about the difference between the responsibilities and limitations of government in controlling private interactions. When we say "freedom of speech," we mean specifically the freedom from government censorship and the protection by the government from the threat of coercion from others when we speak. We must understand that there will always be groups who consider themselves special. These elites will always feel that they have a "right" to coerce others. Freedom of speech can never be perverted to mean that these elites can force other individuals into agreements those individuals are not free toÂ choose. Nor can these self-appointed elites can force us to listen to them rather than others under the guise that it is their right to freedom of speech.
Sharia law in Netherlands would appoint the Islamic clergy as an elite group. In the US, it is more often celibrities who consider themselves an elite groupÂ with special rights. "Free speech" does not mean that elites should be automatically grantedÂ access to the audiences of others.Â For example, if CBS says that they will only agree toÂ give Bill Maher access to their network if he follows certain rules, it is their right to do so as part of the agreement. If Bill Maher doesn't want to agree, he doesn't have to but nor does he have any right to access to the CBS audience. Bill Maher's celebrity status does not give him the right to coerce CBS under the claim of "free speech."Â IfÂ Bill Maher was a non-celebrity, no one would take his claim of unhampered access to the CBS broadcast system. Bill Maher's celebrity status does not make him into an elite with a special right of access to other people's property.Â
Similar claims of "censorship" regarding agreements between individuals are made so regularly these days that it may only be a matter of time until some judge uses the coercive force of government to force people to bend to the will of some elite. After all, the Supreme Court has already blessed
a city taking property from on group of individuals so that theirÂ property can be usedÂ by other individuals who the government deems "better."Â If the highest court in the land blesses the use of coercive force of government to redistribute property from regular people to an elites, it can also redistribute the right to speak in a similar way.
The American dream has no meaning unless people are free from coercion. We must make a choice. Should success arise solelyÂ from voluntary agreements among people, or should we allow certain elites find success by coercing people, through threat of violence orÂ the use of government power,Â into agreement? If we choose the later course, human progress as we have seen it blossom since America's beginning is at an end.