Sunday, March 26, 2006

WaPo Chat With Chomsky: "Lancaster, U.K: What do you feel are the limits to 'free speech' given the arguments recently over racial hatred and religious intolerance?

Noam Chomsky: My feeling is that the Supreme Court reached a reasonable standard of protection of speech in the 1960s, a standard higher than any other country in the world, to my knowledge. In brief, speech should be protected up to participation in imminent criminal action. So if you and I go into a store to rob it, and I say 'shoot,' that's not protected. Like all judicial decisions and legislation, this leaves plenty of gray areas, including many of great significance that are rarely discussed: advocacy of imminent war crimes, such as aggression, for example. I think we would all agree that such speech should be protected, despite the often horrific consequences, but it's worth noting that that stretches the doctrine to its limits.

Wellfleet, Mass.: Mr. Chomsky:

Many fear the country is moving towards a "police state" where the Executive acts according to its desires, without constraint. What possibilities do you see, if any, for the trend towards consolidation of power in the Executive to be thwarted?

Noam Chomsky: The concerns are justified. Thus in this morning's press it was reported that after signing the new version of the Patriot Act with grandiose flourishes, President Bush quietly issued a "signing statement" that exempted him from its requirement to notify Congress of FBI actions that go beyond court authorizaton. That is yet another brazen affirmation of executive power. There are many others. There is little doubt that this administration is at an extreme in seeking to establish a powerful state executive, free from interference by Congress or public awareness of its actions. The justification is the "war on terror," but that can hardly be taken seriously. Terror is doubtless a very serious threat, but it is all to easy to demonstrate that it does not rank high in administration priorities.

Though the concerns are valid, we should not exaggerate. The public is not likely to give up the achievements of centuries of struggle easily."

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