Most liberals and smart people want racists to be allowed to speak

Over the past year or so there have been many worries that liberals are backing off from their support for free speech. Even mainstream figures such as Howard Dean have started to chant the mantra “hate speech is not free speech”. And then you have op-eds from professors such as When ‘free speech’ becomes a political weapon.

But whenever I look at the General Social Survey I see no great change in support for free speech in terms of the patterns. Perhaps something has changed in the year 2017, but I think what we are seeing are vocal and motivated minorities who are drowning out liberal (in the classical sense) majorities.

The GSS has a variable, SPKRAC, which asks:

…consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior. a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community claiming that Blacks are inferior, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

The plot at the top of this posts shows that the GSS sample respondents exhibit almost no change year to year on this question.

The GSS also has a variable, SPKMSLM, which asks:

Now consider a Muslim clergyman who preaches hatred of the United States.

If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community preaching hatred of the United States, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

This question has been asked since 2008, and only a minority would allow this person to speak, 41-43 percent.

Let’s break this down by ideology and intelligence from the year 2008 onward. The GSS has a variable, WORDSUM, which is a vocabulary test. Respondents receive a score from 0 to 10 (correct). I combined 0-4 as “not smart”, 5-6 as “average”, 7-8 as “above average,” and finally 9-10 as “smart.”

Also I limited the sample to non-Hispanic whites to compare “peaches to peaches.”

What the above plot shows is that liberals support free speech for both racists and Muslim radicals. Conservatives are more skeptical of free speech for both groups, but especially the Muslims. You might be curious why moderates seem so skeptical of free speech. That’s because on average moderates are less intelligent than people at the ideological poles, and the less intelligent are generally less supportive of heterodox speech (I suspect it’s because they are too dumb ever to come up with an original and transgressive idea).

But don’t take my word for it.


It’s a very robust pattern that the less intelligent are skeptical of deviant thought. I think it’s partly because they can’t empathize since they don’t have many thoughts.

Below is a table which does a cross-tab of views on speech for racists and Muslims (again, for non-Hispanic whites after the year 2008). You can see ideological and intelligence distribution for various positions. Conservative anti-Islamic and liberal philo-Muslim tendencies are on display. The less intelligent are overrepresented among the censorious.

  Extremely liberal Liberal Slightly liberal Moderate Slightly conserv Conserv Extremely conserv
Full sample 4 12 10 36 16 18 4
Allow both to speak 5 15 12 32 15 17 4
Allow Muslim to speak, not racist 7 18 15 32 15 12 2
Allow racist to speak, not Muslim 2 9 8 39 15 22 5
Ban both from speaking 2 9 9 42 13 21 5
  Not smart Average Above average Smart      
Full sample 13 40 33 13      
Allow both to speak 7 34 39 20      
Allow Muslim to speak, not racist 6 40 40 13      
Allow racist to speak, not Muslim 19 46 26 9      
Ban both from speaking 14 48 34 4    

4 thoughts on “Most liberals and smart people want racists to be allowed to speak

  1. I’m reading through George Orwell’s collected writings and notice he comments that the intelligentsia of his day had not only authoritarian but totalitarian tendencies. Seems true today too. Maybe it goes with the territory? (E.g. were Catholicism (is that a word?) and Calvinism totalitarian ideologies?) Maybe American and British (or more generally Anglo) liberalism and conservatism are the only two non-totalitarian philosophies (not even ideologies)? Reading Samuel Huntington’s book, American Politics, you could get that idea.

  2. Some pedantry directed at our host, in re: the word censorious.

    I don’t think that word means what he (seems to) think it means.

    (I also would be surprised if this is news to him).

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