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La libertà d'espressione e i suoi limiti

Anno XXII, n. 97, aprile-giugno 1987
Centro Einaudi


Freedom of expression and its limitations

In recent years, no liberal thinker has ever claimed that freedom of expression should be protected as a matter of principle. There might even said to be a sort of hierarchical classification of different forms of expression (literature and pornography, for example) of which only some are generally regarded as being worthy of protection. Nevertheless, even if some forms of expression do not deserve to be protected, liberals are aware of the possible dangers ensuing from their suppression. The author defines such arguments as, first, 'the slippery slope' and, second, 'the chilling effect'. The first goes back to Mill and states that a) one he has started to suppress certain forms of liberty, nobody can ever be sure of where he will stop and that b) even the wisest of men can make mistakes and, hence, that there is nothing to guarantee that, sooner or later, mistakes will not be made even as regards the forms of expression we are striving to protect. The second argument is a variant of the first and points out the danger that, for fear of legal consequences, individuals will express only orthodox opinions, thus impoverishing the quality of the debate. The author sees such arguments as suggesting the suitability of 'super-protection' of forms of expression. We must, however, be aware that this would be an evil, albeit a necessary one, in that it presupposes a tendency, on our part, to ignore some protests that we actually acknowledge as being legitimate: for example, protests against certain types of pornography which offend female dignity, or against the neo-Nazi demonstrations held in Jewish quarters in the United States.