Culture, Politics

The Founders Fought People Like Nina Jankowicz

First, the Founders had just fought a revolutionary war that was born from print culture, from an explosion of written sources that were widely shared and widely contested. Someone like the Massachusetts colonial official Thomas Hutchinson absolutely thought, and said very clearly, that he was engaged in a contest with idiots who were spreading disinformation in print. I’ve already written about this, too…

Second, all of the things the Founders enshrined in the Constitution were the products of a fierce and sustained rhetorical contest in print, as Federalists and Anti-Federalists — writing pseudonymously, like some asshole on Twitter — fought over the likely practical effects of their ideological differences. Brutus and Cato thought Publius was spreading disinformation, and Publius returned the favor. Newspapers all over the country reprinted their exchanges; 18th century political discourse was wide open, it was broadly disseminated, and it ran hot. If you want to argue that “free speech” in the 21st century means something different than it meant in the 18th, you have to say how. People argued then. In print. And then the arguments went out all over the place. I Swear.

Third, the Founders and the first generations that followed them had their own contests over free speech, all kinds of them, and they turned on the same premise that we’re now fighting over — which is to say that it’s not really some stunning new tactical pivot to say that people who disagree with you are liars who are misleading people. All of the people who are saying that the past was totally different, so now we have to stop people from speaking openly and writing whatever they want, because our experience of existence is nothing like the 1980s (Boot) or the 18th century (Alter):

These people are not arguing in good faith. Their argument is, Everyone needs to be chained to the wall now, ‘cause it’s not like the old days. It’s based on nothing. They’re making it up. Read more…

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