A History of Free Speech song lyrics by Nathan Dufour (2022). Watch the music video here.
Let’s talk free speech –
The concept is that all who seek
To speak their mind can talk in peace,
And not get shot or fined or beat
Or worse. The first amendment says
That we got free speech, free religion and press,
So the shit that you wish to get off your chest
Can get expressed and not get repressed.
But on the TikTok and on YouTube too
I’ve been known to get muted and to not get viewed
And to not get seen — not because I’ve gone nude,
But because Google says what I said’s too crude.
But it’s open to question,
And some have opined,
That there might be times
When we gotta draw a line –
With the misinformation that’s spreading online,
Speech may be free, but it can cost lives.
…Right? It’s sure complex —
Pure free speech can sure cause a mess;
And yet we want more free speech not less —
That’s common sense. – So we need context
To see what comes next. …So are we not free?
What must the limits of our free speech be?
That’s a big question. – Lemme just teach:
This is a History of Free Speech.
2. Ancient, Medieval and Islamic Civilizations
So-called free speech
In the thought of the West can be traced to Greece:
The Athenian concept of Speech-Equality
For all in the polity: they called it Democracy.
…So speak as you want to speak
But not if you’re not a he, and not if you’re Socrates
Speaking on unorthodox topics. – We’ve all agreed
To make you drink Hemlock: stop the philosophy!
– Ah, gee. …And in Ancient Rome too
There was “Liberty” of speech, but it was freedom for few.
And this was even more true in the age of the Caesars
Depending who you were the Caesar could seize your words.
Yes sir. …I guess this is justice…
And then there was Jesus, in the age of Augustus.
He died for His truth. But he vibed with his crew,
And they made it go viral — the Idea grew.
They tried for a few
Centuries to suppress
The little movement till soon
With the rest of the West
They said, The Word IS Flesh –
As history attests,
Sometimes the oppressor becomes the oppressed,
And vice versa. — So free speech waned
And took a back seat in the European brain,
Behind the refrain that all there’s to see
Is The Gospel — so don’t hear or say heresy.
Meanwhile in the ancient Islamic state,
Free speech thronged in the Abbasid Caliphate:
Al-Rawandi, Al-Razi and Avicenna could calibrate
Classical thought with the Qu’ran and contemplate –
And that was all great — But that Shangri-la
Of free thought got stopped by the Shari-ah law:
It’s all a see-saw — all in, or Allah –
And in between, no free-speech law free of flaw.
3. Reformation and Revolutions
And so in went in the West –
And yet Free Speech didn’t rest in the breast;
And in the 15th century it did spread,
When Gutenburg hit with the printing press.
Luther pinned his words
Upon the church in Wittenberg
And ripped a schism in the church
And then within the western world,
And revolution then emerged
With the question getting heard,
As to which of several versions of religion one should serve.
Word — Reformation –
Your profession of faith
Is sure a personal expression,
But you better be safe:
For the church and the state
Still determined the stakes,
And it wasn’t that rare
To get burnt at the stake.
For Giordano Bruno,
It sure was brutal –
For serving his truth; though
Galileo had to lie to live
He hid a truth:
‘Sure the earth’s static’ –
Then he added ‘yet it moves’.
From the mid-16th
To the mid-17th
Many more Europeans
Would die for their beliefs –
And while some died for science
Other Europeans silenced
The speech of other people
Through conquest and violence.
Meanwhile on a another continent
The colonists were confident
Their conscience said,
Free Speech for all —
By ‘all’ they meant
But the concept spread, and Olympe De Gouges
Pled the cause of the enslaved and for feminism too
In the French Revolution — till she who had reached
Far ahead of her time lost her head for free speech.
4. The Modern Age
But what they could not kill
Was a thought from the quill of a John Stuart Mill:
Though all humankind all minus one are not chill
With a thought, that one’s got a right to talk still.
And none is free till
Everyone is –
You can read it in the narrative of Fredrick Douglas,
Who freed himself, and freed his own mind,
By the writing and the reading by which freedom’s defined.
And in time it was news fit to print –
When Ida B. Wells tells the truths of the lynched,
When the leaders out in Selma went and used the bridge,
When Mandela said he’s sooner serve truth than to live.
When the truth hurts big, then let it be uttered –
Free speech one Martin Luther to another –
Never let em vet what you’re permitted to preach –
‘Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.’
A century ago
A demagogue scoffed
At the ‘Marxist press’
And their ‘news that was false’ –
Does that bring anyone to mind? — *light cough*
The guy wrote a book by the name of Mein Kampf.
Oh my God!
The Weimar Republic –
Why didn’t they prohibit it from ever being published?
It was hot off the presses — some bestseller shit —
Would Hitler not have hit if it hadn’t been a hit?
That hits different. — And then when they did
Try to censor them is when the Nazis really got big,
As martyrs for a cause — and a precedent was further
Then set for the censorship they met with him as Fuhrer.
It’s enough to make you furious,
Censorship and murder –
Silence all objectors,
Recondition all deserters –
“Perverters of the Workers must be Purged from the State” –
That or the reverse: “The Commie perps are at your gate!”
And now our language of alert
Has been subverted by the urgent
Overstatement every side has made against its other version:
Insurrection, Treason and Sedition by the arch-
And utter enemies of Freedom
Either way we choose to march.
And in the Too Much Information on this internet of ours,
Now the office of the censor is the autocratic powers
Of the platforms driven by their profit as they scour
While we post our speech and wile away our hours.
…If things seem freer than when all were accosted,
You can still get shot up for drawing Mohammed,
You can still scroll a phone that was made in a spot that
Has a government that doesn’t let you scroll where ya wanted.
Is your own mind free?
Can they tell you what to do?
There’s no vaccine
For the fact that ever-new
Enemies of what’s true
Speak louder than you.
…Why can’t she speak
With her nipples out too?
And so to conclude,
No freedom of speech has been true absolute
All we can do is judiciously choose
To whom we will listen when seeking the truth.
And when fools speak,
And single out groups,
The best way to silence them
And clip their roots
Isn’t to refuse their right to speak
But critique ‘em even louder
Than you used.
Even when the speeches are evil we cope,
Leaning on the note that if we don’t
Let the evil be spoken,
Then when we speak
We too will be choked –
It’s a slippery slope,
But we roll with hope. – And this sound,
Whether it’s suppressed or spreads around,
Whether it’s viral or never gets found,
Whether any platform takes it down,
Is a speech
Dedicated to the peeps
Who were dedicated each
To what must get said –
For the many that have bled,
And as many get bleeped –
This has been the history of free speech.