Eternally Radical Glossary

The Eternally Radical Idea

As with many legal and philosophical theories, recurring themes in free speech culture can be reduced to “terms of art,” or phrases used to succinctly describe ideas and concepts. As the Eternally Radical Idea either generates or encounters these ideas, we will record them here for ease of reference.


Bedrock Principle, The:  The idea that you must not ban something simply because it is offensive is one of the most fundamental elements of freedom of speech and First Amendment law. See: The Bedrock Principle: Why Trump (and everyone) should oppose anti-flag burning laws (Sept. 14, 2020).

Censorship Envy: As defined by Eugene Volokh: “The common reaction that, ‘If my neighbor gets to ban speech he reviles, why shouldn’t I get to do the same?’” See: The NYPost & Twitter Crash Into ‘The Streisand Effect,’ ‘Censorship Envy,’ and ‘the Slippery Slope Tendency’ (Oct. 15, 2020).

Censorship Gravity: The tendency of psychological, cultural, and political forces to pull societies back towards more closed societies and censorship. Stands for the premise that free societies are unusual and hard to maintain, regression to the mean is regression to closed societies. See: Fleabag, Noom, the Future of Freedom, & ‘Censorship Gravity’ (Oct. 19, 2020).

Gurri’s Negation: My term to convey Martin Gurri’s observation in his book, “The Revolt of the Public,” that the explosion of social media and information technology that coalesced to accelerate “The Fifth Wave,” has tremendous power to tear down institutions, ideas, and people, but, as of yet, very little ability to create or sustain. See: Gurri’s Negation: ‘The Revolt of the Public’ is this month’s book award winner (AND Interstellar Rockabilly!) (Feb. 26, 2021).

Gurri’s Nihilism: My term to describe the kind of nihilism Gurri describes in his book, in which negation is the primary approach and the lack of constructive or realistic suggestions or proposals amounts to a kind of de facto, and sometimes explicit, nihilism. See: Gurri’s Negation: ‘The Revolt of the Public’ is this month’s book award winner (AND Interstellar Rockabilly!) (Feb. 26, 2021).

Heckler’s Veto: When an individual or group attempts to silence a speaker through noise, intimidation, or violence. The First Amendment requires government actors to avoid empowering the “heckler’s veto” against protected speech. The “heckler’s veto” is incompatible with free speech culture, as it limits the right to speak and the right to be heard by a willing audience on issues objectionable to groups powerful enough to bring to bear sufficient noise, intimidation, or violence. See: Dear University of North Texas: The ‘Heckler’s veto’ is not a good thing (Nov. 5, 2020).

Lab in the Looking Glass, The: The theory that the value of free speech is in knowing what people actually think. An alternative to the “marketplace of ideas” theory, which posits that free speech will permit true ideas to triumph over false ideas by giving them all a fair hearing. See: Coronavirus and the failure of the ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ (Mar. 13, 2020). See also: “Pure Informational Theory” of Free Speech.

Mill’s Trident: My term for the observation made by John Stuart Mill in “On Liberty” that, in any argument, there are only three possibilities (being wrong, being partially wrong, or being wholly correct), and every possibility is improved or strengthened by freedom of speech and inquiry. See: Mill’s (invincible) Trident: An argument every fan (or opponent) of free speech must know (Feb. 16, 2021).

Moral Pollution: The phenomenon whereby, by virtue of its physical or conceptual proximity to someone or something immoral, an idea, a person, or an object is considered metaphorically contaminated. This can provoke powerful moral emotions like disgust and contempt. See: ‘Moral Pollution’ at the University of Chicago: The case of Dorian Abbot (Dec. 11, 2020).

Non-Delegable Constitutional Duty: The obligation of a state actor to ensure agents who perform delegated duties are doing so in accordance with constitutional obligations, including the First Amendment. In other words, the recognition that the state cannot empower an agent to perform an action the state could not perform itself. See: At Loyola Marymount, another student government plays censor after student senator is impeached for supporting Trump (Oct. 21, 2020).

“Pure Informational Theory” of Free Speech, The:  My primary and highly expansive justification for the value of freedom of speech can be stated as “knowing the world as it is is the arduous project of human knowledge, and we cannot begin to know the world as it is without knowing what people think, believe, or what they’re willing to say they think or believe and why. Therefore all speech is of some value because all speech conveys some amount of information. Because it is hard to judge in advance what information is particularly useful to know, the broadest possible protection of opinion is necessary.” See: Twitter as meditative practice: ‘Why Buddhism is True’ by Robert Wright wins this month’s book award (Mar 24, 2021). See also: Lab in the Looking Glass.

Slippery Slope Tendency, The: My observation that, “when it comes to limitations on speech and the uniquely sensitive environment of college campuses… [t]he slippery slope of censorship is demonstrably not a fallacy.” In general, the recurring tendency of well-intentioned speech rules to expand in application until they encompass circumstances that seem obviously inapplicable. See: The NYPost & Twitter Crash Into ‘The Streisand Effect,’ ‘Censorship Envy,’ and ‘the Slippery Slope Tendency’ (Oct. 15, 2020).

Streisand Effect, The: As defined by Mike Masnick, the process by which “the simple act of trying to repress something… online is likely to make it so that something most people would never, ever see… is now seen by many more people[.]” So named because of a 2003 story where attorneys for Barbra Streisand sued a photographer, who had been documenting the erosion of California’s coastline, for having photographed her coastal home. See: The NYPost & Twitter Crash Into ‘The Streisand Effect,’ ‘Censorship Envy,’ and ‘the Slippery Slope Tendency’ (Oct. 15, 2020).