Theodore Dalrymple on Speech and Freedom

La Rochefoucauld said that love of justice in most men is only fear of suffering injustice. By analogy, love of free speech in most men is only fear of being shut up. If they were a bit stronger than they are, they would just have monologues, the most pleasurable of all speech forms. Who among us has not taken part in a conversation in which his principal concern was with what he was going to say next, hardly bothering in the meantime to listen to the others, except to await a pause into which he may interject his wonderful words?

Freedom and Its Discontents

As Dalrymple goes on to affirm- and the teaching of Scripture and Tradition affirms- the rooted danger to conversation- whether person to person or in the context of broader society and culture- is found in our own hearts, in our own- sinful!- inclinations. We are, in our fallen condition, egotistical creatures, and for creatures that express themselves principally through speech, that means guarding our ‘right’ to speak. The fragmentation that occurs afflicts every aspect of our lives, as we retreat from the other into the self-sure domains of our own reasoning and understanding.

The insertion of the Word Incarnate is ultimately an act of interjection into our closed-off conversations: Christ is ‘the Word spoken in silence,’ Who does not trumpet Himself, does not go on television and scream over a panel, does not order His disciples to put up propaganda boards all over Palestine, or form pressure groups to shout down the opposition. Instead, His enemies seek to silence His life-giving Word, and work together- their desire to stiffle the discourse of the Other united in one target- to crucify Him and put His words in the grace. Yet He is resurrected and sends His disciples out into the world, without gold and silver to act as lobbyists, still speaking the truth and trying to listen- to God and to the other.

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