Kendall critiques Mill’s ideology of the absolute freedom of “professing and discussing” on two primary grounds. In the first place, he argues that certain restrictions on speech are the aegis that a society can erect to prevent the manifestation of overt, violent political acts. Lifting these restrictions has the ironic...
Kendall critiques Mill’s ideology of the absolute freedom of “professing and discussing” on two primary grounds. In the first place, he argues that certain restrictions on speech are the aegis that a society can erect to prevent the manifestation of overt, violent political acts. Lifting these restrictions has the ironic consequence of actually limiting liberty and the rule of law in a society that practices the kind of absolute free speech that Mill encourages. If Communists (a term Kendall himself uses) or anarchists were to be given an equal measure of latitude in the freedom to express their ideologies, and this expression encouraged others to join their ranks, the possibility would emerge that they could ultimately overthrow the fundamental governing structure of society and lead it into chaos. However, for Mill, this is (again, according to Kendall’s reasoning) actually preferable, because their completely untrammeled ability to express themselves is a sign of a completely free society.
In the second place, Kendall argues that a society in which there is no commonly understood and universally applied restriction on the proliferation of certain ideas eliminates the possibility of any form of social cohesion or common sensibility. A society in which even the most marginal religious convictions or political ideologies are given as much credence as the most commonly accepted is one where confusion and disequilibrium dominate. He says,
To put it otherwise, when we elevate freedom of thought and speech to the position of society’s highest good, it ceases to be merely freedom of thought and speech, and becomes—with respect to a great many important matters—the society’s ultimate standard of order.
The crisis that emerges, Kendall maintains, is that this complete openness of thought and speech eliminates any and every expression of a general public truth. In this society, there is no orthodoxy and there are no preferred doctrines—only the fledgling ephemera that characterizes the unformed and multitudinous opinions of the masses, quacks, and extremists. Ultimately, Kendall concludes that we must “adjourn objections to open society doctrines on the ground that they are rooted in demonstrably evil teachings.” The only possible end result of such an open society, he concludes, is revolution, which would undermine the very political infrastructure that permits a free-speech society in the first place.