Thursday, December 24, 2015

Freedom of speech

Many democratic nations have laws against "hate speech."  The United States does not--it's safe to say that the immediate reason is because the courts would strike them down as violating the first amendment, but I wondered if the difference in laws corresponded to a difference in public opinion?  I couldn't find any questions specifically on "hate speech," but in 2006, the International Social Survey Programme asked about "people whose views are considered extreme by the majority.  Consider people who want to overthrow the government by revolution.  Do you think such people should be allowed to . . . hold public meetings to express their views" and "publish books expressing their views?"  The choices were "definitely," "probably," "probably not," and "definitely not."

I summed the answers to the two questions, counting definitely as 4, probably as 3, etc.  The average in the United States is 6.39--ie slightly more favorable than "probably."  This was the highest value in the 33 nations surveyed, by a pretty substantial margin.  The complete list:

6.39 “United_States”
6.02 “Portugal”
5.98 “Germany”
5.98 “Sweden”
5.97 “Switzerland”

5.93 “Philippines”
5.77 “Japan”
5.77 “Norway”
5.75 “Dominican_Republic”
5.69 “France”

5.66 “Venezuela”
5.65 “Taiwan”
5.65 “New_Zealand”
5.52 “Denmark”
5.52 “Israel”

5.48 “Canada”
5.48 “South_Africa”
5.39 “Uruguay”
5.32 “Slovenia”
5.27 “Croatia”

5.26 “Czech_Republic”
5.20 “Ireland”
5.06 “Netherlands”
5.04 “Finland”
5.00 “Australia”

4.94 “Chile”
4.91 “South_Korea”
4.91 “Great_Britain”
4.89 “Poland”
4.50 “Latvia”

4.28 “Hungary”
4.28 “Spain”
3.83 “Russia”

What I find most interesting is that the US and other countries with a British heritage don't have much in common, in contrast to views on inequality.  That is, relatively high support for the rights of "extremists" is not part of some general cultural heritage, but something distinctive to the United States, presumably attachment to the Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights.    Another striking point is the difference between Portugal (second most favorable) and Spain (second least favorable).  I wonder if it has to do with the way that they emerged from dictatorships in the 1970s?  In Portugal, it was a revolution, or at least a coup--the dictatorship was forced out of office.  As a result, "revolution" may have a favorable sound.  In Spain, the transition was guided by a constitutional monarch.  

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