Thomas Hobbes, the great philosopher of absolute monarchy, laid down the basic rules according to which tyrants should control the thoughts and actions of their subjects. “For,” Hobbes wrote in his masterpiece, Leviathan, “the actions of men come from their opinions, and the way to govern men’s actions…is to govern their opinions.”
Therefore, the ruler must impose a rigorous censorship on all publications. He must select the censor — in Hobbes’s words, “who shall examine the doctrines of all books before they are published” – and must indicate acceptable and unacceptable ideas. In Hobbes’s ideal state it would be impossible for anyone to act against the ruler, because they could not even formulate the ideas that could underlie such an action.
No doubt all leaders have wished that one time or another that they could simply ban offensive or annoying ideas from the minds of their citizens, and even democratic leaders have tried to eliminate such words from the public square. “Hate speech” is now banned by force of law in many democratic countries, and, if its definition is sufficiently expansive, can be used to silence opponents. We see this at work in some of the recent efforts to silence administration critics by calling them “racists.” Racism falls under the “hate speech” rubric, therefore “racists” can be silenced.
Politicians aren’t the only ones who followed the Hobbesian rules of suppressing language they don’t want to hear. “Educators” have been doing the same thing for decades, with the foreseeable results: an increasingly ignorant population, with real knowledge replaced with politically correct stereotypes and myths. Have a look at this scary report.
Efforts of this sort usually don’t work very well in America, although they have been more successful in recent years. We’re very fractious people, we love to argue, and we don’t take kindly to efforts to muzzle us. Even newspapers and journalists who are normally sympathetic to President Obama get angry when they are locked out of major events, as they were at the nuclear security summit in Washington. This prompted the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to erupt: “World leaders arriving in Washington for President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit must have felt for a moment that they had instead been transported to Soviet-era Moscow.”