Insult and Injury, Ideas and Actions: An Anarchist Defense of Unlimited Freedom of Expression

(This piece was originally published as a broadside in 1994 but remains particularly relevant today)

Virtually everyone in the united states claims to support freedom of speech and expression. When debate arises around attempts by certain individuals to exercise this freedom, however, one frequently finds purported free speech advocates among those hoping to suppress the speech of others. Unfortunately, the position taken by many anarchists and leftists on this issue is no more principled than that taken by more mainstream conservatives and liberals.

In practice, most people, whatever label they use to describe themselves, support the freedom to say things with which they agree, but favor efforts to prevent the expression of ideas which they strongly oppose. Many conservatives, for instance, wish to prevent any discussion of homosexuality which does not condemn it, but advocate the freedom of college students to use racist expressions. While, on the other hand, quite a number of liberals and leftists support allowing black racists to speak on college campuses, but oppose attempts by white racists to have public rallies. And anarchists have frequently sided with those who oppose free speech, going so far, at times, as to physically attack white racists.

One argument heard from those who wish to stop others from expressing themselves is that saying or depicting something nasty is the same as doing something nasty. By this logic, racist speech is the same as physically attacking someone because of their color, or the acting out of a rape scene by performers in a video is an actual rape. This is simply untrue. But using expressions like “verbal assault” to describe name- calling tends to blur the difference between speech and action, between insult and injury. Even as children, we were taught that “sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will never hurt us.” And, while it is not true that we are not in some way “hurt” by being called names or otherwise offended by the speech of others, a clear distinction must be maintained between emotional distress and physical pain. Self-defense is completely justified when one is physically attacked, whatever the reason. But, offensive speech, while we may wish to respond to it using various non-violent methods, is something we must allow if we wish to have a free society.

Another rationale for stifling the expression of others is that, even though the speakers or writers are doing no more than propagating certain ideas, these ideas might encourage some people to engage in actions which could physically hurt others. It is certainly true that people’s actions are motivated by what they think, and that their ideas may be influenced by others. Nevertheless, wherever people acquire the beliefs which motivate them, each individual is responsible for her or his own actions. If someone, after hearing a racist speech attacks someone of a different color, or destroys someone’s porn magazine after reading an anti-porn article, the attacked are justified only in defending against their attackers, not the speaker or writer. Only hostile actions merit a physical response.

The way to respond to ideas with which one disagrees is to propagate different ideas. Open debate of opposing ideas is the best method of finding the truth and promoting ethical philosophies. Only those who fear that they will lose in such a debate advocate that the views of their opponents should be suppressed. Those who advocate a new kind of society where people live in freedom, but feel it is necessary to suppress the ideas of others in order to achieve this new world, might benefit from a look back at the history of the soviet union, where exactly such a philosophy was implemented. As an early critic of the leninists said, “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.”

Not My Presidents

It has been entertaining to watch all the demonstrations and actions by anarchists and leftists since the election of Donald Trump.  These have largely been prophylactic interventions since Trump had not yet actually done much but talk and insult people, having failed to implement very many real changes.  It was unclear what the point of some of these marches was other than support for all good things and opposition to bad ones, presumably all of which were caused by Trump.  A recurring image has been a sign that reads “Not My President.”  Anarchists, one would hope, have never had a president but some of them seem to feel it is more important to point this out at present than it was under the regime of Obama. Continue reading

A Gang of Individuals Against Totality

All too often anarchism as a movement and a discourse is oriented towards collectivist ideology.  I mean this in a literal sense of an ideology.  Much of what is called anarchism seems to be more of a form of Hegelianism.  Possibly it becomes a way for Marxists to smooth out the more and more obvious contradictions of their ideology.  Continue reading

Identity Fraud

The word anarchist has long been used to label various people and movements that often are and have been quite different from each other in their approaches, ideas and goals.  People who have called themselves or been described by others as libertarians include individuals as diverse as Bakunin, Warren, Armand, Kropotkin, Michel, Stirner, Goldman, Mackay, Durruti, Arrigoni, Dolgoff, and Rothbard.  What made all of these folks anarchists was their opposition to the state, to governments of all kinds.  They all believed that the state was a pernicious force which crushed individual freedom and stood in the way of cooperation and mutual aid among equals.  But their ideas about how to destroy or circumvent the state and their actions intended to accomplish their goals varied tremendously.  Continue reading

You Always Act for Yourself

“… since expropriation is a way of getting away from slavery individually, the risks have to be borne individually, as well, and comrades who practice expropriation for themselves lose every right – if such a right even exists for anarchists, and I don’t believe it – to claim the solidarity of the movement when they fall into misfortune.”

Brand (Enrico Arrigoni)


I took this quotation of Enrico Arrigoni (aka Frank Brand) from an article he wrote called “The Right* to Idleness and Individual Reappropriation” that appeared in his publication Eresia di oggi e di domani (Heresies of Today and Tomorrow – published in the mid to late 1920s). In the article, he didn’t only attack the doctrine of the “dignity of labor” then popular in radical circles, but also any moralistic conception of solidarity. Continue reading

The Drug War is Hell

Legalization of possession and use of marijuana is spreading gradually from state to state, but this should not be taken as a sign that the drug warriors have declared a truce in their murderous attempts to control what people smoke, ingest or inject. They have simply conceded one battle in this war, one that was becoming harder and harder to justify to the people of this country whose extorted tax payments fund this misguided adventure. Just as re-legalization of alcohol after prohibition was repealed did not lead to deregulation and free individual choice in when, where, and how people were allowed to imbibe, now-legal marijuana use is and will be regulated, controlled, limited, and taxed by those who feel it is their responsibility—no, right—to tell the rest of us how to live. Continue reading


I am not your ally. We are not comrades. Leftism is merely another authoritarian ideology. Your very attitudes preserve the hegemony of the totality. You may try to redirect blame away from yourself, saying that we need to unite to fight the “real enemy.” Just because your leftist management and control strategy lost, & did not succeed in its attempt to dominate class society, does not mean that I am sympathetic to you. Nor do I feel pity. Merely disgust. Continue reading

Unsettling Science

“In science, theories are always hypothetical and provisional and are a convenient method of grouping and linking known facts, as well as a useful instrument for research, for the discovery and interpretation of new facts; but they are not the truth.”

“The scientist makes use of hypotheses to work on, that is to say he makes certain assumptions which serve him as a guide and as a spur in his research, but he is not a victim of his imagination, nor does he allow familiarity with his assumptions to be hardened into a demonstrated truth, raising to a law, with arbitrary induction, every individual fact which serves his thesis.”

These quotations, taken from two articles written by Errico Malatesta in the journals Umanità Nova and Pensiero e Volontà in 1922 and 1924, respectively, resonate strongly with me when I consider what passes for science today. Continue reading

ADDSMD: A Breakthrough Discovery in Psychiatry

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a new mental disorder has been discovered that is proving to be the greatest breakthrough in psychiatry in decades. According to Dr Ima Schrinquac, “ADDSMD is a recently discovered disorder, added in the latest update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” She went on to explain that ADDSMD stands for “Artificial Disorder Designed to Sell More Drugs.” Continue reading