Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
G.K. Chesterton observed that when you reject the Big Laws, you don’t get freedom and you don’t even get anarchy. You get the small laws.
This phenomenon is on display in the growing conflict between the Left’s zeal for crushing free speech and the Right Wing Noise Machine’s tendency toward Bringin’ the Crazy. So, for instance, the problem with stories like this is that you always have to keep in mind that one of the permanent itches of the Left’s Nanny State ideology is the constant desire to crush free speech and control public discourse. Just look at the Tyranny of Nice in Soviet Canuckistan, which lacks our Bill of Rights. The Left, of which Media Matters is a flagship organization, *loves* to point to loonies on the right and urge us, again and again, toward the thought, “Maybe we need to start regulating speech.” That’s the goal.
At the same time, guys like Glenn Beck make their job way easier because they really are irresponsible with their endless hysterics and comparisons of everything with a pulse to Hitler. Beck is sort of like those beer ads with gobs of jiggling bodacious flesh, young men and women whooping it up to their hearts content with endless vistas of flowing ale from the manufacturers of Duff Beer—followed by the super-rapid sotto voce disclaimer, “Don’tdrinkanddrivedrinkresponsibly.” As though Homer Simpson is going to carefully shush everybody at Moe’s Tavern in the middle of the party and say, “Wait! Wait! Guys! It says to drink responsibly!” Beck spends his show feeding hysteria about obscure crap that, as ever, is going to doom us all. Sure, he says to have hysterics responsibly. But if you have hysterics enough and shout enough times that your ideological opponent are like the archetypal regime of oppression and mass murder, then you shouldn’t be too surprised when somebody out at the end of the psychological bell curve then acts on that crap with his own hysterical response (in this case, attempted preventative mass murder to defend himself from the alleged Nazi/Communist bogeyman who is just about to kill us all). Is Beck directly responsible? Of course not! No more than Duff Beer is responsible for drunk driving accidents.
And yet, who are we kidding if we completely exonerate Beck thereby? Is “incitement” a word without any real world referent? If so, then I guess we Catholics had better stop complaining about Hollywood types who continually urge their audiences to hate the Church. Hypatia was a mere piece of entertainment, as was the Da Vinci Code. If people get the wrong ideas from such things, that’s totally their responsibility and no guilt accrues to the makers of these fine pieces of cinema.
My point is not “Let the State regulate speech!”. It is rather, that rights (like freedom of speech) always entail responsibilities. A civilization (like ours) that treats freedom of speech as a license for irresponsible rodeo clowns to incite murderous nuts or irresponsible clowns like Andrew Breitbart to slime people without apology is a civilization that is about to destroy yet another of its liberties. The only people who can stave that off are us, but we have to be a responsible self-policing people (like, for instance, the Anchoress) because if we won’t do it, Nanny Staters will be happy to use our refusal of responsibility to take over the job. If we refuse to obey the big laws of responsibility, we shall surely get the small ones of speech regulation. It’s how the universe works, under God.