No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free, no one ever will. If virtuous, it need not fear the fair operation of attack and defence: nature has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth either in religion, law, or politics.

Thomas Jefferson letter to George Washington, September 9, 1792.

As an adjunct to freedom of speech, people must be able to express their opinions in any medium they choose. If those in the orthodoxy had been able to muzzle dissenters, then Friedrich Hayek’s “sad and angry little book,” The Road to Serfdom (Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, describes how socialism inevitably extinguishes freedom. It was first published in 1944, a time when, thanks to WWII, it was fashionable to see big government as a panacea. On September 20, 1944, the New York Times published a review calling it a “sad and angry little book.” It went on to become the philosophical foundation for the Thatcher Revolution in Britain), would never have been published, Milton Friedman would have been placed under house arrest, and John Maynard Keynes’s head would today adorn the U.S. $1 billion note used by Americans lining up with their ration booklets to buy bread.

Jefferson’s advice is not always heeded, even in the United States. For example, between 1949 and 1987, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission enforced the ‘Fairness Doctrine’, which required broadcast licensees to present both sides of controversial issues. In practice, this rule granted bureaucrats the power to decide what was ‘balanced’, thus subverting the core principle of freedom of the press, which is to free it from governmental control. As Justice Hugo Black explained: “The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” (New York Times v United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)).

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove