The right to express oneself freely and without judgment or fear is at the core of a prosperous and stable society. No other right occupies this absolute core than the right to free speech and expression – the core of the core, if you will. The right to freedom of religion, thought, movement, assembly, and all other fundamental rights cannot be possible without that of free speech.
As I look around the world, I see many nations trapped in a myriad of social, political, and economic problems. The checklist of problems is simply too long and large. Religious tensions, ethnic rivalries, government authoritarianism, censorship, torture, sexism, racism, poverty, terrorism, civil war, you name it…
It seems a daunting task for such nations to set forth on a path of prosperity and peace. Such a fate for a nation is not doomed to perpetuity, however. It is possible for challenges, large or extremely large, to be overcome. It would be naïve to think that a set of policy prescriptions can solve these problems, that a loan from a development bank can lift a nation out of poverty, or that a perfectly written constitution can guarantee the rights of all citizens.
The solution lies in the people themselves. The solution lies outside established institutions. It lies first and foremost in the right to free speech.
Freedom of speech can hold corrupt governments accountable for their shortcomings. A culture in which it is acceptable to criticize leaders and question their authority is the most effective way to make government effective itself. When people have the freedom to engage in their own government without fear of imprisonment and torture, a political culture emerges in the population and ideas generate among citizens. Government officials will have a boss to please: the people themselves. This, in turn, will help government deliver on its objectives to foster growth, help the poorest, and secure the interests of the nation as a whole. A culture of true free speech is the strongest necessary condition to help make this possible.
Freedom of speech can help mitigate religious and ethnic tensions by securing the ability of minorities to speak up without fear of persecution. Shared interests and common objectives can be better realized than without the guaranteed right of the minority to speak loudly.
Freedom of speech can help the fight against sexism and gender discrimination by making it okay for women to champion their causes. No woman should be executed by her own government for seeking an education. The freedom for women to expose outdated policies as sexist and inhumane is the starting point in moving towards an enlightened culture of gender equality.
The list goes on and on. With freedom of speech, ordinary citizens can then fight for all other rights and for the success of their nation.
Expressing oneself is at the absolute very core of global progress. The creativity of human beings is made evident by today’s science, technology, commerce, and communications. Unleashing that creativity will allow for all of societies woes to solve themselves.
Of course, this is all easier said than done, and of course freedom of speech for everyone will necessarily result in some forms of expression that many may deem as counterproductive and prejudice. It will also, however, result in expression that many may deem as productive. That is the nature of humankind. If it is one cause that the world should rally around to promote peace and stability for all, it should be that of freedom of speech. Having it in a perfectly written constitution is not enough; it needs to be fully upheld by the legal system and society as a whole.
The right to freedom of speech and expression is the starting point for which all else ensues. It is the first domino in a series that leads to what all people everywhere want: a better life.