Saturday, January 15, 2011

Profile: Alexander Meiklejohn

I thought I'd deviate a little from the norm and start adding some thoughts on the philosophical views that basically shape the views that I present on this blog. I may start in the wrong place, but the first one I want to discuss is Alexander Meiklejohn.

Meiklejohn is known as one of the most important American advocates of first-amendment freedoms, and he is also one of the country's most notable proponents of the link between freedom of speech and democracy. Meiklejohn argues that the concept of democracy is that of self-government by the people. For such a system to work an informed electorate is necessary. In order to be appropriately knowledgeable, there must be no constraints on the free flow of information and ideas. According to Meiklejohn, democracy will not be true to its essential ideal if those in power are able to manipulate the electorate by withholding information and stifling criticism. Meiklejohn acknowledges that the desire to manipulate opinion can stem from the motive of seeking to benefit society. However, he argues, choosing manipulation negates, in its means, the democratic ideal. Eric Barendt has called the defence of free speech on the grounds of democracy "probably the most attractive and certainly the most fashionable free speech theory in modern Western democracies".

Note: Meiklejohn's views and opinions are highly relevant today. A number of the threats he identifies are present in today's American society:
* The governmental trend of withholding information ensures that Americans make decisions in elections based on incomplete knowledge.
* The governmental trend of influencing media coverage to ensure that people support governmental policies. These policies are made with the aim of benefiting society.

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