Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* A Plea for Understanding--Beyond False Dilemmas on the Net, by Charles Ess

Examining a Common Argument Against Censorship

One of the common arguments against censorship runs something like this: democracy means individual freedom with minimal interference from others. Such interference can only be justified when individual expressions of freedom demonstrably harm others. This argument commonly appeals to [] John Stuart Mill's utilitarian principle of harm, and generally [] libertarian notions of the individual and freedom.

But this is not the only definition of democracy. Indeed, many argue that this definition of democracy--roughly, a libertarian/anarchic definition--is a weak concept of democracy: it is weak because

  1. -- its conception of freedom is inadequate, and

  2. it makes assumptions about human nature and human community which are questionable at best, and, at worst, lead precisely to the authoritarian regimes the libertarian/anarchist fears.

These deficits are overcome by more powerful conceptions of freedom and democracy at work in a tradition of argument that runs from John Locke and Thomas Jefferson to the contemporary philosopher Juergen Habermas.

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