Today’s mood of intolerance towards free speech resonates with public opinion. One of the most disturbing developments of past two decades is the loss of support for freedom of speech amongst the wider public. This was confirmed in the recently published British Social Attitudes Survey, which indicated that a larger section of the British public (64 per cent) support the right of people ‘not to be exposed to offensive views’ than support the right for people to ‘say what they think’ (54 per cent). The report concluded that the ‘general public is generally less convinced about civil liberties than they were 25 years ago’ (27). Only a small majority of the public takes free speech seriously. The survey also suggests that these illiberal attitudes pre-date the war on terrorism, and therefore cannot be blamed on the political atmosphere created post-9/11.
That fact alone underlines the scale of the challenge facing those of us who still take freedom and liberty seriously.
- Frank Furedi
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