Should slander be protected as free speech?

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QUESTION: I have questions about a past column of yours on the topic of blackmail. You wrote: “Manyslander libertarians consider slander of a person’s reputation to be a violation of the non-aggression principle; others don’t.”

I’m confused. It seems to me that slander should be protected as free speech in a libertarian society. There’s no aggression involved. So what’s the problem?

MY SHORT ANSWER: Not all libertarians agree on whether or not a lie constitutes aggression. A lie does not necessarily affect only one’s reputation. For example, a service provider could be put out of business by a well-publicized lie and lose all their assets before they were able to set the record straight. I have actually seen this happen to a publicly-traded company, where stockholders lost their investments and the employees lost their jobs.

Does a person have the right to free speech? Of course! Must they take responsibility for the consequences of their speech? That is the real question.

For example, if a person purposely yells “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, and people are killed in the stampede, is he or she guilty of manslaughter if there was no fire? The person yelling “Fire!” has the right to free speech, certainly. Must that person pay restitution to those who are injured or the survivors of those killed?

What if the person thought they smelled smoke and truly believed that there was a fire? They were trying to help people and didn’t lie, but the result was the same. Are they responsible for the dead and injured?

This is where libertarians disagree over this issue. Some libertarians would agree with you that the only consequences that a liar should have to face is damage to his or her reputation, regardless of the consequences of that lie. Others believe that a liar is responsible for the resulting damage.

 

in Ask Dr. Ruwart, Liberator Online by Mary Ruwart Comments are off
About the author: Mary Ruwart

Dr. Mary Ruwart is a leading expert in libertarian communication and author of the international bestseller Healing Our World. She is also author of Short Answers to Tough Questions, in which you will find a collection of her answers from this column. In this column she provides Liberator Online readers with answers to questions libertarians are often asked. Dr. Ruwart is a research scientist, ethicist, and a libertarian author/activist. She received her B.S. in biochemistry in 1970 and her Ph.D. in Biophysics in 1974 (both from Michigan State University). She subsequently joined the Department of Surgery at St. Louis University and left her Assistant Professorship there to accept a position with The Upjohn Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1976. As a senior research scientist, Dr. Ruwart was involved in developing new therapies for a variety of diseases, including liver cirrhosis and AIDS. Dr. Ruwart left Upjohn in 1995 to devote her time to consulting and writing. Her communications course for scientists (www.speakingforscientists.com), covering written, oral, and poster presentations has received high praise from attendees. She also provides consulting services for nutraceutical companies, clinical research organizations, and universities. Currently, Dr. Ruwart serves as Chair of the International Society for Individual Liberty (www.isil.org) and Secretary of the Foundation for a Free Society (www.f4fs.org). She has been an At-Large member of the Libertarian National Committee (www.lp.org), served on the Board of both the Heartland Institute (www.heartland.org; Michigan Chapter) and the Fully Informed Jury Amendment Association (www.fija.org).