"Let Us Restore to Social Intercourse …

that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Not that I know how to arrange that, but it's as worthy a goal today as it was in 1801.


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  1. Probably the best way to start is getting rid of intolerant liberals who want to dictate their way of life and beliefs on everyone.

    1. And we’re off to a good start!

      1. Liberalism is not compatible with a liberty based society. The “my way or the highway”, “if you disagree with me and all my extremist beliefs then you are a racist, bigoted nazi” way thinking and acting just doesn’t work. Time to recognize that and throw the bums out.

        1. It’s hard to determine whether you are deliberately being ironic or if you really don’t see the irony in your comment.

      2. It’s crude, but not far off from reality.

        Individualism can allow socialists to simulate socialism with contracts. It won’t have the death camps and coercion and bloody single-mindedness of true socialism, but I wager it would satisfy 90% of them.

        The opposite is not true. Socialism can’t even tolerate individualism, let alone simulate it.

        1. I am confident that I am at least as stridently anti-collectivist as you are. And maybe the risks of collectivism are indeed so grave that Prof. Volokh’s is a hopeless naïf to invoke Jefferson here, and we instead ought to treat our ideological foes with the most incivility we can muster.

          If so, let’s come out and say it.

          1. A free society has to tolerate those who despise freedom, or it isn’t a free society. I do not believe such tolerance has to be civil when those threatening me are not civil. After all, threatening to deprive someone of liberty is hardly a civil action to start with.

            1. So, perhaps I would say, “A mixed economy, including socialized healthcare, and more vigorous government constraints on the size of per-share-voting corporations seems to be what this nation needs now.”

              When I said that, was I “threatening” to deprive someone of “liberty?” Or was I civil?

      3. LOL!

    2. If only this were ironic humor ….

      1. JtD’s attitude seems not uncommon on the right.

    3. Yup. Similarly, the way to end war is for all the good people to join together and kill all the bad people.

      1. And repeat, ad infinitum, until the last person standing commits suicide!

      2. Seemed to work in WWII.

  2. I’ll agree with this sentiment about civility.

    Most recently, Ellen and George W were sharing a booth at a recent Cowboys game. OK, sure. No issue. Ellen did quite well in her commentary.

    But then later for the outrage on Twitter from the hard left that Ellen “dare” sit next to that evil conservative.

    1. Business is so used to multipliers, as in each letter written by someone angry enough to do so represents thousands of people who weren’t quite so motivated.

      So along comes flash in the pan twitter outrage and that represents over three hundred trillion people.

      1. Perhaps….

        One of the hallmarks of Twitter and e-mail is it makes responding so easy. Anger can be in the moment. Used to be, it would take work to write a letter and mail it. And that’s a higher bar.

  3. Professor – no hat tip to Reason’s own video about the Adams/Jefferson campaign of 1800?


  4. Given his commitment to free-speech fundamentalism, it seems peculiar that Professor Volokh would entertain civil discourse as a worthy goal. A norm for civil discourse will always come at some expense to the notion of absolute protection for uncivil speech.

    1. My dear Mr. Lathrop, you’re obviously a great guy who gives careful consideration to issues, so let me ask whether you have been 100% fair to the strong free-speech position by slapping the “fundamentalist” label on it? Usually this term is, I regret to say, used as a dismissive devil-word.

      1. Eddy, good question. With regard to EV, I use the word advisedly, but not as a “dismissive devil-word.” Instead, I refer to the musty religious overtones the word also carries.

        In many of my comments criticizing EV’s speech threads, I have pointed to a tendency to cite long-ago, pre-internet precedents to support arguments about internet-related issues. Not infrequently, those come up in cases disputing issues which had never been seen until the internet, in effect, invented the issues and thrust them to the fore.

        Internet publishing has been an especially fertile area for cases of that sort. I have been urging EV to take note of changed circumstances which his commentary quite often seems to overlook.

        I admire EV’s depth of knowledge, reasoning skills, and clear writing. I suggest the nation could profit if he chose to use those to help guide the rapidly-evolving 4-cornered balance between internet speech freedom, defamation, censorship, and law.

        Instead, EV seems to insist again and again that the law of speech as it was circa 1980 is all the nation needs, or will ever need. Old-time religion, it seems to me. It looks destined to be overtaken by events, with results for the nation notably worse than if EV, and others with similar skills, had pitched in to improve the outcomes.

        1. Ah, now I understand where you are coming from. Thank you for the perspective.

          (We all have to be on our best behavior on a thread about civility.)

        2. Why would the internet require a different “balance” of free speech rights than high speed printing presses, radio, television, ham radio, telephone, CB radio, motor vehicles and planes (allowing much more mobility so people could speak over a much broader number of venues at a reasonable cost and in places they were not known and therefore subject to social snubbing), code-talkers, AOL, CompuServe, newsgroups, email, BBSs, or the telegraph did?

          The internet really doesn’t seem all that different from the others — except that the others now seem “normal” or obsolete. If in the future quantum computing allows communicating at nearly infinite speed/volume, 100% securely, anonymously, and without wires or radio waves, will that become the new bogeyman to justify restrictions on free speech for a generation that was born and raised with the internet just being a thing as common and as historically familiar as wheeled vehicles are today?

          1. The same reason it was OK to tape phone lines without a warrant, why it is OK to search a car without a warrant, and why it is OK to search garbage cans without a warrant. (I may not be up to date with all these)

            Government expands. That’s what it does. Expecting otherwise is a fool’s errand. Expecting a government to limit itself is especially silly.

        3. Stephen,

          I think maybe an example would help make your point clearer.

          1. bernard, perhaps more helpful than an example would be a few general descriptions of novel kinds of problems the nation must now cope with because of internet publishing.

            1. Publishing giantism. There is no precedent in the nation’s history for the stifling national command of advertising revenue now wielded by a very few large publishing corporations. A major enabler of that freakish growth has been the decision in Congress to pass Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That enabled the most aggressive business models to publish everything, from all contributors, without reading any of it. Absent that specially privileged recklessness, the growth could not have occurred as it has. What has happened has gone far to destroy legacy news media, by depriving them of ad revenue, without offering anything to replace what has been lost in terms of the quality and variety of published content.

            2. Replacement of the legacy publishing business model, which prioritized assembling and building an audience to sell to advertisers, with a clicks-based business model, which sells individual stories to advertisers, one-by-one. The baleful effects of that change on publishing content quality would need many pages to describe. In brief, the changes include advantaging lies over truth, and outrage over edification. The changes also facilitate organized campaigns of disinformation, run by people who best understand how to exploit the new model. Election interference is but one example, but an important one.

            3. Combining data-based user tracking with the clicks-based business model has created something entirely new and hugely disruptive in multiple dimensions: an audience-surveillance-based publishing business model. The implications run wild, but always include overwhelming damage to the notion of personal privacy.

            4. Publishing without reading, because responsibility for defamation has for practical purposes been all but abolished. That means that every defamation, every copyright violation, every fraudulent scam, every false election story, etc., and on and on, will always be published, and do damage, before there can be any action to correct the problem. Usually, no remedy for damage already done will prove possible. That makes a mockery of the previously-helpful adage that the best solution for bad speech is more speech. More speech rarely has power to alleviate damage already done. Not reading before publishing multiplies damage of that sort many-fold.

            5. Constriction of publishing variety. That is just the flip side of giantism. A publishing universe entirely ruled by a few giants creates an ever-present risk of viewpoint discrimination, without allowing alternative outlets.

            6. The generalized effect of all of the above, acting together, is rapidly increasing pressure for government censorship, and also for business interference in publishing from government. Uncompensatable damage creates demands for government acton.

            These effects are novelties in the world of publishing, newly delivered by the internet. The law of publishing grew up without challenges of these sorts to worry about. In some cases, especially the case of publishing without reading, the law had long relied on private editing to buffer the problems, and keep them away from the courts. Left unchanged, that old body of law will not cope successfully with all these new challenges.

        4. It seems as if you’re just dancing around the idea you want some form of government censorship of speech because the internet.

          1. donojack, I have consistently opposed all government censorship of speech, in all its forms. One of the principle reasons I think government needs to reconsider the special privileges it has extended to internet businesses, is because I think those privileges contribute to building public pressure for government censorship.

    2. Lathrop is correct, some speech can be quit dangerous. For example, the word “triggered” can cause people to lose control of their car.

    3. I don’t see anything peculiar – or even particularly incongruous – about think that a more civil discourse would be nice but that 1. Government regulation isn’t a particularly effective means of getting there and 2. The costs wouldn’t be worth the price even if were.

  5. Maybe the upcoming Project Veritas exposé of CNN will help.

    1. lol Veritas keeps plugging away. No one believes them anymore. But they are useful as a propagandistic tonic for the troops.

      1. I wonder what else has been plugging away for several years, and people rightly start to wonder if they should be believed.

        1. Birthers? Climate change deniers? Deep State coup conspiracy theorists? Scalia murder conspiracy theorists? Rafael Cruz/L.H. Oswald conspiracy theorists? Seth Rich/CrowdStrike/Ukraine conspiracy theorists? Massive illegal immigrant voter fraud conspiracy theorists? Inauguration crowd size conspiracy theorists? Alleged victims of Trump sexual abuse are all just a conspiracy of ugly feminists theorists?

          1. You forgot a few:
            Russian collusion; Trump cheering Nazis in Charlottesville; Trump hiring prosties to piss on a bed; climate doom; Hunter Biden tots qualified for the job; Dems aren’t for open borders; Sanders isn’t a commie; Clinton never went to Pedo Island; Russians stole the election from Hillary; Lynch’s meeting with Clinton was about their grandkids; the Clinton foundation is a charity; Biden is an anti-corruption crusader; Omar never married her brother; the Green New Deal is sane; the media doesn’t cover for Dems; there has been no coup attempt; encouraging kids be transgender isn’t child abuse; late term abortion isn’t murder

            1. Also:
              We don’t want to take your guns; government paying off student loans is fair; radical Islamists aren’t; illegal immigrants aren’t; government is what we all do together; progs love free speech; no walls have ever worked anywhere; Dems don’t want to create a new electorate; Google, Facebook and Twitter are unbiased; the NYT is not a propaganda organ; Comey, Brennan and Clapper don’t belong in jail

      2. I like how you’re already effectively calling their report a lie, even though none of us have seen it yet.

        Reality isn’t that bad. You can actually accept it once in a while without denial or making up stories. Things will be ok.

        1. Liars lie, Ben.

          To expect that this time they’ll tell the truth is foolish.

          1. Veritas: This guy said this, here is video proof of the guy saying it.
            Volokh liberals: Lies! I don’t believe a word of it.
            MSM: A man can change into a woman by clicking his heels five times and wishing on a magic star.
            Volokh liberals: Sounds about right to me!

            1. They edit and lie and do inept sting attempts. That’s all they’ve ever done. You’d think the fact that they have to distort so hard would tell you something about what wholesale rejection of the media has brought you.

              But no.

              You eat it up. That’s your brand.

      3. We edited this video because of time constraints. You can view the unedited version on our website. How does that compare to your latest cut and paste editing effort re Trump’s China presser?

  6. Uh oh. Is this a prelude to a civility crackdown? I have a feeling that Headmaster Kerr is going to be delegated to whip us into shape.

    1. God I hope so. This place has become a cesspool.

  7. Social intercourse is NOT social networking with electronic apparitions. Social intercourse is face to face, and I have not been in a fisticuffs since high school.

    Step away from the keyboard, take a look around and a breath of fresh air.

    1. An after thought: I am legally armed with a gun, as many are, and have never committed an uncivil act with my gun. There is a grand devide between the portrayal of society and the experience.

  8. One can’t seriously make this point without singling out our crude, immature and monstrously uncivil President and the 40% or so of Americans who cackle with glee at his latest embarrassing insult. Everyone else’s offenses are so minor as to not merit a mention.

    1. Not even a mention. Got it.

      1. Yes that’s correct. The reason he gets away with it is because too many people say “both sides do it!”

  9. Jefferson and his contemporaries seem to have variously used “men” to refer to (what we would call) white men, white adults, adults, citizens, etc. When “men” was singling out whites, was this done in part because (what we would call) racism was even then uncomfortable to more explicitly acknowledge?

    1. “uncomfortable to more explicitly acknowledge”

      Jefferson wrote much about race in his Notes on the State of Virginia, which was aimed at both a domestic and foreign audience.

      As I recall, he saw slavery as bad but entertained the idea that black people were inferior.

      What was uncomfortable at the time was acknowledging the gap between theory and practice when it came to American liberties and black people’s lack thereof. Jefferson being an example.

  10. Civility has suffered from the demise of gatekeepers. Not that long ago the fringes were simply ignored by the leaders on all sides of the political spectrum and the media which was generally limited to big published for news and 3 mass TV networks.

    The divisions across the spectrum were probably less, with people generally being more tolerant of differing views, even views some would find abhorrent.

    The solution is for the opinion leaders to show some respect for those they disagree with and call out those on any side who go to extremes. To give all people some understanding.

    I find many issue failing to appreciate the position of those who disagree with them and caricaturing their opponents as the worst possible interpretation of their position. Examples are easy to come by.

    I recall a story my father told me from the mid sixties at the height of the civil rights protests. At a meeting of the church board someone raised the question of what would happen is a black family wanted to join our church/ There was some discussion and someone finally said ,” You know Dr. and his wife from a nearby historically African American College has been attending Sunday evening services for years. The discussion was over and as far as I know never brought up again. Apparently when the Dr. started attending services no one thought to make anything of, as they shouldn’t have and life went on. In so many cases today we have people going out of their way to inflame situations because of their political crusade instead of meeting people one at a time with respect as individuals.

    1. “Civility has suffered from the demise of gatekeepers.”

      If anyone qualified as a gatekeeper it was the New York Times, and they’re still around, most recently publishing an article suggesting that one of the editors’ fellow-Democrats is linked to Nazis and Russians – because the Democrat in question is critical of the military-industrial complex. See this site’s own reporting:


      1. Eddy,

        I suggest you read the NYT article that the piece you link to is talking about.

        Mr. Britschgi’s depiction is rather distorted. The “hints” and insinuations he finds seem to be mostly his own imaginings.

  11. Considering that lies and hyperbole were in full swing prior to the revolution, perhaps this is a case of something long wished for that has never actually existed. As far as I know, King George never actually ate babies and it has been admitted by the perpetrators that no Native Americans were actually involved in dumping tea into Boston Harbor. Hearst proved definitively more than 100 years ago that outrage could be made to overwhelm reason with enough press coverage.

    The instantaneous news cycle of the internet places reliable news and fallacy free opinion at a considerable disadvantage to the clicks generated by making unchecked ‘facts’ and uninformed ‘opinion’ available immediately. The rush to publish leads to the further promotion of prejudice at the expense of thoughtful discourse.

  12. Not that I know how to arrange that,

    None of us, as individuals, can arrange that. We can, of course, try to do what we can in the hope that others will do the same.

    One thing we might do is call out those on our side of the political divide who engage in obnoxious, uncivil, even inflammatory, rhetoric.

    Bluntly, EV, I haven’t seen you do that (not that I claim particular virtue there either). So your calls for civility ring a bit hollow.

    1. The proprietor acted decisively for civility in banning Artie Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland for making fun of conservatives (although the acquiescence when his right-wing fans call for killing liberals suggests it might have been partisanship masquerading as civility).

      Then there is the curious but telling silence regarding Pres. Trump (including with respect to free speech issues, regarding which it often takes far less than a presidential pronouncement to trigger a comment from the proprietor) . . .

      His playground. His rules. Others can judge those rules, however, including with respect to civility.

    2. This goes down a whole rabbit hole – “you must denounce this person you don’t know and probably never heard of but whom I think is similar to you or on the same ‘team.'”

      Then the mutual demands for “self-criticism” evolve into another excuse for incivility.

      1. Eddy,

        You have a point, but I don’t think everyone should be issuing denunciations right and left, just that publicly bemoaning incivility is unconvincing when those moaning seem unwilling to criticize those on their side.

        1. I suppose there are various explanations for the prof only sometimes getting specific about offenders on “his” side (or either side for that matter). The charitable interpretation which I will presume is that it can be challenging to monitor offensive comments, especially if one is trying to maintain an open forum for opinions.

          There’s also the question, as I alluded to, of who is on “his” side – The prof may be a right-wing reactionary conservative from the perspective of academia, but compared to certain commenters he’s on the liberal side.

          1. And apart from the Rev, who thinks Volokh is on Trump’s side? Certainly the other Conspirators rarely seem to be.

  13. So the consensus seems to be:

    1) Civility is a wonderful thing

    2) Which is why the other side are such Hitlerite scum because they violate norms of civility

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