The difference between 'appropriate' and 'legitimate' speech

I was recently asked by a commenter to make a post dedicated to a discussion of the limits of free speech. I have posted so often in defence of controversial speech that I figure it an interesting exercise to see if I/we can come up with a consistent principle that would exclude the obviously illegitimate and only that.

To touch off the discussion, Ted offered four examples of controversial speech.

This case is not as simple as the ones that were brought up in the comments section where the request was raised. But then again, nobody promised that the world had to be simple.

The first complication is that the above four examples actually represent three different cases of assembly (the two last pics are from the same picket on the same day) and eight different cases of speech: Four cases of physically picketing someplace, and four cases of publishing pictures of the picket.

This is not a trivial distinction: Even if one considers the picket illegitimate, it does not automatically follow that the publication of the pictures is also illegitimate, and conversely, even if the publication of the pictures was illegitimate, the picket itself may have been pure as the driven snow, speech- and assemblywise.

I will start by noting that I'll try to distinguish between legitimacy - as in 'should this be legal?' - and appropriateness - as in 'should this be frowned upon?' A large part of the difference is that the former is content-neutral, while the latter is not.

Prohibiting something is an act of force by the state - as Perlsø (The Pragmatic Libertarian) likes to put it, prohibiting something means being willing to send men with guns to somebody's house. For something to merely be socially inacceptable is another kettle of fish, since this does not, in a well-ordered society, imply threats of violence. Hence the reason to require more consistent justification for outright prohibition than for 'mere' social exclusion.

The reason that I attempt to make this distinction is that we are now moving from cases (the Cartoon Jihad, etc.) where I feel that not only should the speech be legal, it is also highly appropriate and should be approved by society, into a realm where I will probably often be saying that 'I condemn his speech (and I think we should boykott his business), but I don't think prohibition is warrented,' and doing so, I want to practice this bit of mental housecleaning to avoid the most glaring inconsistencies.

Having thus laid some of the ground for our foray into the matter, I will turn in before my brain starts leaking out of my ears due to lack of sleep.

See you tomorrow (or maybe saturday).


Don Rummy takes one for the White House

The Danish Broadcasting Service now reports that the war criminal Donald Rumsfeld has stepped down. While I observe this with no small amount of schädenfreude, I doubt it'll really change anything much. But you read it here first (at least I beat Dispatches from the Culture Wars to it).

EDIT: And it also looks like the Rethugs didn't have enough Diebold machines emplaced...