Persuasion or Force: The Problem of Free Speech in Modern Society

[ Norman and unidentified Japanese tennis partner ]

Norman and unidentified Japanese tennis partner, Unknown, 1955, University of British Columbia Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, BC 2124-116, If nothing else, Norman was a serious man, but he found time for some diversions, such as tennis

E.H. Norman
Address delivered at Keio University, November 26, 1948

The twin concepts of freedom and liberty have been the battle cry of oppressed groups since the beginning of recorded history. The nature of that freedom which was demanded has often proved illusory to idealists who expect perfection in this world; it has deceived historians and philosophers who, seeing in later history the frequent betrayals of liberty, have inpugned, [sic] the motives of those advocates in the first instance. Many groups suffering from disabilities or oppression, once they themselves have succeeded in gaining political power, have proved as oppressive as the dominant force which was overthrown or compelled to grant concessions.


If one thing is clear in the history of the modern world it is that freedom is not something constant and assured like the air around us. It has to be consciously won and jealously guarded. It can be lost through negligence or apathy in countries where it has reigned for many years. Thus the struggle for freedom is continual although it need not always assume dramatic or violent form. It is often a prosaic but nonetheless important struggle against apathy, indifference and cynicism.

Just as the history of liberty is full of ups and downs, of advances and retreats, so it has drawn as its champions men of varied types and abilities. …

In short, both aristocrats and plebians, men of wealth and members of the working class, persons of all creeds and character from the saint to the debauchee, people of varied and conflicting motives ranging from the most disinterested and selfless to the vain and egocentric have been enrolled under the banner of liberty. …

The corollary to this follows that no political party, no religious creed, no social class can claim a monopoly in the service of freedom. It is thus the duty of every citizen to view the struggle for liberty as a vast complex process, keeping clear a broad perspective, realizing that the interest of liberty may be served by many different groups and varied personalities. Many people again have come to look upon the freedom of expression as something of a luxury in politics … So far from being luxury, or as something with which society can dispense as it can some budgetary item, I believe freedom to be the very essence and life-blood of any self-governing society.


In this present world all of us, regardless of nationality, to a remarkable extent share each other’s problems; we rejoice in the victories of freedom in any quarter, are solicitous for its advancement everywhere, and mourn its eclipse even in distant lands. Thus I beg you to do all in your power to cherish the freedom that you have, and make good use of it or it will atrophy like some organ which is left unused. …

I urge you to be brisk and vigilant in defence of liberty; by making Japan a citadel of freedom and free culture you can prove yourself to be the truest patriot. …

The world is tired of war and force. Not only as between different classes in a nation but as between nations themselves force must give way to persuasion and reason if the world is not to retrogress fatally. Force is terribly easy to use, especially against some unpopular minority in the community. It is possible in this way to silence the voice of those whom an impatient government is irked to hear. But by so doing the community carries within it an embittered and disaffected member. The same is true today of relations between great and small nations.


Source: UBC Rare Books and Special Collections, Roger Bowen Collection, Box 9, File 3, E. Herbert Norman, "Persuasion or Force: The Problem of Free Speech in Modern Society," November 26, 1948

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