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Introducing "Right Against Right": a serial on the liberal convention of free speech

Once again, like the aborted Torsion and Tension manuscript, I have a project that did not make the roster of publication submission. Unlike Torsion and Tension, that I eventually withheld because I thought it was incomplete, I was unable to submit this particular (and smaller) manuscript for publication because it was initially meant to be part of a series of extended essays that I was unable to consolidate. The point of this series was to produce a number of very small books––the non-fiction equivalent of novellas or novelletes––that were designed to interrogate particular ruling class conventions. Here was the original proposed series blurb:

Excavating Bourgeois Ideas is a series of extended essays intended to provide a radical “thinking through” of key ruling ideas of the ruling class. The point with each of these engagements is not to provide a thorough engagement of the subject matter but instead to promote a thoughtful but polemical introduction to the concepts in question. Functioning as quick and dirty summaries of the conceptual terrain each engagement will provide an invitation to think further, an opening into the logic behind each idea, and introduce the reader to the relevant comprehensive texts. Since the ideas of the ruling class often possess the status of “common sense”, we hope to lead curious readers into reconsidering concepts that they might have otherwise valued as normal, precious, or even natural. We believe, following Antonio Gramsci, that those in power are mainly able to reproduce their power by making us consent to the values that ensure their dominance (or “hegemony”), to imagine them as our own. We plan to trouble the waters and generate enough interest for readers to investigate each concept further with the material we draw upon and promote at the end of each engagement.

At the outset I had conceptualized six excavations/interventions: rights, security, free speech, pursuit of happiness, humanitarian intervention, love. The point was to unveil the way these words were turned into bourgeois concepts and how these conceptions produced particular subject positions within the capitalist mode of production. Due to other commitments I never got this project off the ground but, at the same time, I had written an extended essay about free speech intended to be part of this series. Rather than wait to reboot this project and find a publisher (in a context where I'm trying to get other manuscripts published) I have chosen to turn my free speech piece into a downloadable blog serial.

Based on the fact that I have blogged several times on the liberal convention of free speech, and due to the fact that these interventions were limited by the medium (they were more polemical than rigorous), I felt that it was useful to outline a thorough critique of this convention that: a) explained its most coherent meaning and theoretical origin; b) reveal its limits and class commitments; c) demonstrate the ways in which this liberal convention is misunderstood as progressive when it fact is capable of being mobilized to defend reaction.

So beginning with the prologue, I will lay out and serialize this manuscript for those interested in thinking through the meaning and limits of "free speech".