Freedom of Speech

by Zechariah Chafee, Jr. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Howe. 1920. 8vo, xii+397 pp. $3,75.
THIS work, by a professor in the Harvard Law School, deals with the restrictions on freedom of speech, and on certain forms of political action, which accompanied and followed the participation of the United States in the European war, and the enforcement of those restrictions by our government. It is not written by a scientific inquirer, aloof from what was going on, but by an active participant in the controversy, who holds strong and definite views on the political and legal principles involved.
Professor Chafee is not himself either a Radical or a Socialist, and he is an ardent believer in the cause of the Allies; but he belongs to that school of liberals who regard freedom of discussion as a supreme and constant necessity for democratic government, and he believes that constitutional provisions and legislative enactments dealing with freedom of speech and political action ought, even in war-time, to be so construed and administered as to allow the widest possible latitude to political opponents of the government. He criticizes severely much of the war-time legislation and the manner in which it was administered by the courts, and criticizes still more severely the de portation policy carried out by the Department of Justice, and the denial of the right of the electors in the Victor Berger case and the case of the five Socialists in the New York State Assembly.
With much that he says one must agree; yet one may doubt whether he appreciates the inevitable limitations of war-time psychology. If men were governed solely by reason, a nation might, without injury to its fighting power, allow free scope to individual opposition. So a man in love might urge his suit in calm and temperate language. But such is not the way in which human nature works. Lovers would rather speak like Romeo than like Herbert Spencer; and a nation at grips with a powerful enemy will insist on at least apparent unanimity of feeling and expression, and will ruthlessly coerce recalcitrant minorities to attain it. To this evil individuals must and will be sacrificed. The half-baked young men and women who suffered imprisonment for foolish talk were as inevitably victims of the war as the French children who were killed by German bombs, and their wrongs will seem to most of us to rank low in the scale of war-time suffering. Legal and constitutional restrictions that stand in the way of national unity will never appeal strongly to any but a few men of rare intellectual detachment.
Yet it is good that, after the heat of the contest. such men should have their say. At least we should see clearly what it is that we have done. Professor Chafee states his case with a moderation and candor which must command respect, whether we agree or disagree with his conclusions. His book is a valuable contribution to the history of the time.
A. D. H.