Last Saturday, C-SPAN aired a panel discussion held at the second annual Liberty Film Festival. I taped it because its participants included communist-turned-neoconservative Ronald Radosh (ho-hum), NewsMax writer James Hirsen (ho-hum), and the Ayn Rand Institute's Jeff Britting, who was a co-producer of Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (excellent!).
I was rather disappointed in the event, as Jeff Britting only got to have his say about three times. The moderator from the American Enterprise Institute pretty much let the leftwing movie critic Richard Schickel interrupt everyone else whenever he wanted.
Fortunately, business ethicist Tibor R. Machan of the International Society for Individual Liberty noticed what was wrong with this "discussion": "I think Jeff Britt[ing], with his Randian ideas, was treated shabbily and hypocritically." How shabbily?
Upon airing these views as Rand’s, Britting was told his ideas are ridiculous—by Schickle and some others. Even Ron Radosh, who is an ex-Communist but has long since recanted, made a special point of dismissing and deriding Rand’s viewpoint on this issue.
What did these people object to?
The gist of it went that if one seriously disapproves of someone's views, one has every right (and often ought) to boycott them. Otherwise one is aiding and abetting someone who is working against one’s ideals. Accordingly, if one is pro-capitalist and they are procommunist, one has the right and maybe even the responsibility to boycott and, if possible, blacklist them.
This really is a simple idea: Jews who didn't wish to purchase German cars even way after WWII were engaging in such a justified boycott -- refusing to give jobs to and enrich Germans who were very likely complicit in the horrors of Nazism. If one refuses to hire someone to clean one’s home or type one’s manuscripts or whatever, someone who is an avowed or secret but well enough known communist, one is doing the right thing. If one, a pro-choice advocate, refuses to do business with pro-life advocates, this makes perfectly good moral sense.
Generally, Rand held that one has every right to make a determination who one will freely do business with. She was not advocating any government action against the Hollywood folks. She did, however, think they were morally depraved for giving aid and comfort to Soviets and their American spies. So Hollywood had every right, even responsibility, to boycott or blacklist them.
Free speech means that you can say whatever you want to anyone willing to listen, without violating anyone else's right to life or property and without any other party -- government or otherwise -- threatening violence upon you on account of your speech. The threat of violence is embodied in every injunction, every citation, and every regulation of government since, the more one resists the law, the more severe the penalty will be enforced by armed government officials.
Free speech means that I can either make a movie out of my own screenplay or sell my screenplay to any studio wishing to purchase it. If I want someone other than myself to make a film out of my treatment, then I can only rightfully make this happen if I have the other party's permission. We have a natural, Lockean right to do this without anyone -- government-employed or otherwise -- threatening violence on us in order to coerce us to stop.
Free speech does not mean that, if no one will buy my screenplay willingly, I have the right to have the government or some gang of thugs coerce some film studio to purchase it under the threat of violence for noncompliance. That isn't upholding my right to free speech; it is violating the right of the studio to its own property -- and thus violating the free speech rights of the studio's owners. The right to free speech entails the right of any private citizen to refuse participation in any form of expression outside a court of law.
Interestingly, the movie Schickel called "the best of 2004" actually glamorized a real-life wealthy Hollywood producer who was a very outspoken participant in the blacklist. I suppose he likes seeing Hollywood producers consistently practicing capitalism in biopics but not in concrete reality.
The second-best panelist was James Hirsen, since he pointed out that Joseph McCarthy was right that Soviet agents really had infiltrated the U.S. federal government. But he didn't voice any support for Britting's view, I'm sad to say.
I should have known that only Dr. Machan would give this event the criticism it deserves.
UPDATE from Wednesday, November 9, 2005: I also like this November 8 column of Dr. Machan's about the hypocrisy of media corporations distributing motion pictures that denounce corporations per se.