- Out of PlaceFree Speech, Disruption, and Student Protest
In Political Spaces and Global War, Carlo Galli suggests that demand for the “positive ‘freedom of’ speech and criticism” is created by the modern state form’s neutralization of domestic political space. “The neutralizing action of State sovereignty,” he writes, “relegates political energies . . . to the Subject’s interior in order to render them politically inoffensive.”1 The state’s neutralization of public space encourages the development of interior space, thus creating “the Subject’s initially secret conscience” (PS, 59). As Galli sees it, since the early-modern period the state has enabled the idea of such an “inner reserve” (PS, 58). “This situation,” he continues, then “quickly gave rise to a new demand and aspiration” to liberate these interior thoughts (PS, 59).2
What is interesting in this sketch of the genesis of “free speech” is that the movement of state repression seems to bring about a lasting elevation of “speech and criticism” among “political energies” of a previously undifferentiated kind. “Political energies” that are unspecified at the beginning of Galli’s description go verbal in order to go underground—they are translated into a form that can survive mentally—only to reemerge at the end of the cycle, still verbal, as a newfound concern for “freedom of speech and criticism.” It is as though, having lived so long on thoughts, [End Page 251] Galli’s political subject comes to value verbal forms of political energy—its loyal companions during state-induced depoliticization—more than it did before. This is not to say that the state relegates all potentially offensive political energies to the interior; nor that post-Hobbesian political actors are uninterested in other political behavior; nor that speech and criticism are not also themselves actions; but only that the kind of “speech and criticism” created here are for the first time valuable in and of themselves, apart from either truth or religious or social good. If it were possible for thoughts never to be expressed in any way, it would still be valuable to have had them. Moreover, the private/public boundary created by the state’s walling off the “inner reserve” creates the possibility of changing the public space by breaching or moving this wall, quite apart from the content of the thought that does so. As I’ve written elsewhere, I see the early-modern expressive hypothesis—the institution of the individual with an interior and an exterior, and an imperative to express what lies within—as a powerful philosophical fantasy bound up with the invention of the subject and the version of citizenship that corresponds to it.3 By taking up Galli’s terms here, I don’t mean to imply that they are the only or the correct ones for describing experience. Rather, the scheme suggests that there’s still much to understand about the political relationships implied by the canonical terms of expressivity, even as the axis of expression and repression reveals itself as historically limited. Although “free speech” is not the only game in town—or in the university—we need to understand what it is in order to create something different.
By going through interiorization, Galli’s genealogy differentiates itself from another in which modern freedom of speech references, or revives, the supposedly high value of public rhetoric in classical days. In the latter line of thought, individual speech extends or potentially intersects with debate among political elites. If not part of the political process itself, individual speech is consonant in principle with such (supposedly) reasoned procedures and is important because it can be heard, at least hypothetically, by those who are in a position to make its content part of the process. Galli does not linger over the implications of his different scheme, but we can. [End Page 252] Again, according to it, “free speech” after the modern state is modeled on the externalization of “inner” thought that is itself a transformation of “political energies” that could have been “offensive” to the state. The inner thought in question is thus paradigmatically thought that could lead to strife and conceivably civil war (although—parenthetically—the creation of the “inner...