Is Freedom of Speech "Arrogant"?

I’m all in favor of Google expanding into China. After some initial skepticism, I had come to appreciate Google’s policy of engagement. Then, yesterday, I heard this: explaining why Google won’t lobby for the end of censorship in China, CEO Eric Schmidt said,

I think it’s arrogant for us to walk into a country where we are just beginning operations and tell that country how to run itself.

That’s right — Eric Schmidt just joined the political relativism club. It’s a big club — made up largely of European and American liberals like me — and it’s a friendly club. But it may not be a very good one.

Political relativism says that it’s arrogant for an outsider to try to change the political system of a country. A prime example would be Iraq. It was arrogant, say the relativists, for the US to assume that Iraq would want democracy. Who are we to decide what’s best for other countries anyway?

Well, I have some confidence in my own moral sense. If I didn’t, I couldn’t even vote, let alone write editorials. I have confidence that dictatorship and censorship are both bad for people. I have confidence gender inequality is bad too. Should I invade other countries and try to eliminate those evils? Probably not, unless I really think I can save more lives than I take. But if I happen to have a lot of influence in the world, and I have the option to exercise peaceful coercion, should I do so? I think the answer is yes.

I hope that Google decided not to lobby China because they plan to enter the market first and argue later. I hope they decided that a censored Google was better for now than no Google at all. I hope they didn’t really think that their famous mantra — “don’t be evil” — was mere arrogance. Arrogance certainly is a bad thing. But so is refusing to distinguish between right and wrong.

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