Legal Limits to Political Free Speech

Legal limits to political free speech are needed, to protect the political system and national security, but freedom is otherwise preferred.

In general, political free speech should be allowed.  It is considered to be a human right, as noted earlier (5.4.5).  There are some exceptions, though, in the interests of protecting the State.  It is right to be sceptical about politicians who claim that suppressing dissent is in the national interest, though.  President Putin’s suppression of criticism of his decision to invade Ukraine, for example, is more likely to protect him personally than to benefit the Russian population:

“Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, thousands of Russians have been prosecuted under new laws designed to stifle criticism of the country’s war effort.”

Some restrictions to free speech might be considered necessary in relation to national security, however, particularly in times of conflict.  A spy cannot use freedom of speech to justify passing official secrets to a potential enemy, for example.

It can also be argued that incitement to revolution, to overthrow a government, is so dangerous that legal limits to political free speech are necessary.  The Chinese government, mindful of the millions of lives lost in past rebellions, has severely restricted dissent – as described later (

The Chinese government is authoritarian so there is, by definition, no opposition party.  Opposition is an essential feature of a democracy though, so suppression of dissent undermines the legitimacy of the government in power.

Any government needs to be able to hear criticism.  Political freedom of speech is therefore valued, especially in democracies, and banning it signals a slide into oppression.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/5452.htm.