The Evil of Prior Restraint

In his essay Prior Restraint, written in 1981, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“Herein lies the seed of the great evil of prior restraint: free flow of human action is restricted into certain permitted channels and all deviation receives strict punishment. No one knows how mankind would divide up the airwaves in the absence of the FCC. No one knows how the city of Portland would develop in the absence of land use and zoning controls, patents, franchises and subsidies. No one knows how many serious communicable diseases would be conquered in the absence of the FDA. No one knows what the market will bring forth from 225,000,000 prodigious minds and hands if they are left unrestrained!

Prior restraint acts as a great cosmic ideological prophylactic, cutting off life from ideas, forms and actions which may be beneficial but which will never see the light of day. Once destroyed, ideas seldom can be resurrected as they are fleeting and fragile things. In place of vibrant new ideas we retain stale old forms which may have lost meaning and most certainly vitality. Thus, the result is lost and the idea emasculated. Remember that no act or idea stands alone: all are linked inexorably from cause to effect to cause, by the law of consequences. Prior restraint breaks the chain and alters effects forever.

In a way, prior restraint leads to a partially self-fulfilling prophecy. By damning human creativity, the state foreordains the future by decreeing a string of”thou shall nots.” Yet, for all the gloating attempts of the tyrants to foresee and constrain results, the future seems to ever surprise them: slaves make dull but still unpredictable subjects. The perceived harm may never occur if creative man is left alone to work out solutions to his life. The command state most certainly will produce an abundance of evils beyond the ken of small-minded men.”

Read the entire essay here,


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