It has not escaped the notice of YouTube that I have more than a passing interest in speeches; so they keep waving suggestions under my nose, so to speak. One such recently was a speech delivered by Dr Walter Williams to the Heartland Institute. Though Heartland posted this on YouTube only a couple of weeks ago, the speech was delivered in 1994. A brief search revealed that there are plenty of his newer speeches on line but I decided to stick with this one. Its title is The Role of Government in a Free Society.
Nice opening! The most effective way to use humour early in a speech is by keeping it restrained and thrown away. He did both and it worked.
A regular reader will expect me immediately to castigate him for reading this rather than shooting it from the hip. However, there is one thing that puts me on weak ground when I am dealing with what is essentially a lecture. ‘Lecture’ literally means ‘reading’. Williams would undoubtedly deliver this better if he shot it from the hip, though he might take some persuading. But watch this and you see that, every so often, he raises his head from his script and delivers sometimes quite a long aside, and always that section is more engaging than the scripted bit from which he digressed. Let’s move on.
The reason I decided to work with this speech is that he determinedly takes his topic as far upstream as possible and addresses first principles. With something as fundamental as freedom it’s obvious to look at fundamentals, because from there you can see clearly to conduct a debate over pragmatic compromises.
When it comes to liberty, few speakers bother themselves with fundamentals. This speech was delivered twenty years ago, since when the word ‘liberty’ has moved even further from its true meaning. Today successive governments work with a corrupted interpretation of the word that is frighteningly Orwellian and getting worse. Furthermore the mainstream media, both in print and broadcasting, are enthusiastic collaborators. The media may affect political posturing with partisan tribalism, but a need for ever-swelling government with steadily increasing control from ‘above’, is universally accepted by the self-appointed intelligentsia as a given.
If you don’t believe me, try to imagine the BBC or its equivalents around the world broadcasting this speech today. I bet you can’t, any more than you can imagine schools or universities allowing their students to be exposed to such dangerous material. If I may misquote Mark Anthony, “O freedom thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason”.