Would Mill defend Shirvell?
Andrew Shirvell, the now-infamous assistant attorney general to Mike Cox and sworn nemesis of MSA President Chris Armstrong, finally got the boot. According to the Daily, Cox officially fired him for “conduct unbecoming a state employee” a few weeks ago.
For many of us on campus this was long overdue. Shirvell has frequently appeared in local, state and even national headlines for the past couple of months, proclaiming his right to speak out against Armstrong and his “radical homosexual agenda” (whatever that means). His attorney even went so far as to suggest that Shirvell, not Armstrong, is the victim in all this because of attacks on Shirvell by the “liberal media”.
Given Mill’s near-absolutist stance on free speech, I have to wonder what his take on the situation would be. Had Shirvell been fired for simply attacking Armstrong on his “Chris Armstrong Watch” blog, I don’t think Mill would’ve been okay with this. Mill made it clear in On Liberty that any opinion, no matter how repulsive to society, had a value in the “marketplace of ideas”.
But what about Shirvell’s other actions? What about showing up at Armstrong’s house at one in the morning and shouting? What about harassing some of Armstrong’s friends while they were in Ann Arbor? What about carrying out his crusade while on the clock at work?
No person ought to be punished simply for being drunk; but a soldier or a policeman should be punished for being drunk on duty. Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law. – Mill
Mill clearly had a different standard for public officials. True, Shirvell did not technically “harm” Armstrong, but his personal quest to oust him from the MSA presidency was, in Cox’s eyes, interfering with his ability to carry out his assistant attorney general duties. And I feel Mill would concur that some punishment was necessary.
What do you think? Would Mill defend Shirvell’s speech, but not his actions? Would he defend both? Or would he defend neither?