CHAPTER FIVE •
have citizens who are active rather than passive, curious rather than indifferent, engaged rather than inert. Indeed, the basic institutions of private property and freedom of contract-fundamental to free societies and indeed to freedom of speech-have important effects on the development of preferences themselves. Thus both private property and freedom of contract have long been defended, not on the ground that they are neutral with respect to preferences, but on the ground that they help to form good preferences-by producing an entrepreneurial spirit and by encouraging people to see one another, not as potential enemies or as members of different ethnic groups, but as potential trading partners." The right to free speech is itself best seen as part of the project of helping to produce an engaged, self-governing citizenry.
Limited Options: Of Foxes and Sour Grapes
When government imposes restrictions on people's opportunities and information, it is likely to undermine freedom not merely by affecting their choices but also by affecting their preferences and desires. Of course, this is what concerned Tocqueville and Dewey, and in unfree nations, we can find numerous examples in the area of communications and media policy, as official censorship prevents people from learning about a variety of ideas and possibilities. This was common practice in Communist nations in the Soviet bloc, and both China and Singapore have sought to reduce general access to the Internet, partly in an effort to shape both preferences and beliefs. When information is unavailable and when opportunities are shut off, and known to be shut off, people may not end up not wanting them at all.
The social theorist Ion Elster illustrates the point through the old tale of the fox and the sour grapes." The fox does not want the grapes because he believes them to be sour; but the fox believes them to be sour because they are unavailable, and he adjusts his attitude toward the grapes in a way that takes account of their unavailability. The fox cannot have the grapes, and so he concludes that they are sour and that he doesn't want them. Elster says, quite rightly, that the unavailability of the grapes cannot be justified by reference to the preferences of the fox, when the unavailability of the grapes is the very reason for the preferences of the fox.
Elster's suggestion is that citizens who have been deprived of options may not want the things of which they have been deprived; and the deprivation cannot be justified by reference to the fact that citizens are not asking for these things, when they are not asking because they have been deprived of them. We can identify a problem with authoritarian systems in this light. Imagine that an authoritarian government ensures a system of few or dramatically limited options-including, for example, an official government news program, and nothing else. It is predictable that many citizens will despise that system, at least when they speak privately. But even if there is little or no public demand for more options, the system cannot reasonably be defended on the ground that most people do not object to it. The absence of the demand is likely to be a product of the deprivation. It does not justify the deprivation. This point holds with respect to television and radio stations as with everything else.
Thus far I have been making arguments for a range of opportunities, even in societies in which people, lacking such opportunities, are not asking for more. Of course the issue is very different in the communications universe that is the main topic of this book-one in which people have countless