Robert Murphy at Crash Landing comments on the following phenomenon:
It always amazes me when someone will complain about the government on some issue, and then some blowhard comes back with, "You're lucky you live in a country where you have the right to criticize the government."
And the guy says it like the critic is a whiny teenager or something complaining to her parents about only getting the $300 cell phone rather than the $500 one she really wanted.
I’ve seen this come from people on both Left and Right. It’s an interesting phenomenon, but it’s not a surprising one. Statism has adapted to the post-Enlightenment world- very few people go around saying that the peasants need to shut up and do what they’re told because freedom is an evil thing that would destroy the beneficent natural hierarchy God has ordained. Plenty of people still believe that (except for the “God” part, usually) but it’s gauche to actually say it now that classical liberalism’s brief period of intellectual ascendancy has made it unfashionable to actually attack freedom explicitly. Instead, one must attack freedom in the name of freedom. On the Left, the idea of positive rights to supplement the supposed “emptiness” of the negative right to life, liberty, and property serves this purpose. On the Right, “freedom” seems to have taken on a purely nationalistic meaning of “not ruled by foreigners”- freedom in the sense in which the Spartans were “free.”
I've frequently noticed that free speech is often used as a legitimizing tool for the government, in much the same way that democracy is; as long as you have free speech, you are supposedly still “free” and have nothing to really object to. (The fact that this defends the right most valuable to academics, journalists, artists, etc. while denigrating every other right is almost certainly not a coincidence. If you start thinking about left-wing statism as an expression of the interests of the intellectual/opinion-shaping class, it starts making a lot more sense.) No matter how utterly oppressed you are, it’s not really oppression or injustice as long as you have the right to bitch about it- and you shouldn’t bitch about it, because the fact that you still have the right to do so proves that you have no cause for serious complaint. Thus, people can declare that freedom is precious- and something we ought to be grateful to our rulers for providing- while pushing a concept of “freedom” that is utterly empty. If people buy it, as many do, they’ll ignore the loss of meaningful freedom to actually govern their own lives, and instead babble endlessly about how precious the mess of pottage they’ve been given as a replacement is.