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Samizdata quote of the day

The case is very simple indeed. Do you believe in freedom of speech or not? If you do then Stormfront gets to have a website detailing whatever it is that it misunderstands about the world. As does every other vile and hateful group from left and right. There is no shortage of sites insisting that Stalin had nothing to do with the Holodomor, that it was disease not starvation, that the starvation was just bad weather, that there was no campaign against Ukrainians and anyway, it never happened did it?

Tim Worstall

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46 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • QET

    The only relevant question is, will continued recitation of the principle in response to each new power move by the Left in this area suffice to make the Left stop doing it? Me, I have my doubts. Does anyone believe the Nazis could have been scolded out of power or into virtue?

  • The only relevant question is…

    No, it is not the only relevant question. Continued recitation of the principle in response to each new power move by the Left or Right (Theresa May & Donald Trump are not of the left and neither are exactly freedom of expression advocates) is how you legitimise political action in response. Laws cannot be attacked unless you articulate why the fuck they should be attacked. And thus repeating the underpinning principles over and over and over again is essential. That is how you turn ideas into underpinning meta-context, that is how you get people to see those principles as ‘normal’.

  • Grumpy

    Free speech includes speech with which you don’t agree. Seems simple, doesn’t it?

  • bobby b

    Why not take a lesson from the progressives?

    They’ve lobbied Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the like to ban speech that somehow denigrates one of their protected classes for so long and so hard that it’s working.

    Why not begin our own lobbying campaign arguing that calls to interfere with our freedom of speech are just as much “hate crimes” as what the progs decry?

    The freedom to speak our minds is central to western thought. Attacks on this freedom are hateful to western values. We should deluge the social media with our complaints that these attacks must be banned.

    Google, et al. are never going to stop until they see that the logical result of their philosophy is that they must ban all speech. They’ll never believe that “banning hate” is idiotic, but they might realize that it has no end.

    (Yeah, this is a very unlibertarian solution, but they’ll only recognize principles spoken in their own language.)

  • Stonyground

    How should we deal with the ‘free speech butters’? These are people who recognise the importance of free speech and realise that it makes you a bad person if you are against it but believe that you still have to draw the line somewhere because saying some things is just beyond the pale. It needs to be pointed out to them that being in favour of free speech is a binary choice. If you make a single exception then you are with the bad people.

  • QET

    I can’t speak to May, but for anyone, at least anyone here in the US, to attempt to place Trump on the same threat level as the Democrats and the progressives, shows they just have not been paying attention or are blinded by doctrine. It may be that Trump proves worthy of that status, the key words being “it may be.” Sure, he has trolled the media about libel actions. That is a puny candle next to the sun of progressives’ avowed opposition to free speech or to any kind of freedom and their actual political actions in recent years/decades to do away with it.

    It is unnecessary to turn as fundamental an idea as freedom of speech into meta-context in the Anglo world or at least the USA. It already IS the meta-context and has been for 250 years, and only recently have the barbarians broken into the temple and credibly threatened the sanctum sanctorum. While people of the Right (I include libertarians for this purpose) seem content to mount the podium and hold forth on the importance of free speech, the Left continues its institutional entrenchment apace. They are not going to be argued out of those institutions, they are going to have to be levered out.

    I am not disputing the propositional truth of Worstall or anyone else. I am saying that preaching the truth is not only not sufficient, it is no longer even necessary. In fact, continued preaching is counter-productive because it makes the preachers feel as though they are effectively combatting the enemy when all they are doing is letting him get on with the job. The truth is well known already even by its would-be conquerors.

  • I can’t speak to May, but for anyone, at least anyone here in the US, to attempt to place Trump on the same threat level as the Democrats and the progressives, shows they just have not been paying attention or are blinded by doctrine

    Sorry but screw you. Where did I “attempt to place Trump on the same threat level as the Democrats and the progressives”? Stop projecting and look at what I wrote and not what you think I wrote. I am not ranking these people, I am simply saying Trump also has a track record for also being anti-freedom of expression. And if you are not aware of his remarks about flag burning and ruminations about the media, it is you who has either not been paying attention or are perhaps blinded by doctrine. And Theresa May is probably the most illiberal PM in living memory.

    I am saying that preaching the truth is not only not sufficient, it is no longer even necessary.

    The former is self evident, for it is merely a precondition to political action, and the latter is completely and utterly wrong. It has never been more necessary to state the principles for which we are fighting, as it is not self evident, and that is because decades of anti-liberty schooling have ensured that is the case.

  • Why not begin our own lobbying campaign arguing that calls to interfere with our freedom of speech are just as much “hate crimes” as what the progs decry?

    I agree completely.

    (Yeah, this is a very unlibertarian solution, but they’ll only recognize principles spoken in their own language.)

    Not really all that unlibertarian. I refer you to the first real article I wrote on Samizdata the day I started it 😉

  • QET

    Sorry Perry (and I don’t see the need for the vitriol, we’re having a discussion, right?), but anyone who even mentions Trump in the same breath or sentence as progressives as a threat to free speech is just wrong. Very badly wrong. In my opinion. And it is also evident that we disagree strongly over the value of pontificating about free speech in the West of 2016. My chief complaint, to reiterate, is not that it is not the truth, but that it is ineffective and counter-productive.

  • Juliet46

    I (may) disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

  • NickM

    “My chief complaint, to reiterate, is not that it is not the truth, but that it is ineffective and counter-productive.”

    We have a post-truther!

  • And it is also evident that we disagree strongly over the value of pontificating about free speech in the West of 2016

    And you would be wrong, because if you think that battle has been won in the West of 2016, at least in the Good Ol’ USA, think again. And the USA is not the totality of the First World, because if support for free speech in waning in America, it is even worse in Europe.

  • QET

    I don’t say the battle has been won, I say we’re fighting an armored blitzkrieg with horse cavalry. My entire point is precisely that not only has the battle not been won; it’s that the Right thinks that it is facing the Left on a front line of ideas when in reality the Left has long since surrounded the Right and is going about reducing the pocket.

    I have seen numerous such reiterations of the value and virtue of freedom of speech in recent years, all of them uplifting, and all the while the Left just goes about its business of not even paying lip-service any longer to the principle and continuing its seizure of control of institutions and using that control to enforce its will on the rest of us. That is how that “40% of millennials” figure eventuated, not because not enough people are valorizing freedom of speech. All of the people so valorizing have found themselves pushed out of the places where they might actually influence those poor millennials, and until they push back in it will not matter how eloquent their defenses of freedom.

  • and until they push back in it will not matter how eloquent their defenses of freedom.

    And if we cannot be arsed to articulate a reason for them to push back, why should they? Indeed they won’t, because the other side has controlled the narrative. Arguing the cause is like giving people the shovel to dig the sapper tunnels under the other side’s fortifications.

  • Jacob

    There was an interesting case in Israel just the other day. A girl-student at an art academy drew a poster with the face of PM Benjamin Netanyahu, with a noose of a hanging rope in the foreground. She posted the poster on a public board at the school.

    As background I’ll mention that Netanyahu is hated by the Israeli left at least as much as Trump in America, possibly more.

    Was that protected free speech or incitement to murder?

    The subject is very sensitive in Israel, at least since PM Rabin was murdered for political reasons 21 years ago. Rabin’s murder was a traumatic event in Israel.

    The police investigated and found the perpetrator, but won’t charge her.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post.

    As for the “private company” stuff – most certainly a private company has a legal right to do what it likes, but there is also a MORAL obligation to maintain Freedom of Speech. Especially for people who present themselves as being in the “free speech business” and “committed to freedom of expression”.

    Anyone who thinks the establishment elite just want to censor vile people such as “Stormfront” is wrong. For example the Economist magazine has repeatedly censored me – and I have not used curse words or pretended that mass murderers were not mass murderers. Although they are not as bad as the person in Kent (the determinist “libertarian”) who will not let me comment at his “libertarian” group site at all.

    Companies such as Google (which owns Youtube) can pronounce “data death” on anyone they do not like. Yes they have a legal right to do that – but there is such a thing as moral (not just legal) obligations. Companies that have “do not be evil” on their wall should not practice censorship – if they do they are utter hypocrites, given their endless talk of “being in the free speech business” and “being committed to freedom of expression”.

  • Paul Marks

    What the state can do is more than keep people off its website – it can prevent other people having websites at all.

    And companies such as Google (which often work hand-in-hand with governments) can prevent “bad” websites from showing up on searches.

  • Michael Staab

    Free speech is both a principle, as well as a battleground, where the force used has little to do with the force of arms. All principles reside in the world of ideas, philosophy if you will.
    The single element of free speech that qualifies it as a war without end are the consequences of any particular set of choices.

    Consider, for instance, the irreconcilable differences between certain cultures. Western civilization draws from sources that define human relationships in terms of freedoms, rights, as well as responsibilities. Those values do not find their defense in other cultures, such as the Islamist, or communist China’s culture for instance.

    Free speech is war without bombs or guns. It doesn’t have to be, but often it is, and the failure to defend those values which are indispensable to who and what you are is failure on a catastrophic scale.

    Lastly, if it is war of a sort, it gets really messy, and unpredictable.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . it can prevent other people having websites at all.”

    Look into Tor. In that direction lies our best chance of taking control away from government.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    The expression ‘Free Speech’ is misleading. It means that you should be able to speak freely without needing government permission beforehand. But it has never meant that you won’t suffer from the social consequences of your speech. If I say factually-false words about other people, they can sue me. Free has never meant irresponsible. I think we should call it, ‘Free opinion’, and fight for the right for everyone to express their opinions freely.
    And as for expression, some group of Korean-Australians here in Australia plans to put up a statue commemorating the suffering of the ‘comfort women’ (sex slaves) who were victims of the Japanese in WW2- and another group of Japanese-Australians is objecting about their hurt feelings! Someone call Winston Smith to re-write history!

  • Harold Robinson

    Perry your first article was very informative, in the early 70’s I was a socialist libertarian who believed in personal liberty and opposed private property. A meat eating vegetarian who uncritically accepted that contradiction because i came to anarchism from a left background and remained embedded whithin left culture. Long story short it was only when I realised that for socialism to be truely voluntary there had to be a viable alternative, i.e. private property. That was when I began to break free of the left meta culture. Having gone through that difficult process I am in no rush to embrace the meta culture of the right. To be a libertarian is to be neither left or right. QET is still part of the meta culture of the right, which embraces defeatism and despair. Maybe one day he will break the shackles I hope so. The fight continues in any case, on this you are absolutely right.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    In the US we have a couple of laws, 18 USC 241 and 18 USC 242*, that if enforced impose severe penalties on anyone interfering with the exercise of a constitutionally guaranteed right. The trick is getting them enforced, since they’re usually brought into play only in pursuit of some policy goal.

    But if Trump wants to put a PC-enforcing college Dean in federal prison for interfering with his students freedom of speech, he already has the tools at hand. More than one Dean in pokey shouldn’t be necessary to bring official PC to an end.

    Incidentally, the change Trump wants to make in libel law is to put journalists on the same plain as the rest of us, nothing more. It may not be wise policy, but it’s certainly not the all-out attack on free speech the PC crowd are mounting.

    *USC = United States Code

  • Harold, you might this blast from the past interesting as well then 😉

  • James Waterton

    Sunlight is the best disinfectant. An oldie but a goodie.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Stonyground, I call those types exceptional libertarians. They’re libertarians, except for this or that cause, which just happens to destroy the other libertarian values. We here in Australia regularly suffered attacks from such an exceptional libertarian, called Graham Bird, who hated fractional money, and never seemed to understand that his proposed laws would have been a super-tyranny. Or maybe he liked playing the Contrarian.

  • James Waterton

    The only relevant question is, will continued recitation of the principle in response to each new power move by the Left in this area suffice to make the Left stop doing it? Me, I have my doubts. Does anyone believe the Nazis could have been scolded out of power or into virtue?

    Does anyone think, had the Nazis been zealously driven underground, that they would have failed to spread their message or would have been ameliorated as a force in Weimar politics?

    History shows us time and again that refusing fanatics the freedom to propagate their ideas is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that these ideas will be suffocated. Quite the opposite, in many cases. I’d say that the vast majority of tyrants have, during at least one point in their lives, been persecuted for their opinions. Let us consider the great philosopher, Obi-Wan – ‘If you strike me down now, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine’.

    Point is, it’s ridiculous to claim that free speech should be curtailed because it silences the perspectives we find most repugnant. It doesn’t. A cursory knowledge of history demonstrates that it doesn’t.

    No, we need full-throated free speech. People with views we find disgusting and backward must be allowed to voice them, as this allows them to be confronted at every step of the way by rational voices who are able to point out to them the error of their ways.

  • nweismuller

    Thank you, Perry, for republishing that link. I read that article years ago and deeply enjoyed it then, and I’ve found it worthwhile to revisit.

  • Erik

    Potential shorter form: Freedom means people may do things you don’t like.

    Although I have a bit of a concern:

    How should we deal with the ‘free speech butters’? These are people who recognise the importance of free speech and realise that it makes you a bad person if you are against it but believe that you still have to draw the line somewhere because saying some things is just beyond the pale. It needs to be pointed out to them that being in favour of free speech is a binary choice. If you make a single exception then you are with the bad people.

    Maybe it’s just my overactive imagination, but at least in the hypothetical case I should be counted with the ‘butters’, because I’m fairly confident that one does in fact need to draw the line somewhere, specifically, somewhere short of publishing the Beginner’s Guide To Creating Selectively Targeted Deadly Contagious Plagues From Common Household Supplies For Dummies.

    Possibly there’s a distinction to be drawn between speech expressing merely repugnant views and the Beginner’s Guide, though.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “The case is very simple indeed. Do you believe in freedom of speech or not?”

    No, the PTB do not believe in freedom of speech.

    And that, for them, is the end of the argument

  • PeterT

    Unfortunately in most countries we are so far from the libertarian ideal that even large moves in the direction of the ideal would be insufficient for “problems “at the limit, e.g. should death threats be allowed as free speech? do individuals have a right to own nuclear weapons etc? to actually become relevant.

  • Jacob

    Those who see free speech as a binary proposition: you are either for or against, are guilty of over-simplification.

    “should death threats be allowed as free speech?” No. And incitement to violence?… etc.

  • bobby b

    “should death threats be allowed as free speech?”

    Certainly. If they’re serious about it, they’re going to kill you anyway. And if they’re dumb enough to make the threat, it gives you the opportunity to kill them first.

  • Thailover

    The effort to suppress (ban) “hate speech” (i.e. any assertion that one doesn’t agree with) ISN’T about people apparently too stupid to understand the dynamics of two or more people who don’t agree, each having the somewhat equal opportunity to voice their opinion. (Although the pawns, aka useful idiots ARE often daft enough to seem to not understand this).

    What it IS about are the forces that be that wish to control other people’s actions, liberties, and what they can and cannot say. It’s about an often unseen elite who are trying to manifest OTHER PEOPLE’S perception of reality to this elite’s liking. A few centuries ago, this was referred to as magical binding. Today it’s known as mass psychology, powerful propaganda and the corruption of mass media and a nation’s legal system.

    Example: Russia’s supposed interference in America’s presidential election process via “hacking”. In stage magic, this is known as misdirection. You’re supposed to care about whether the Russian state hacked Slithery’s email rather than caring about what was IN the emails. IN the DNC, Slithery’s and Podesta emails, there’s evidence of corruption, collusion, conspiracy, a rigged primary election, enacted between the DNC, Slithery’s campaign, “the media”, i.e. CNN, Politico, the NYT, etc.

    Julian Assange has said repeatedly that he posted leaks, not hacks, that it wasn’t Russia or indeed ANY state, but rather an insider who became dusgusted about the above mentioned criminal activity during the Primary election.

    Wikileaks:ten year record of being 100% correct, due to exhaustive verification.
    Slithery: Proved congenital, habitual and compulsive liar. She lies when when the truth would do just fine.

    Congress is already enacting legislation to punish or ban “fake news”, (i.e. the online presence that spread info about wikileaks and project veritos when the legacy media refused).

    Online freedom is currently under strict and strong attack. You heard it here.

  • Thailover

    “Should death threats be allowed as free speech?”

    Death threats are assault, not banned speech. People are often confused about this, thinking that hitting someone is assault. Pulling out a club to intimidate is assault. Beating you with the club afterward is battery. Together, they’re assault and battery. The mere (credible) threat is assault, so it’s not a speech issue.

  • Laird

    Well said, Thailover, and quite accurate.

    To me, the more difficult question is whether to prohibit the publication of inherently dangerous instructional materials, as was suggested by Erik. Do we really want every reasonably clever high school student to have access to directions for building a bomb or formulating anthrax? My opinion is that the dangers of suppression are greater than those of publication, so I come down on the side of unfettered freedom, but I do understand the other side. I just can’t see a principled place at which to draw the line, and that slippery slope is always present. (Besides, anyone who really wants to do so can easily find a pdf version of the Anarchist’s Cookbook online, so that horse has already left the barn.)

  • Thailover

    QET, it’s really not about Right and Left, it’s about corrupt fascists vs advocates of personal freedom. ‘Just wait, when Trump starts “draining the swamp”, the republican establishment (politicians) will indeed turn on him even more than they are today.

    “The Swamp Strikes Back”.

    I post a flag on that phrase, lol. It’s mine.

  • The Weimar republic had hate speech laws. Weimar law also allowed civil legal action; for example, a Jewish-owned store could obtain a court injunction against nazi propaganda urging people to boycott it. The pre-1933 German Jewish community was well supplied with lawyers, funds and government connections, and certain of its members were active in getting these laws enforced.

    The nazis learned over time how to phrase things to avoid the law against religious defamation (3-year maximum penalty) but the laws against racial hate speech (2-year maximum penalty if a suggestion of encouraging violence could be imputed, 1-year maximum penalty otherwise) were things they had to be alert to, along with the civil injunction possibilities. Goebbels was sentenced to two weeks on one occasion and six weeks on another. Streicher served months-long sentences at times (that was why, when put in Nuremberg jail in 1945, he remarked, “This is not the first time I have been here”). One nazi journalist got a year, the maximum sentence for the law he was charged with breaking. Fines under these laws were frequent – the nazis accepted them as an operating cost.

    I’m with Perry re the general desirability of raising the free speech question whenever one can. It is also worth mentioning the above historical facts, with a “Remind me – how did that work out?”, to all the liars and idiots who say we need hate speech laws lest the nazis return.

    (Of course, there will always be those who say, “Well, those laws should have been enforced more vigorously!” As well as arguing the general case, one could ask why they would expect our current state to do a great job at enforcing any of its laws.)

  • Thailover

    Laird said, “My opinion is that the dangers of suppression are greater than those of publication,”

    Agreed. And (in my opinion) any reasonably intelligent person can easily figure out how to hurt crowds of people or someone specifically. Explosives can be made from common fertilizer or urine for example. And even for the unintelligent, there’s always a way. For example, buying lots of fireworks, harvesting the gunpowder and….

    The scary and unfortunate truth is that a pipe bomb is simpler than a bicycle.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thai & Laird, thanks for pointing out the (legal) meanings of “assault” and “battery,” and the distinction between them. Always appreciate an addition to the onboard encyclopedia. :>)

    . . .

    Also, re homemade nukes, there were reports a year or two back that some bright young lad aged around 13, IIRC — anyway, a teenager — had indeed built one in his basement. Not that big a deal. He didn’t even blow anything up. Just a normal, if bright, kid, tinkering in his basement. I forget how anybody even found out about it.

  • bobby b

    Here‘s an interesting (and chilling) Techdirt post from Thursday talking (most glowingly) about the “Dangerous Speech Project”, which has “looked at examples of the kind of inflammatory and violent rhetoric that often precedes mass violent outbursts to find patterns.”

    He does speak about how this effort could lead to less of a need to censor “hate speech” (because we could conceivably draw a narrower delineation of speech which truly IS dangerous versus merely dismaying), but I thought it chilling just knowing such a group is out there trying to establish a “scientific” basis to claim that some speech that they hate MUST be banned. For the children. You know.

  • QET

    QET, it’s really not about Right and Left, it’s about corrupt fascists vs advocates of personal freedom.

    Thailover, I agree that each political “side” is equally capable of trampling on personal liberty in pursuit of its own advantage. For instance, to those who complain vehemently against Roe v Wade (where our Supreme Court discovered a constitutional right to an abortion), I direct their attention to its necessary precursor Griswold v Connecticut, a case necessitated because that state, in the grip of religious authority, prohibited even a lawfully married couple from procuring simple birth control devices.

    But now, in 2016, where freedom of speech is concerned, it is the Left that is the by-far greater threat. To worry about Trump in the context of the Left’s de factocultural and political dominance, which controls our educational institutions and inculcates the idea that free speech must be subordinated to other “values,” and which in the form of the entire US Democratic Party Senatorial caucus actually proposed to effectively eradicate the First Amendment to our Constitution, is to address form and ignore substance.

    I will say one last time: my point is not to disparage the truth of the various doctrinal reassertions of the importance of freedom of speech nor to disparage the preachers thereof, but to suggest that such speechifying seems to be the entire response that the Right can muster nowadays to the Left’s depredations and that it is ineffective.

    The Right seems content to be Henry VI: “frowns, words and threats shall be the war that Henry means to use.” Henry VI, “whose bookish rule hath pulled fair England down.”

  • mike

    In response to QET, and further to Bobby B’s suggestion earlier..

    “We should deluge the social media with our complaints that these attacks must be banned.”

    I would support a campaign of active discrimination against the politically correct. But I wonder whether such a thing could also serve as a means of advertising.

    Suppose I start a chain of coffee shops with a discriminatory policy against those who hold politically correct attitudes (kind of the opposite of Starbucks). In particular these attitudes would include support for “hate speech” legislation and anti-discrimination laws. A policy of discriminating against people who oppose discrimination would not actually be illegal as existing discrimination laws are framed with regard to various other characteristics (e.g. race, religion, sexuality etc), and not attitudes or political preferences. However, such a policy might also generate some media attention and controversy, which would effectively increase my advertising and offer a practical example of one way to take the fight to the enemy.

  • QET

    @mike:

    Personally, I would not advise or encourage practicing such discrimination by retail establishments. What I would advise is that the ardent leftists in university faculty and administrations, and in political and especially bureaucratic offices, be evicted from those positions, with all deliberate speed. Additionally, I wonder whether a case can be made that the NYT and the Washington Post, to name two of the biggest offenders, violated campaign finance law by basically acting as propaganda mills for the Democratic party and all Democratic candidates (but especially the Presidential candidate). These publications knowingly and proudly left journalism behind and engaged in continual months-long partisan political advocacy. Were I a part of the incoming administration, I would certainly direct the Justice Department to give serious attention to whether such a case could be made.

  • mike

    I agree with the necessity of the Purge, but that suggestion could only be acted on by very few people in select positions of power. What does everyone else do other than stand around watching, waiting and hoping for someone to actually enact such a Purge? Giving sermons about free speech is, as you said, insufficient.

  • bobby b

    “What does everyone else do other than stand around watching, waiting and hoping for someone to actually enact such a Purge?”

    Continue speaking as you wish, unmindful of their ignorant misdefinition of “hate”, and punch back twice as hard when they try to silence you?

    What they’re doing only works when the victims can be shamed and silenced.

  • Thailover

    Bobby B wrote,

    “What they’re doing only works when the victims can be shamed and silenced.”

    That’s their purpose in calling everything racist and sexist even when it makes no sense. It tends to silence the INNOCENT, not those who actually fits the bill. If one were to call a skinhead racist or nationalist, they would say “no shit”. If you called Hitler an anti-semite, he was say, “so, I guess you read my book”. Those who are “offended” by freedom use such accusations dishonesty BECAUSE it silences those who it does not honestly describe.