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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Modern Intellectuals at the Gate, Part 1

Quoting the International Herald Tribune about a recent trial taking place in Vancouver:

A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article's tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States did not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.

Things are different here. The magazine is on trial.

Under Canadian law, there is a serious argument that the article contained hate speech and that its publisher, Maclean's magazine, the nation's leading newsweekly, should be forbidden from saying similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their "dignity, feelings and self respect."

In the pantheon of modern political insanity, so-called “hate speech codes” is a political idea more inimical to freedom than any other. The loss of free speech would represent the end of civilization as we know it since freedom of speech, i.e., the freedom of thought, is at the base of all other freedoms. Frighteningly, the article points out that virtually all Western countries now prohibit so-called "hate speech":

Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.

Last week, the actress Brigitte Bardot, an animal rights activist, was fined €15,000, or $23,000, in France for provoking racial hatred by criticizing a Muslim ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep.

The article points out that the United States is distinct in that it is virtually the only Western country left that protects free speech.

In the United States, that debate has been settled. Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minority groups and religions - even false, provocative or hateful things - without legal consequence.

"In much of the developed world, one uses racial epithets at one's legal peril, one displays Nazi regalia and the other trappings of ethnic hatred at significant legal risk and one urges discrimination against religious minorities under threat of fine or imprisonment," Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, wrote in a recent essay called "The Exceptional First Amendment."

"But in the United States," Schauer continued, "all such speech remains constitutionally protected."

Of course, given the swift and docile conformity of American academics to their European intellectual masters, it is only a matter of time before the United States is under the grip of the Politically Correct Inquisition. Such codes are already enforced on college campuses around the country and I disagree that the issue has been "settled." In fact, it appears to be just beginning:

Some prominent legal scholars say the United States should reconsider its position on hate speech.

"It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken," Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, "when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack."

Waldron was reviewing "Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment" by Anthony Lewis, the former New York Times columnist. Lewis has been critical of attempts to use the law to limit hate speech.

But even Lewis, a liberal, wrote in his book that he was inclined to relax some of the most stringent First Amendment protections "in an age when words have inspired acts of mass murder and terrorism." In particular, he called for a re-examination of the Supreme Court's insistence that there is only one justification for making incitement a criminal offense: the likelihood of imminent violence.

The approach of the thought police will not be to overthrow the 1st Amendment immediately. Just as those who advocate controls always claim the controls will be limited, so the advocates of speech-codes will claim that their restrictions will only apply to very limited or "extreme" situations. Of course, the 1st Amendment was not designed to protect people's right to discuss the weather. It was specifically meant to protect the right to express controversial and extreme ideas. The dividing line politically as always should be based on the principle that the government's function is to protect individuals from the initiation of physical force and/or fraud. In this way, the US Supreme Court's standard actually appears to be fairly reasonable:

The imminence requirement [set by the US Supreme Court] sets a high hurdle. Mere advocacy of violence, terrorism or the overthrow of the government is not enough; the words must be meant to, and be likely to, produce violence or lawlessness right away. A fiery speech urging an angry racist mob immediately to assault a black man in its midst probably qualifies as incitement under the First Amendment. A magazine article - or any publication -aimed at stirring up racial hatred surely does not.

In other words, if one directly incites a crowd to violence, this speech is not and should not be protected. There are certainly some more difficult scenarios which can arise in constitutional law surrounding incitement, libel, slander, etc. but generally in the context of this debate these arguments are red herrings meant to confuse rational opponents of speech-codes.

The imminence requirement has very little to do with the basis of the current arguments made by the hate-speech Inquisitors. There is an enormous chasm of difference between one who is directly and imminently plotting murder or inciting a mob to violence and one whose speech is merely critical or even hateful. Keep in mind that the plaintiffs in this case are seeking compensation not for physical injury but for injury to the their "dignity, feelings, and self-respect." The speech code advocates are not arguing that this kind of speech incites violence or directly results in physical injury. They do not even appear to be claiming that such criticism may indirectly incite violence. They simply object to criticism because it is criticism. Keep in mind, the Macleans piece simply said that the rise of Islam threatened Western values which it certainly does. Brigitte Bardot was fined for criticising the Muslim practice of slaughtering animals. Ironically, note that in both instances, the speakers were advocating against violence and criticising those that engage in violence! (In fact, a major concern related to Islam would be the barring of free speech under Sharia law.)

If the speech-code advocates have their way, logically no speech would be allowed in the sense that criticism of anything could hurt someones feelings, pride, or even indirectly lead to violence. If one publicly criticises Islam, it may lead another to not like Islam or injure the pride of Muslims and at some point even lead another to be violent against Muslims. If one criticizes the government, it may lead another to not like the government or hurt a George Bush' feelings and may even lead ultimately to one acting violently against the government. If one criticises a rapist or a serial killer it might hurt his feelings or even injure his self-respect. So, what exactly could we talk about in the speech-code world?

What accounts for these outrageous violations of free speech? Ironically, it is in the name of diversity that the Left seeks to repress the diversity of thought. Recall that the Left rejects reason as absolute and therefore holds there is no such thing as moral absolutes, i.e., they uphold moral relativism. Multiculturalism therefore teaches that all cultures are morally equal. On this view, a primitive culture that upholds mysticism and slavery is allegedly morally equivalent to an advanced society that upholds reason and freedom. Multiculturalism upholds the idea that one’s identity and character are derived from one’s membership in a particular group and that one’s life is to be subjugated for the sake of the group, gang, or tribe. By identifying individuals with a “culture”, the multiculturalist perpetuates racism, i.e., it perpetuates the idea that one’s character is inextricably tied to his membership in a group. This is a philosophy that leads to collectivism which is the opposite of individualism.

So, if one abandons their individual mind and turns to the collective for guidance, what is the result? Gang warfare.

In part 2, I will discuss the further philosophical implications of multiculturalism and discuss why it leads to tyranny not diversity.


Anonymous said...

"the United States is distinct in that it is virtually the only Western country left that protects free speech."

There is no total free speech in the USA either.

"Brigitte Bardot was fined for criticising the Muslim practice of slaughtering animals."

No. She has been convicted for claiming that Muslims are ruling France and destroying its culture.

The Rat Cap said...

You say: "There is no total free speech in the USA either." I don't disagree but how do you mean?

If Bardot was convicted for "claiming that Muslims are ruling France and destroying its culture" that would change nothing in my post. What is your point?

Anonymous said...

"I don't disagree"


"that would change nothing in my post."

This can change what the reader understand.

"What is your point?"

Correct your not very accurate statement.

The Rat Cap said...

Yes ,there has been "censorship" in the US both past and present, however, fortunately in the US, today you could not be brought to trial for having published the Macleans article in question. My point was that I believe this is going to change, and it is likely the US will adopt hate speech codes which will effectively end any semblance of freedom left in this country.

The Bardot statement was in quotes and was from the article that I linked in case you didn't notice. But for clarity, here is a Yahoo news link about same:


In the December 2006 letter to Sarkozy, now the president, Bardot said France is "tired of being led by the nose by this population that is destroying us, destroying our country by imposing its acts."

Bardot, 73, was referring to the Muslim feast of Aid el-Kebir, celebrated by slaughtering sheep.

She has every right to say this whether you agree with it or not. It does not constitute incitement to violence. In fact, she was convicted of "provoking racial discrimination or hatred" not of incitement to violence. Provoking discrimination may or may not be rational but it is not a crime as it does not constitute initiation of force. Who will decide what speech is "hateful" or "discriminatory"? Anyone could be offended by anyone. Such laws will end freedom of speech altogether and therefore civilization.

Anonymous said...

"in the US, today you could not be brought to trial for having published the Macleans article in question"

But you can be for the unclear term 'obscenity'.

"which will effectively end any semblance of freedom left in this country."

Like the liberty to claim that the George Bush administration lied about Iraq in 2003? Ooops, it's already forbidden, sorry.

"She has every right to say this"

Not in France.

"Who will decide what speech is "hateful" or "discriminatory"?"

In Rule-of-law countries, it's judge who decide. Of course law-maker are involved.

French lawmakers know very well french history, including french antisemitic books La France juive (of Édouard Drumont) and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which were bestsellers in Europe and elsewhere. So complaining about Jews or Muslims ruling or destroying France is prosecutable since at least the Fabius-Gayssot law (I don't know if you are pro-jewis, but 'Fabius' is a jewish name).

"Anyone could be offended by anyone."

That's why libel and slander are prosecutable in court.

"Such laws will end freedom of speech altogether and therefore civilization."

I disagree. There has never been total freedom of speech in France, in USA or elsewhere, altought there is civilization in several countries. And more restriction to freedom of speech will of course decrease freedom of speech, but not automatically end all freedom of speech.

The Rat Cap said...

It's hard to know what you are arguing so I will only respond to a few points.

You responded to my statement "she has every right to say this" by saing "Not in France". While it is obviously true that France has laws against it (as it was the point of the post), my fundamental argument was that rights are not a function of geographic location. Properly understood, individual rights are possessed by virtue of our nature as human beings and everyone, everywhere possesses such rights. The fact that some governments do not protect these rights or actively violate them was not the point. It's important to establish what rights we do possess so that we can understand government's proper role in protecting them.

Of course, obscenity laws are antithetical to free speech and I strongly oppose them on the same grounds that I oppose hate-speech laws. However, practically speaking, the reason I believe hate-speech codes are more dangerous than obscenity laws is that the concept of "hate-speech" is even more vague than "obscenity" (if that's possible) and applies directly to religious and political matters. If the government were to use "obscenity" laws to prevent one from criticising Islam or Christianity on the grounds that such speech was "obscene" then I would make the same argument about obscenity. But they are not using them in this way. On the other hand, the hate-speech advocates are using these laws to ban or prevent the criticism of certain religions. If we can not speak out against religion then in principle what could you speak out against? The banning of articles that criticise the potential imposition of Sharia law would be one of the final nails in the coffin of Western civilization.

(Is it forbidden to say that Bush lied about Iraq? It is said every day and I don't see that anyone has gone to jail for it. If they have, please let me know.)

Anonymous said...

"the hate-speech advocates are using these laws to ban or prevent the criticism of certain religions. If we can not speak out against religion then in principle what could you speak out against? The banning of articles that criticise the potential imposition of Sharia law would be one of the final nails in the coffin of Western civilization." (Doug Reich)

I don't know what you are talking about. Brigitte Bardot has been prosecuted and convicted for claiming that Muslims are ruling France and destroying its culture, in the same way that people claiming that Jews are ruling France would have been prosecuted and convicted (see "In 1886 the French antisemite Edouard Drumont published 'La France Juive' (Jewish France), creating the false nightmarish image of a France dominated by Jews, and sowing the poisonous seeds which came to fruit when Vichi French officials collaborated in the mass muder of French Jewry."). Michel Houellebecq has been cleared by french judges for his claim that Islam is the "most stupid religion", and no french newspaper has been convicted for publishing the Jyllands-Posten's Muhammad cartoons.