Sunday 15 July 2018

Free Speech Denialism Is Fascism In Action.

Whose Hand Is That? Fifty years ago, nine-out-of-ten people would have nominated the totalitarian regimes of the Soviet bloc or Third World dictatorships as the most likely suppressors of free speech Today, the likelihood is that a substantial minority - maybe even a majority - of the population would nominate the "politically correct" Left as the most direct threat to freedom of expression in the West. How did that happen?

IT HAS BEEN DISPIRITING, this past week, to learn how little people who consider themselves leftists know about fascism.

The cause of this ignorance is, I suspect, generational. Those who grew up at a time when fascism was strong, and who later confronted its armies in World War II, are now very few in number. Their children and grandchildren, lacking their elders’ direct experience of fascism and fascists, have allowed the meaning of the word, along with the historical context out of which it grew, to fade and blur. As the recent torrid exchanges between the defenders of free speech and the opponents of right-wing Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux have made clear, the word “fascist” now denotes little more than conservative views provocatively expressed.

So torrid did these exchanges become that, by the middle of the week, the opponents of Southern and Molyneux were reduced to making the extraordinary assertion that “there’s no such thing as free speech”.

The argument advanced in support of this profoundly anti-democratic claim is as crude as it is curious. “[F]reedom of expression … is a mirage. Real freedom is not what you say, it’s how you live. And we do not live free lives. The world is not free from poverty, is not free from climate change, is not free from fear. Most importantly, we are not free of capitalism, which profits handsomely from our enslavement.”

Exactly how a world without poverty, climate change, fear and capitalism could possibly be achieved without freedom of expression defies the imagination. Without the ability to speak, write, publish and broadcast freely, independent political discussion and organisation cease to exist. One certainly does not debate or organise politically in the totalitarian societies where the suppression of free speech holds sway, one simply parrots the party line and obeys without question the orders handed down from politburo or f├╝hrer.

The most extraordinary (and, frankly, dangerous) claim of the free speech denialist quoted above is that what the members of the Free Speech Coalition (the group set up to raise funds for a judicial review of the Auckland mayor, Phil Goff’s, decision to deny Southern and Molyneux access to council owned meeting halls) actually wanted was “freedom from consequence”. What does that mean? Well, apparently, it means that if you “chat shit” you “get banged”.

No brown-shirted stormtrooper, sinking his jackboot into the ribs of the communist he has just knocked unconscious, could have summed-up the Nazi Party’s attitude to free speech any better!

“Let’s be clear;” continues our denialist, “fascism is not an intellectual exercise. It’s the epitome of evil, a cancer on humanity. My grandparents didn’t debate Nazis, they shot them.”

These sentences are extremely telling. Not on account of their content (which is entirely fallacious) but because of their tone. The denialist’s mode of expression, as anyone who has read the propaganda of Mussolini’s, Hitler’s and Franco’s followers will tell you, is quintessentially fascistic.

On display is the Fascist’s deep hostility towards intellectuality; his fondness for dividing the world into that which is “good” and that which is “evil”; his readiness to characterise the enemy as a form of disease (just as the Nazis likened the Jews to typhus) and, finally, the same eagerness to substitute violence for debate.

The most tragic aspect of the denialism quoted above is its author’s apparent ignorance of what his grandparents were actually fighting and dying for.

On the 6 January 1941, in his State of the Union speech to the United States Congress, President Franklin Roosevelt outlined the better world which he was determined to bring into existence when the war against tyranny, then raging, was eventually won:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium.
It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.
That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

For a free speech denialist to use the sacrifices made by the millions of men and women who fought and died for these goals, in order to justify and encourage the vitriolic verbal abuse of individuals who continue to stand for Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” is beyond despicable. It does, however, makes dispiritingly clear the sheer scale of the political ignorance and hatred against which all genuine defenders of human rights and freedoms continue to struggle.

Free speech denialism also confirms the observation that as the economic and social climate deteriorates, the normally linear configuration of the political spectrum becomes distorted. In effect, the spectrum curves around until the extremes of left and right are practically touching one another and the middle-ground is further away from them than ever. As the political static increases, the gap between left and right is closed by an arc of white-hot intensity. It is in the baleful brilliance of this exchange that the events of the past week have been illuminated.

It has not been pretty.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 12 July 2018.


John Hurley said...

I recall on RNZ they were discussing peoples reactions to the new demographics (Labour decided that diversity would be of immense value "to the country" (despite Parr pointing out that NZrs views were not conducive to such). A woman walked into a shop and being surrounded by Asians burst into tears" - was met with condescension by the journalists. That has been the pattern ever since.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Okay, a couple of questions then.

Firstly, why does anyone owe these people a platform?

Secondly, when they pay the fee to hire the Auckland town Hall, who is paying for security? Because if it's coming out of the public purse, I object.

Thirdly, where do you stand on Karl Popper's toleration of intolerance – or rather where do they stand on the scale if you like, of people who are likely to be so intolerant as to be shutting down debate if they are ever in power? Because it seems to me that they're pretty far up that scale.

Fourthly, Are we still at the point where we can use rational arguments to counter their ideas? Because I suspect that very few people are going to have their minds changed by any rational debate. And indeed are they going to be debated? Or are they just going to speak by themselves to a group of supporters? I do wonder, with the passions that seem to be aroused in this sort of area if anyone is going to have their mind changed by engaging them. Because they themselves don't engage in rational debate. As I said, they are pigeons.

And it also seems to me that the European attitude towards their type of speech i.e. hate speech, having been influenced by their experience with totalitarianism in the past, just might be wiser than the American attitude of let everyone say what the hell they like. Although I must say I'm a little conflicted here, because Goff has basically turned them into martyrs – probably something they were aiming for in the first place, particularly if he now gives way. They get the best of both worlds – a place to speak and martyrdom.

Anonymous said...

They started opposing free speech in general society when they thought they would succeed in doing so.
Because they have already succeeded with Universities. All they have to do there is label someone 'alt-right', or some other jargon and they are beyond the pale. None dare disagree, lest they be the next victim. All very Stalinist.
And the media have started to go along. Where is the questioning of what is 'alt right'?

It is everyone's duty to oppose this evil behaviour, everywhere.

Chris, you distinguish yourself by being perhaps the only NZ leftie to stand u to this.

Nick J said...

Beautifully put Chris. You are in the majority, our voices will be heard.

John Small said...

Would you agree that the ideology these 2 people are preaching is consistent with an worldwide increasing trend toward authoritarian racism?

Tom Hunter said...

... where do they stand on the scale if you like, of people who are likely to be so intolerant as to be shutting down debate if they are ever in power?

People like Guerilla Surgeon, as he has made abundantly clear in multiple comments on this issue.

Not a trace - not even a whiff - of self-awareness.

Nick J said...

Certainly not. I made the effort to listen to them first hand, I'd suggest that they might have disagreeable opinions but neither is racist, and authoritarianism is one thing both object to.

By contrast it is too easy to slap labels on people's views and slander them because we can't agree with their position. That goes directly toward authoritarianism, we would do better to counter with superior ideas and the liberty to express and persuade.

Nick J said...

After the massed anti Trump protests this week in UK, and our own local spats maybe a little reason expressed by the ESC Centre might counter the absurdities of the ALT Right and CTRL Left.

Here's a great expose of reality

Tom Hunter said...

I mobbed and shamed people for incidents that became front page news. But when they were vindicated or exonerated by some real-world investigation, it was treated as a footnote by my online community. If someone survives a social justice callout, it simply means that the mob has moved on to someone new. No one ever apologizes for a false accusation, and everyone has a selective memory regarding what they’ve done.

He includes himself, noting incidents reported in a book that he had only vague memories of being involved with, only to discover hard evidence that he'd been right at the gleeful forefront of shaming Nazis or whatever - and loving it. And then one day....

suddenly, I was accused of some of the very transgressions I’d called out in others. I was guilty, of course: There’s no such thing as due process in this world. And once judgment has been rendered against you, the mob starts combing through your past, looking for similar transgressions that might have been missed at the time. I was now told that I’d been creating a toxic environment for years at my workplace; that I’d been making the space around me unsafe through microaggressions and macroaggressions alike.

He's learned his lesson now, although it's a little late for his job and career, both destroyed. Frankly I feel no sympathy, as he could have learned this had been willing to really watch, listen and think.

But that's always been the case. Amazing how similar this all is to the Jacobin, Stalinist, Maoist and half a hundred other such terrors. This guy is merely one of the first against the wall in this era, but there's going to be many others before it burns out, only a few of which will be folks like Southern.

pat said...


The Paradox of Tolerance (Popper)

"Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant."

Nowhere does Popper call for a preemptive strike....indeed he explicitly warns against it.

Mark Hubbard said...

Sensational piece, Chris.

Thanks for this: concise, important, needed.

Mark Hubbard said...

I'd love John Small to explain what his question has to do with free speech.

pat said...

@ Nick J

Excellent link...and i should have guessed such logic would be authored by Greer.

Puddleg said...

I see Guerilla Surgeon, and that's a great book BTW, cites Popper again.

Think about Popper's Europe - the dictators didn't rely on free speech. Their "free expressions" included private armies and the murder of political opponents.

They didn't allow dissenting questions at their Q&A sessions; anyone questioning them was beaten up and thrown out, and they disrupted their opponent's speeches.

In this regard, they were much closer to those who advocate unplatforming and who disrupt events where things are said that they do not want others to hear.

John Hurley said...

themselves don't engage in rational debate. As I said, they are pigeons.
As someone who has complained about balance in broadcasting, a defence of a one sided program is that the views are available elsewhere. If "the system" cannot critique multiculturalism (the unmandated breakup of a nation), who can?

The corporates embrace progressive ideas (divide and rule); they and the progressive left are the media.

Popper. I couldn't get the bit about who would decide what "intolerance" was not to be tolerated, as (surely) that "intolerance" would be a set of ideas?

John Hurley said...

Popper opposed the closed society (bi-culturalism).

David George said...

Guerrilla Surgeon asks about security; who's responsibility is it to pay for it?
I would expect that following a specific threat of violent disruption that any costs above the normal security for an event of this nature should be met by the government.
The so called peace group have made it clear that they intend to prevent people from going about their lawful business (speaking and listening basically) so that elevates the issue into one of civic order the protection of which is core government responsibility.
If an additional cost or other burden is placed on the speakers due to threats it fundamentally contradicts the entire concept of "free" speech.
I'm happy to pay my share to ensure the protection of free speech regardless of the speaker.
I do wonder though at the probable reaction if one of these radical feminists (the all men are rapists types) speaking event was being threatened with disruption by a men's rights group.

David George said...

Thank you Nick, that piece is superb.
The importance of the left and the right should never be overlooked, the last thing a dyed in the wool lefty should want is comprehensive victory over the right and visa versa. The value in having free speech - and a willingness to listen is vital to the process of achieving balance.
Eternal questions such as finding walking the line between collective and personnel responsibility must be continuously discussed for a reasonable balance to be struck.
Liberals & Conservatives NEED each other - Jordan Peterson

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"People like Guerilla Surgeon, as he has made abundantly clear in multiple comments on this issue."
Bullshit. All I have said is this.
1. No one actually owes them a platform.
2. I don't think they should be allowed to speak at the public expense.
3. I think it's unwise to make them into martyrs.
4. I don't think they are Democrats – I think they are pretending to be Democrats because they know neo-Nazism has a lot of bad press.

"In this regard, they were much closer to those who advocate unplatforming and who disrupt events where things are said that they do not want others to hear. "

These two don't have the power to beat people up as yet. But their friends in the alt-right do it regularly. If you go to their websites they boast of it. And these two are simply the slightly more respectable face of fascism. I for one don't make the mistake of thinking they are stupid.

"Nowhere does Popper call for a preemptive strike....indeed he explicitly warns against it."

I don't call this a pre-emptive strike. It's not as if we don't know what they are like. And it's not as if people they are associated with and approve of don't go around beating people up. But again, even though I believe no one owes them a platform, I think it's tactical mistake to forbid them to speak. Having said that, they should pay for their own security. As I don't think the public should have to pay for the security of people who are deliberate controversialists. And that's putting it mildly.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Victor said...

George Henderson et al

FFS! Denial of a specific platform when there are others available is NOT the same as denial of free speech. If you think it is, you have no conception of what it's like to live in an un-free society!

Chris is, however, right about the way that this dispute over a palpable non-issue has brought the extremes of left and right together. But it hasn't happened in quite the way he imagines.

Instead, the habitual and deliberate martyr complex of the Alt-Right and its inchoate bundle of associates has meshed with the equally faux outrage of some of the Left's knee-jerk protestors, including our genial host.

If this trend continues, Chris will soon be asking us to show some compassion for the blessed saint and martyr, Tommy Robinson.

Anonymous said...

"Free Speech Denialism Is Fascism In Action." According to Chris Trotter.

The vast majority of Left commentators are defamed as "fascists" for refusing to allow real fascists, people who expouse racist and extremist views and have been involved in actions to attack refugees.

While at the same time hypocritically censoring dissenting comments. While lining up with New Zealand's most Right Wing politicians to give free speech to fascists. In an ideal world Chris you might have a point, but we don't live in an ideal world.

There is no such thing as an even playing field in the field of public information and discourse. In fact this playing field is hugely tilted to the Right, and you and your new mates are wanting to tilt it even further to the Right.

To attest to the unevenness of the level playing field your privileged new friends were able to raise $50,000 in 24 hours for the cause of Free Speech for fascists. But where were this right wing scum when Bob Jones tried to bludgeon Renae Maihi's right to free speech, and defend his right to "hate speech" with an expensive court action?

That's right nowhere. In fact they, (and possibly you) support Bob Jones right to defame Maori as shiftless and ungrateful who should be forced to Labour for White people out of gratitude.

So much for the level playing field, and free speech for all. Free speech for fascists and racists and establishment approved mouthpieces. That's it.

Anonymous said...

Do you agree the role the advertising standards authority plays in regulating how advertisers advertise is a necessary role in protecting the vulnerable?

Chris Trotter said...

To: Victor@19:19

This is tremendously disappointing coming from you, Victor. Frankly, I expected better.

To object to Auckland's mayor arbitrarily denying a public platform to Southern and Molyneux on account of their political views is a very different thing from endorsing those views.

Noam Chomsky gets that, and if anyone had asked me two weeks ago I would have said that you got it, too.

The crack about Tommy Robinson is exactly the sort of speech you purport to condemn when it spews from the mouths of Southern and Molyneux.

Shame on you.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I just wonder if some of the "conservatives" that have descended on us in order to congratulate you Chris, and to rant in favour of free speech would be as keen to hear a "mad mullah". Digging back into the columns and comments of various right wing blogs, I suspect not. Though eyes I said before, the Kiwi blog bloke did suggest that the public Diane was not appropriate for the propagation of political criticism/speech. I can only hope that such a speaker will be invited and deep platforms so we can all judge the reactions of the extreme right.

Victor said...

Well, Chris, I expected considerably better from you.

I agree that, in most circumstances, there's a requirement to allow freedom of speech to those with atrocious opinions. An exceptional to this might, for example, be Britain in the summer of 1940. Thankfully, such exceptions occur but rarely.

But I really don't begin to see how this transmutes itself into the necessity of allowing them to speak at a particular venue, particularly one built and sustained by the funding of a public that includes people who may suffer as a result of these atrocious opinions being spouted.

I fear that, not for the first time, we must agree to differ.

Shalom, Sala'am, Pax.

Nick J said...

The much maligned Peterson is well worth a listen on personality traits and their relationship to how one votes. It would appear neither side can ever be without the other.

Puddleg said...


On the one hand we have a venue reversing a booking, not a major blow to free speech.
But the same mentality gives us unplatforming of a type that is an affront to free speech and civilised debate.
For example, disrupting an invited speaker on a campus of which the person who made the invitation is a member using megaphones so the meeting is either cancelled or the people attending feel intimidated - this was very much a Nazi tactic and is a common practice of culture wars protagonists overseas (used against Germaine Greer recently, of all people) - if it hasn't happened here (?) it's just because of a priori censorship (and it is probably the sort of thing that would have happened had Southern and Molyneux appeared).
So had the authorities simply said "we changed our mind about liking you, find somewhere else" that would be one thing, but to say "security concerns" is an admission of backing down in the face of violence. Which a sensible person might think is the bigger problem.
Now, it doesn't really matter that we won't get to hear a pair of intellectual grifters from a country unconnected to ours, but it does matter if we then can't address similar questions ourselves in the public space with a decent spread of interpretation and without fear of intimidation.
To give just one example, the very fraught question of ethnicity and IQ.
(see for evidence that this is not a simple matter to do social justice to)
The PC response is to say "well IQ is a social construct, meaningless except as evidence of racism or at best cultural hegemony" and ignore the matter except to demonize all the researchers involved in it. But what if we find out in 20 years time that IQ differences were in fact due to environmental factors such as lead poisoning or malnutrition or child abuse, and nothing was done about those things, or less was done in a timely manner, because this clear signal was unmentionable?
It wouldn't be the first time such a thing has happened.

Geoff Fischer said...

Karl Popper: "Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. "
We are not afraid to allow our opponents a hearing, yet for two centuries we have resisted and defied the Realm of New Zealand's attempts to silence all opposition. Our tolerance and our strength go hand in hand. We have not been destroyed, and neither has our tolerance. Empirical evidence to dispel Popper's philosophical illusion.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora George. I fear that left-wing liberal activism has largely degenerated into using megaphones to drown out opposition voices, both literally and figuratively speaking. In such an atmosphere dogma and obscurantism flourishes.
It would be very surprising if the variation of IQ within human population groups was not reflected in a corresponding albeit smaller variation between population groups. I don't have a problem in acknowledging that some population groups have a higher average IQ than the one to which I happen to belong, just as I thankfully acknowledge that many of my school class were blessed with a higher IQ than I. On the other hand I am wary of those who try to tell me that my own race has exactly the same average IQ as every other race and yet in the next breath insist that it would be wrong for me to do anything to either verify or disprove that hypothesis. There is something strange going on, and I suspect that the more unequal we become within the structures of liberal capitalism, the louder the liberals shout that we are all born equal, or are equal before the law, and therefore nothing needs to change. It happens to be a liberal dogma that economic and social success is determined by a number of personal attributes including IQ and therefore it becomes important to convince all racial groups that they have an equal chance of competitive success under the rule of capital because they allegedly possess the same average intelligence. In the context of global neo-liberal capitalism it is necessary to make that assertion even if happens to be an untruth and based on untrue premises. The real truth is that IQ varies between individuals and most probably between population groups but is irrelevant to our proper conduct as human beings. Neo-liberal capitalism is an amoral and increasingly immoral way of being, subject to all sorts of false justifications, including those which are centred around differences or similarities in human intelligence. Even if only 1% of what Southern and Molyneux believe comes close to the truth, they should have been allowed to say their piece.

John Hurley said...

In Singapore diversity is seen as (post facto) problematic, whereas we embrace it?

So what is the big lie then? Was our policy based on a Marxist interpretation of a white NZ policy?