Friday 11 October 2019

Fighting Monsters.

Freedom Of Speech? The Säuberung (cleansing by fire) was the work of the German Student Union which, on 10 May 1933, under the watchful eye of the Nazi Reichminister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, consigned 25,000 books to the flames in a ritual exorcism of “un-German thought”. According to the logic of the authors of the Open Letter protesting the University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor's refusal to censor Action Zealandia, however, the Nazi-inspired students' actions constitute free speech.

A MURDEROUS, ANTISEMITIC terrorist attack, live-streamed in chilling imitation of the Christchurch Massacres, has shocked and dismayed the German nation. Proof, if any was needed, that strict legal prohibitions against the iconography and language of far-right extremism confers no special protection against the deadly designs of its adherents. No country is more assiduous in banning hate speech and Nazi paraphernalia than the German Republic, and yet, the impulse to murder Jews and Muslims has not been thwarted.

Sadly, that is not the lesson which the Censorious Left has been inclined to draw from this latest tragedy. Almost immediately, sophomoric statements appeared on social-media deploying the horror of the attack against the defenders of free speech. The latter were accused of supporting the right of homicidal Nazis to debate their views openly in the marketplace of ideas. Perhaps intuiting that this accusation was unlikely to be taken seriously, the Censorious Left’s opted to advance the (marginally) more moderate suggestion that while the philosophies of the Right may not in-and-of-themselves be objectionable, exposing vulnerable individuals to their malign influence under the rubric of free speech could only end with homicidal Nazis shooting up synagogues and mosques.

But, this line of argument leaves the Left as exposed to censorship as the Right. If granting right-wingers a platform is a bad idea because giving free rein to right-wing ideas will only end in murder, massacre and genocide, then granting platforms to the Left must also be forbidden. If the logical terminus of right-wing thought is Auschwitz, then the logical terminus of left-wing thought must be the Gulag. For every Babi Yar advanced by the anti-Nazis, the anti-Communists can produce a Katyn Forest. Clearly, the only sensible solution, if society is to be kept safe from all forms of ideological extremism, is to stop talking about politics altogether!

Except, of course, the Censorious Left has no intention of allowing itself to be silenced. That much was made clear by the 1,300 academic staff and students of the University of Auckland who signed the Open Letter condemning their own Vice-Chancellor’s defence of free speech on campus. As the anonymous author/s of the letter put it:

“If these posters [pasted-up by the ‘radical nationalist’ group calling itself Action Zealandia] constitute ‘free speech’, the same can be said of the actions of individuals who remove those that they encounter.”

Clearly, the person/s who wrote those words is no historian. No one having the slightest acquaintance with modern history would have exposed themselves so completely to the obvious rejoinder that their definition of free speech, if accepted, must render its extinction inevitable. Was it not the very Nazis the Censorious Left purports to condemn who bequeathed the world what is surely the most compelling depiction of intolerance, intellectual aggression and censorship ever recorded on film?

The Säuberung (cleansing by fire) was the work of the German Student Union which on 10 May 1933, under the watchful eye of the Reichminister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, consigned 25,000 books to the flames in a ritual exorcism of “un-German thought”. Into the bonfire illuminating the square in front of the Berlin Opera House, hundreds of radical nationalist students hurled the works of Jewish, Socialist and Communist authors. As the burning books cast their grotesque shadows over the crowd, horrified foreign journalists recalled the words of the nineteenth century German poet, Heinrich Heine: “Where they burn books, they will too in the end burn people.”

Not that the Censorious Left possesses the slightest grounds for objecting to this infamous historical spectacle. After all, those German students were simply behaving in the way recommended by the author/s of the Open Letter to Vice-Chancellor McCutcheon 86 years later. What else was the Säuberung but the ritual obliteration of material considered by the staff and students of Germany’s universities to be offensive and harmful to the wellbeing of the German volk? In confronting this “hate speech”, they were guilty of nothing more than exercising – exuberantly and dramatically – their right of free speech!

Perhaps if the Censorious Left knew a little bit more about the tactics of the historical movement they so loudly condemn they would be less inclined to imitate it. Those so outraged by the presence in Auckland of right-wing provocateurs Cheryl Southern and Stefan Molyneux that they were willing to frighten the owners of prospective venues for the duo’s public lectures into refusing them access, were clearly ignorant of the fate of the classic anti-war film, All Quiet on the Western Front.

At the film’s Berlin premiere in December 1930, Nazi stormtroopers harangued and jostled the audience as they entered the cinema, released stink-bombs in the auditorium and called-in real bomb threats. Goebbels pledged to do the same in cinemas all over Germany if the film – which the Nazis declared anti-German and offensive to all Great War veterans – was not withdrawn immediately. Terrified cinema-owners, fearful that people and property would be harmed, mostly succumbed to the “thug’s veto”. All Quiet on the Western Front was not scheduled again for general release in Germany until after World War II.

This is how Nazis exercise their freedom of speech.

Perhaps the Censorious Left should heed the advice given by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 11 October 2019.


The Veteran said...

Chris ... it's becoming a worry to me that I'm agreeing with so many of your posts or perhaps, just perhaps, it's you that should be worried. Keep on keeping on.

Odysseus said...

Nazism was able to take hold because Hitler banned free speech after the Reichstag fire in 1933, four weeks after he became Chancellor. Will 15 March 2019 be Ardern's Reichstag moment when "hate speech" laws are shortly introduced?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I find it a little strange that someone who calls themselves a "Socialist" or at least a Social Democrat, believes in the marketplace of ideas. What is it then about the unregulated ideas marketplace that makes it work better than any other marketplace. If the marketplace of ideas actually worked, Nazism would have gone to the wall years ago, but we find it's adherence increasing in numbers around the world as people feel they have less and less control over their lives. All the "debate" from the left isn't gonna fix this. In the absence of giving them some control over their lives and the opportunity for a decent life with decent wages, only some form of regulation of their ideas is going to work. It's not helping that certain world leaders have made the expression of these ideas legitimate once again.
It's also interesting how the right have adopted free-speech as a ditch to die in. In fact of course this adoption is completely spurious, because we know that the authoritarian right are the main problem when it comes to freedom of speech worldwide. And we also know that if they ever get in, freedom of speech will disappear.
You know, I wouldn't mind unrestrained and unregulated freedom of speech, as long as we may lying in public illegal, punishable by a couple of years in jail and no excuses like "I forgot to check my facts." "I didn't know." That might put a stop to some of the bullshit we have to put up with these days.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon.

You sort of anticipated me GS towards the end of your comment.

The thought that occurred to me, however, as you had at the concept of a free marketplace of ideas, was that your solution would be to regulate it - tightly.

Which would, I'm afraid, largely prove my point!

Brendan McNeill said...


On the subject of free speech you are at your best.

"If the logical terminus of right-wing thought is Auschwitz, then the logical terminus of left-wing thought must be the Gulag."

We have such an anaemic understanding of history, of the human condition, of the foundations of western civilisation, that it doesn't surprise me that we have arrived at a place where politicians and HRC Tzars believe that less freedom is going to delver more freedom.

But then Orwell foresaw this day very clearly.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You seem to have avoided my main point Chris and concentrated somewhat on the lighthearted bit at the end. You haven't explained why a free market only works with ideas. Unless you don't believe in regulating markets at all, in which case you probably shouldn't mention the word socialism or Social Democrat and yourself in the same breath. I would not in fact regulate the market of ideas "tightly", I would simply make sure that none of this neo-Nazi "free speech" takes place on my dime. If the marketplace of ideas wants to be free, it can be free in the capitalist free market of the Internet, and the private purchase of platforms from which to speak. And the private purchase of security to help them avoid the consequences of their "free speech". Because if it is a free market I don't see why the taxpayer should have to have anything to do with it. I certainly resent the fact that some people think I should be paying people to be neo-Nazis. As most of these people are extreme right wingers, they really shouldn't want any government help anyway. Yeah right.

Don Franks said...

It keeps getting worse. The clamour is on to shut down a projected meeting in a private room at Massey university next month. In the name of opposing 'hate speech' students petitioned the university to cancel the booking. The meeting organisers are a feminist group called Speak Up For Women. These are their decalred priciples: 1. Women are adult human females; girls are human female children.

2. Women and girls have the right to live free of violence, including sexual abuse or violence.

3. Women and girls have the right to organise and gather in safe, sex-segregated spaces.

4. Women and girls have a right to reproductive sovereignty.

5. Women and girls have the right to live free from commercial sexual exploitation.

6. Women and girls have the right to economic independence, pay equity, and living wages, including that which pertains to reproductive labour, child-raising, and domestic work.

7. Lesbians are exclusively same-sex attracted females and have the right to assert their same-sex attraction without facing harassment.

8. ‘Sex’ refers to the biological characteristics that distinguish males from females. Sex is immutable. ‘Gender’ refers to the stereotyped roles, behaviours and attributes that society at a given time considers appropriate for males and females.

Sam said...

Well I think if you are anti science and don't like opinions that are based on research and data and then seek to coheres others into silence or deplatform or what ever then they, those who de platform should be treated the same as plagiarism.

As far as making it a criminal offence to bullshit. I'm not into that because normal people don't get it into there heads that they need to conquer and subjugate land.

We squabble with our neighbours but we are not about to raise an army to defeat the ailiens on the other side of hill. That's crazy overkill.

Only at the state level can you raise armies and actually conquer land and people. So freedom of speech must be heavily regulated by the Speaker of The House at the state level so the military amongst other things is not turned on its own people.

John Hurley said...

The reason that group of European students represent a danger is because they threaten multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is like a child learning to ride a bicycle except that the child may never ride the bike without the parent holding on. The reality is that multiculturalism is a crime against the nation. If a nation has value for it's people then what did the average person gain from no longer being a member of a nation. Awakening people to what has happened is what the elites are afraid of. That is not to exclude people from the nation who marry or come for work but Govt thinks because it has stifled opposition at all levels that it can sell the idea of a nation based on diversity?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Would just one of you "free speech" advocates care to explain to me why we are allowed to regulate other markets but not the market of ideas. And perhaps you can explain to me what happens when your free speech provokes someone into walking into a restaurant and firing a shot because "Hillary and is running a paedophile ring from it." Or what happens to someone whose free speech provokes the harassment of parents of school shooting victims because "their kids didn't exist, and they are 'crisis actors'" just wanting to establish some boundaries here.

Sam said...

Guerrilla Surgoen:

If freespeech does not happen on the publics "dime," then it will happen on the private dime giving money more freespeech to people with more money than you and corporations have the most money. So corporations will get more freespeech than everyone else with which to lobby the government. That is truely fascist.

David George said...

The banning of Goebbels from public speaking in pre Nazi Germany had the perverse effect of heightening perceptions of a conspiracy against the ethnic German people and forcing the most extreme genocidal beliefs and intentions away from "the market place of ideas" where they metastasised.
The "censorious left" make a great show of opposition to "hate speech"; the fundamental dishonesty in their position is plain to see. Would the reaction be similar had a group of Maori ethno nationalists made similar pronouncements to Action Zealandia or the thinly disguised racism of Marama Davidson's diatribes against "colonists" or the anti male hatred happily printed up in our newspapers?
There is a pervasive contempt for the working class/white population endemic to the educated lefty urban elite. The porcine reference Gammon (UK) or Hog (US) or socialist/globalist leaders use of the pejoratives Les Sans Dents (toothless ones, François Hollande), Deplorables (H Clinton) to belittle, insult and degrade the working poor. Any wonder there is a growing reaction, some manifesting as extreme but the majority a perfectly reasonable response heightened by the dilution of national identity and genuine democratic power and the implementation of a globalist agenda -including the direct consequences of excessive immigration and the offshoring of jobs.
I agree with you Chris, allow the different perspectives to surface that we might counter but also find some understanding, some sympathy, some forgiveness and humanity. Putting the concerns of one group as completely beyond the pail while accepting and even endorsing similar perspectives from a different group is a recipe for disaster.
To better understand what is going on in our increasingly fraught culture wars I can thoroughly recommend Douglas Murray's remarkable new book The Madness of Crowds.

GJE said...

GS. You let yourself down badly with your comment that none of this "neo-Nazi "free speech" would take place on your dime...As most now realise the problem with socialists ideas in practice is the reality of who in the end will do the regulating...well I guess if its you we can all rest easy then...

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah, the right does love its freedom of speech doesn't it? Until it doesn't.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I notice nobody bothered to answer the question about the results of free speech. So I suppose that everyone is happy with Zuckerberg allowing politicians to actually lie in their political advertisements on Facebook? And condemning CNN for refusing to run political adverts that are "demonstrably false"? And happy with the advertisement for brexit that suggested that £350 million a year would go to the NHS? Another demonstrable lie.
Sam. Free speech these days is not particularly expensive and the rich already have far more free-speech than anyone else, particularly since the US government has decided that money is speech.
GJE. The government does not owe you a platform. No one in fact owes you a platform. If you want to deliberately say things that make people angry as most of these RWNJ idiots do, then pay for your own security. Hire your own Hall. Or start your own website and spout your bullshit on that. That's not hard. And refusing someone a government platform is not censorship when there are few barriers to finding another.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Incidentally, I'm old enough to remember the screams of outrage from RWNJ's when extreme left figures were considered too inflammatory to allow into New Zealand, and you don't have to be particularly old to remember screams of outrage when certain Muslim clerics were supposed to be too extreme to allow into the country. And it's all "we are Charlie" until a post a picture of you as a steaming pile of turds. Certain amount of hypocrisy going round in RWNJ circles it seems to me.

John Hurley said...

@ Kiwidave The educated lefty urban elite seem to like to palm themselves off as working class. Perhaps because they have stolen their voice.
IN AUCKLAND'S LONG Bay Park, Paul Spoonley notices a large man aggressively confronting a park ranger. As we drive past, the man picks up and throws the ranger’s bike.
“Just stop over here,” says Spoonley. He opens his door and half gets out of the car.
The man sees Spoonley looking and approaches him, yelling as he walks: “You alright mate? You all good? You all good buddy?”
“You OK?” asks Spoonley calmly.
“Yeah. He just won’t f***ing leave me alone, eh?”
The man notices me: “You all good?” he says, crouching down, peering through the window.
“Yes,” I say.
“Yeah, well he won’t leave me alone. This is my car here. He won’t leave me alone. I’m telling him to leave me alone.”
Things are tense, uncomfortable, possibly dangerous.
“Okay,” Spoonley says, closing his door gently, “let’s get out of here.”
The man bangs on the window three or four times: “You all good?” he yells again. “You all good?”
A little further up the road, Spoonley asks me to stop so he can tell the other park rangers about the man.
“Sorry about doing that to you,” he says later. “I worked in a freezing works for five years and I was a slaughterman. I worked in a gang of seven, and five of them were Mongrel Mob members. I am very much a middle—class Pakeha but those sorts of guys, I spent a lot of my younger life with.
“We cannot afford to socially and economically exclude these communities,” he says. “That sort of public anger, the ‘What are you looking at?’ sort of thing. There are social costs to exclusion.”
It isn't on his CV

John Hurley said...

You are working class when you are too embarrassed to describe those life moments that single yourself out from others.

I remember Mai Chen said she visited Vancouver and how it would be a great place to live. I would would look at it and say (as with Auckland) "couldn't afford to live here". Auckland for me may as well have it's own border and passport.

Chris Trotter said...

To Guerilla Surgeon:

Readers of Bowalley Road are not responding to your increasingly strident challenges, GS, because they are embarrassed for you.

It is truly heart-breaking to witness a person who has defended human rights all his life suddenly abandon the cause and start berating fellow leftists for defending freedom of expression.

I'm assuming you believe your stance to be an honourable and principled one. I do not share your assumption. You are free to make it - just as I am free to bestow upon it the benediction of my silence.

Sam said...

No Guerilla Surgeon. Please allow me to spell it out for you in small words. Blending government and private intersts is truely fascist.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

On the contrary Chris, I suspect they are not answering because they have no answers. Every country in the world restricts freedom of speech in some way. No one has yet said exactly where they would draw the line, because obviously they can't. No one is going to approve complete freedom of speech because it has its dangers.
I am not in fact the berating people for defending freedom of expression. I'm berating people for allowing certain types of speech which have consequences in the real world – and I have given a couple of examples of these. Why should someone be allowed to lie about a prominent politician, and cause them to get death threats – or indeed spout a lie that causes someone to walk into a restaurant where they are allegedly running a paedophile ring in the basement – a restaurant which in fact doesn't have a basement – and fire a shot.
On the contrary Chris it's disappointing that someone like you should align themselves with people who are using freedom of speech as a spurious issue to increase their membership by pure propaganda, when they actually have no real interest in it at all. As soon as these people take power, freedom of speech disappears, newspapers are closed, people like you are imprisoned and/or killed. I won't go so far as to say I'm heartbroken about it, but it fills me with a sense of deep, deep disappointment.

Nonsense_On_Stilts said...

Most debates about free speech commit a logical error in that they assume the purpose of free speech is the utility of the people i.e. the utility of the people is taken as good. No. The purpose of free speech is to enable us to debate what "good" is and whether or not we should pursue it; free speech is a metastructure that is a prerequisite to all other structures (I know that's clumsily worded, but I'm writing this in a small text box!)

If someone wishes to debate the moot that "All people named Jeremy Bentham should be killed", they should be entitled to do so. Now, if the laws of the country forbid murder, it should end at "we have conclusively proven our point" and one might also hope that in a rational country if the point were proven the laws might also change.

Many anti-free speechers are inherently contradictory (if they ever bothered to hold up a mirror). They claim objective morality in one moment ("it is always bad to be racist") yet two seconds later claim that only subjective morality exists ("female clitorectomy is socially acceptable in certain cultures.") When you boil down an anti-free speecher, what bubbles out is the same material that made up the people who forced Galileo into house arrest.

Every great idea in history has come about because people challenged existing thought. Rousseau, Kant, Bentham, Mills, Marx (Chris will probably shoot me for suggesting that lineage) all said things as offensive in their day as what Southern/Molyneaux say today (albeit much smarter).

John Hurley said...

Krugman now realises he got a lot wrong about the effects of globalisation [Mike Moore?]

Add trade to buying houses and taking over a good half of the tourist industry. Not to mention the need for identity makeovers here and there (to reflect who "we" are)? Jacinda will be the Angel on the Christmas tree.