Monday, August 28, 2017

Free Speech for Fascists?

 Quick thoughts: Should people we disagree with have free speech and other rights? More precisely: Should fascists have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and the right to hold their views and not be fired for them?

Some will argue that leftists would be chumps to stand up for the free speech rights of fascists. First of all, they wouldn't do so for us. (With the right-wing's perpetual amazement when the ACLU defends their rights and freedoms, they wouldn't even remember and would therefore be immune from recognizing their hypocrisy.) Secondly; the fascists actively state their contempt for the rights and freedoms of leftists and that they would eliminate them given the chance. Thirdly; the neo-liberal state already gives fascists a fair degree of freedom and if leftists protect fascists' rights (as being the same as the rights of all) it won't prevent the neoliberal state from violating ours. So we'd be chumps again.

Others argue that we are fools to celebrate the arbitrary restrictions on the rights of fascists (or other disagreeable people). Refusing to allow them to assemble, to say and write their noxious beliefs, to express their views without fear of losing their employment, is just going to make it easier for the neo-liberal state to do the same to us. Certainly the neo-liberal state will violate our rights. But to not even insist that everyone has those rights in the first place will do more harm in the long run.

Finally, ... is it the case that the fascists' beliefs are just so self-evidently dangerously bad that a special case can be made for restricting them? I believe that the 70% of Germans who NEVER embraced the Nazi party (even if they might have been pleased ... pleasantly surprised ... by Germany's military victories by 1940) and especially the 30 - 40% who actively opposed them and were imprisoned or harassed by them might have looked at the horror and ruin that Hitlerism had brought to their country, and decided, that their views were self-evidently dangerously bad. And so it is officially banned.

But what about in Canada or the United States? We haven't formally banned fascism here. Should we? What about the horrors of Stalinism? Do they make communism self-evidently so dangerous that it should be outlawed? Because it wasn't just Stalinism. Mao's "Great Leap Forward" famine could also be said to have been the result of communist ideas. Of course, the slaughters and famines of imperialism and the slavery and misery and death of capitalism are also bad.

I honestly don't know at the moment.


Owen Gray said...

It's not easy to uphold the right to free speech for those who would take it away, thwap. But a right only has meaning when it is challenged. In the end, we operate on the assumption that truth will, in the end, win the day.

That's also a principle that is not easy to uphold.

Tal Hartsfeld said...

Fascists should also have the same right to free speech, as it would let the rest of us know where they are coming from at all times.

And ...the rest of us should still be brave enough to vigilantly and forcefully hang on to OUR freedom-of-speech at the same time as well.

thwap said...


We do have to operate as if the true and the good will win out. That said, when it comes to nazis, I don't have much of a problem with groups like Antifa taking them on head-on.

Anti-Racist Action here in Canada seemed to do a good job of letting scum-bag racists know not to stick their heads up to high back in the 1980s and 1990s.

thwap said...

Tal Hartsfield,

Nazis tend to be pretty stupid people. Letting them yap for a little bit does tend to let decent people know how vile they are.

Purple library guy said...

If freedom of speech includes speech dedicated to eliminating freedom of speech, does freedom more generally include the freedom to own slaves?

Purple library guy said...

What exactly does it mean to say that a right only has meaning when it is challenged? So if I have a right to, say, equality under the law, or to free health care, those things are pointless to have unless somebody is trying to take them away?

thwap said...


With regards to your first question, the material impact of actual slavery is greater than the material impact of someone saying they'd like to own slaves. So, there's a difference between SAYING you'd take away another's freedom of speech, and actually doing so.

Supposedly our system protects freedom of speech and freedom from enslavement. As part of the freedom of speech there is the freedom to express the desire to negate those freedoms for others.

Putting those expressions into action would be considered a violation of our society's values and would therefore be illegitimate. (Of course, if fascists were in a position to put their words into effect, our system and its alleged values would have changed.)

Personally, I support Antifa wholeheartedly. Just as I cheered the stalwart warriors of Anti-Racist-Action here in Ontario back in the day.

All of my handwringing here is about the powers of the state to suppress ideas (including noxious ones). And sometimes, I think official suppression of some ideas makes sense; a-la the outlawing of the Nazi Party in Germany.

With regards to your second question about what it means to say that rights only have meaning when they're challenged; ... I can't speak for Owen, but perhaps he meant that there's a difference between theory and practice.

You can assume that you have equality under the law, but then a rich man blatantly steals from you and a judge blatantly ignores all legal precedents and rules against you. And you complain to the proper authorities and your case is re-opened and the rich man is punished and the corrupt judge is impeached.

Your rights, when challenged, were found to be valid.

It's the same with freedom of speech. You assume you have freedom of speech and you post support online for BDS and suddenly you're dragged before a tribunal and told your disgusting anti-Semitism is so noxious and so dangerous that you must be punished and made an example of. Your freedom, when challenged, was found to be limited by so-called society standards.

Is that the risk of approving official suppression of the noxious views of the fascists? That we could institute a reign of genuine "political correctness" that limits us from saying what the mob, or the authorities, decide are vile, dangerous opinions?