This piece won't concern itself with extreme cases such as shouting “fire” in a cinema or explicit calls to violence. Nor with the case for complete freedom of speech in every domain. This is about political free speech.
More specifically, it's about those Leftists/progressives who claim that certain political views or expressions will lead - usually tangentially or indirectly - to X and Y (where X or Y are deemed negative or violent).
In terms of concrete detail, all sorts of groups and individuals have been silenced in recent months and years by Leftist/progressive groups and individuals.
*) Tommy Robinson (former leader of the EDL) was stopped from speaking at the Oxford Union on two occasions.
*) The National Union of Students (NUS) refused to hold a debate on abortion. (It also refused to condemn the Islamic State.)
*) Scientists who do research on IQ, race, sociobiologists, “creationists”, believers in Intelligent Design, etc. have been sacked and even physically harassed in British and American universities.
*) Global-warming sceptics are also given a hard time in (some) universities and denied a voice in many other places.
*) UKip members have been denied the right to work in certain places of employment and one Ukip couple had their foster children removed because of their political allegiances. In addition, the University of East Anglia “cancelled” (or banned) an appearance of a UKip candidate.
*) The criticism of Islam is severely curtailed on Facebook and, less so, on Twitter (probably because of its capsule form): numerous Facebook pages which were critical of Islam have been closed down.
*) People in the UK have been arrested and imprisoned for burning the Koran (including a West Midlands schoolgirl aged 15).
*) Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Geert Wilders have been denied entry into the UK.
*) Paul Weston (the leader of Liberty GB) was arrested for quoting the words of Winston Churchill.
*) Bill Maher was “disinvited” from the University of Berkeley because of his comments about Islam.
*) Leftist and Muslim groups (as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at the United Nations) have called for the banning of what they call “hate blogs” and “hate sites” (i.e. those which are critical of Islam).
*) The Guardian newspaper and Leftists groups have called for the monitoring of “far-right” groups (though not for the monitoring of Islamic and Leftist groups); as well as the banning of demos and even the banning of political movements and organisations. (One Guardian journalist, however, has argued against such bans.)
In the end, then, all political views and expressions lead somewhere... tangentially or indirectly. It's also a truism to say that words affect things, people and events.
So we must be specific.
Good Reasons to End Free Speech
All the leaders and politicians who've ever cracked down on free speech have always had highfalutin reasons to do so. It's not as if despots or ruling parties have done so just for the hell of it. In fact many have said that “freedom of speech requires responsibility” or that certain expressions can have “serious repercussions”; which is precisely what many Leftists/progressives today argue. (Others, sure, have argued in these ways too.)
Okay: do Leftists apply that across the board – politically - or only selectively?Accordingly, Leftists are very choosy about free speech. They're not usually talking about responsibility and consequences in the abstract. They're nearly always talking about right-wing responsibility and the repercussions of right-wing speech. Neat.
Clearly there are a whole multitude of reasons to clamp down on free speech. The question is:
Are they good reasons or are they simply means to silence political dissent?Sure, Leftists have themselves have had their own free speech curtailed at certain times and in certain places. However, these comments don't depend on denying that fact. They're about the Left's own inconsistent and somewhat hypocritical position on the freedom of speech.
Nearly all public speech has some negative and/or positive repercussions.
So if that's the progressive case, then for every right-winger silenced, I can cite another ten Leftists/progressives who should also be silenced. They too should be aware of their own responsibility and the repercussions of what they.
See how it works?
After all, left-wing views can lead to the Gulag, totalitarianism, to “stringing capitalists up - from the nearest lamppost - by their intestines”, to “class liquidations” and, yes, to the complete denial of free speech.
Thus one good reason for denying free speech to at least some Leftists - ironically enough - is that certain forms of Leftism (e.g., forms propagated in our universities, by Unite Against Fascism, Hope Not Hate and other Communist and Trotskyist parties/groups, etc.) can lead to the end of free speech. So, in that sense, it can be argued that Trotskyist/communist free speech must be curtailed in order to save free speech. And, ironically enough, that's more or less what groups like Hope Not Hate and UAF say about their own “no platform” policy towards all right-wing groups outside the British Conservative Party. (Given the right time and the right amount of power, the Tories wouldn't be safe from such Leftists either.) In other words, what such groups say and do can also be applied to them!
And that's one reason why you can't really be selective when it comes to the freedom of speech. A selective defence of free speech isn't, in effect, a defence of free speech at all. It is more a case of:
“I'm in favour of free speech.... but...”
And that is a bit like the phrase that anti-racists always use against people they see as “closet racists”. Namely:
“I'm not a racist.... but....”
Free Speech for the Right People
The bottom is that Leftists agree with free speech for those they agree with. That is hardly a surprise, is it?
So when you press certain Leftists on this, they begin to sound like, well, seasoned politicians. In other words, they sound like they haven't got the honesty to answer a simple question. And you can only conclude from that reticence or dissimulation that they don't believe in free speech at all ..... unless that speech lies firmly within the political bounds that they have themselves constructed.
Talk of “responsibility” and “repercussions” is often just fluff.
In the end, then, the position of the majority of Leftists is this:
i) Political expressions which don't abide by Leftist/socialist/progressive ideology or politics “show a lack of responsibility”, have “violent and anti-social consequences”, etc..
- Those political
expressions which do abide by Leftist/socialist/progressive
politics or ideology do “abide by standards of responsibility”,
don't have “violent and anti-social consequences”, etc.
- Thus the Leftist
position on free speech is transparent – it's entirely determined
by the politics and ideology of the Leftist concerned.
What Leftists do – and The Guardian newspaper is an excellent example of this – is conflate free speech with the state (or the authorities) allowing politically-correct people to say politically-correct things. But that's not free speech, is it? It's a (Leftist/progressive) political con or gimmick masquerading as a defence of free speech.