Free Speech, Even for Richard Spencer
Should alt-right leader Richard Spencer have the right to speak without getting punched? Danish journalist Flemming Rose says toleration demands it.
Read Flemming Rose’s op-ed (with Joseph Mchangama) on fake news and free speech
- Freedom of Speech: Is Offensive Speech Good For Society? – Learn Liberty (video): Professor Tom Bell argues that freedom of expression allows us to criticize and refute bad ideas.
- Freedom of Speech: Why Are Sex and Comedy Censored? – Learn Liberty (video): “Censor not, lest you be censored.” Professor Greg Lukianoff explains that what society considers offensive changes and censoring ideas that you find offensive could leave your own ideas open to censorship in the future.
- How to Deal with a Non-Violent Bigot (blog post): Sheldon Richman explains how we should approach people who’s views we find offensive
What would you say to the people, because this is the argument that I heard just in the last couple weeks when I was defending the right of Richard Spencer to speak his stuff and not get punched. As I said on Twitter, I have family members on both sides of my family who died in the Holocaust, I grew up knowing Holocaust survivors. It’s not something that I take lightly, but I have to defend free speech when it’s the uncomfortable speech. People of course were saying I was a Nazi and a white supremacist and all of this nonsense, but a few people said, “This is different.” That, “If these people won’t play by the rules of decency in society, then we can’t treat them with the same thing.” I don’t agree with that, but what do you think is a good argument against that?
I think we did very well during the Cold War in Denmark, not banning Communism. We didn’t even ban Nazism. Though, we were occupied by the Nazis for five years during second World War. Richard Spencer enjoys the same civil liberties and rights as you and me. You cannot make a distinction. If you go down that road, it just takes a new political majority, with people like Richard Spencer in power. He can use the same principles against you and me and against Muslims or blacks or other minorities. It’s very important to defend these principles for your enemies because you’re just an election away from a possible majority that can use exactly the same kind of violence against you that you are defending when it’s used against your enemies.
I think this is what democracy is about, what a free and liberal foundation in our society is about. That you, and this is what tolerance in fact is about. Tolerance means that you do not ban and you do not use violence, threats, and intimidation against the things that you hate. A lot of people hate the ideology and the values of Richard Spencer, but we should not use violence and try to intimidate and threaten him and ban what he’s saying. That is the key notion of tolerance in a democracy, and unfortunately we have forgotten about that. Today, tolerance means yes, you may have a right to say what you want, what you say, but I think you should shut up. It’s become a tool to silence your opponents, while in fact it means that you have a right to say whatever you want as long as you do not use violence and bans.