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A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Should we ban hate speech? Nazis in the street and the “paradox of tolerance”

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Paul Rosenberg writes in Salon:

In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, I’ve been seeing a lot of people — from writers at the New York Times and Quartz to ordinary Twitter users — refer to a famous argument by the British-Austrian Jewish philosopher Karl Popper known as the “paradox of tolerance.”

Because it speaks so directly to the growing concern that neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are gaining power in America — in no small part due to Donald Trump’s election to the presidency — it deserves to be quoted in full. Here is its best summation, courtesy of Popper’s book “The Open Society and Its Enemies.”

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.

When I encounter this argument, my mind immediately flies to a very personal experience. Back in the early days of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, I was targeted by Andrew Anglin — the same Andrew Anglin whose neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer was effectively run offline after he encouraged violence post-Charlottesville — in a pair of blatantly anti-Semitic editorials. After describing how this was a deeply unsettling experience, I offered the following thought:

Although I have nothing but contempt for Trump and his racist supporters, I respect their right to free speech. I would rather live in a society that permits it that one that does not — even when some of the invective is directed at myself.

Only 18 months have passed between the days when I wrote those words and the present moment, yet the chronological gulf feels much larger. Do I stand by them now?

Yes — with one crucial caveat. While even toxic political speech should be tolerated, our society needs to be aggressive in holding those who disseminate it accountable. They will almost certainly resist, and that fact cannot matter in the slightest.

First, though, let’s address the two problems with arguing that hate speech should be banned. The most obvious is that the same logic which can be used by one group to deny speech to their adversaries can be turned against them. As Trump made clear when he characterized the anti-fascist counter-protesters as violent and provocative, individuals who oppose humanitarian causes have little difficulty in characterizing progressives as the true oppressors.

Of course, progressives inevitably respond to this by arguing that their ideology is so fundamentally different from that of the alt-right that the Trumpian position is clearly wrong. That rebuttal misses the larger point. Societies may be ruled with laws, but those laws are justified and embedded into our culture by abstract principles. As soon as a new precedent alters one of those fundamental principles, anyone who operates within that society can effectively apply those principles to advance their own agenda, whatever it may be.

“The ability to associate disagreeable ideas with the oppressor, and to quash free speech or other political rights in the name of justice for the oppressed, is a power without any clear limiting principle,” explained Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine in April. “Historically, states that rule on that basis tend to push that power to its farthest possible limit.”

The ACLU summed up this point quite succinctly after Charlottesville, when its statement condemning white supremacism also noted that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2017 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

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