Free-Speech Haters

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The neocons are at it again, riding the hobbyhorses of the pc Left by calling for government action against Nazi-sounding abuses of internet freedom. In the Murdoch-owned and neocon-controlled New York Post (April 25), several pages of photographs, featuring white-power rap-singers, and frenetic commentary about “rabid, racist filth that passes for melody” are used to highlight the problem of an unrestricted internet. Columnist Steve Dunleavy holds up for praise every liberal’s favorite Republican John McCain who has the apparent courage to address parental “concern.” McCain insists that the federal government protect children from internet music and lyrics that their parents might not approve of, particularly from Napster, the download site that features the hirsute bigots shown on page 7 of the newspaper.

Although no friend of Napster and someone whose taste in entertainment runs strongly in a classical direction, I do smell the odor of pc in the “concern” being exhibited. Almost all the cases of “hate” cited by the Post are manifestations of rightwing prejudice associated with white supremacists or anti-Semites. Only one illustration of bad language is drawn from the lyrics of black racist entertainers. It is hard to believe, moreover, that the regulation being sought will stop with the suppression of a few singers. It is the kind of regulation that leftist totalitarian groups, such as the ADA, various Western European Communist parties, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have advocated and successfully implemented in Europe.

The horror stories of recent governmental attempts to ban politically insensitive speech in Europe can fill entire volumes. Those who sell Nazi or pro-Nazi literature in Switzerland and Germany are not only subject to criminal prosecution but are pursued, with the blessing of the ADA and Wiesenthal Center, as international criminals. An essay on political criminality in Germany published by Ronald Glaser in Junge Freiheit (April 20) makes the well-documented argument that though leftwing criminal acts are three times more common than are such acts on the Right, disruptive rightists are more likely to be punished for Straftaten.

But, even more significantly, while leftwing criminality consists almost entirely of vandalism and physical assaults, the crimes of the Right are predominantly the expression of politically incorrect thoughts. What Glaser might have added is that most of these punishable offenses do not involve denying the mass-murder of Jews by the Nazis. Today in Germany, England, Canada, and France, journalists and scholars may face criminal prosecution for telling factual truths about non-Holocaust-related subjects. Expressing opposition to Third World immigration is interpreted in those countries as hate-speech that the state is authorized to and certainly does punish.

It is foolish to think that none of this could happen in our “democracy of free people.” Assaults on constitutional liberties are already going on by the targeting of speech and gestures said to create “hostile” working or learning environments for designated victims. The Justice Department and other political agencies punish institutions and business enterprises that stray from politically correct standards of communication and social interaction. Hate speech laws now being considered in Congress will add to the government’s authority to throttle ideas and speech that may “incite” unseemly emotions.

What the neocons’ modest proposal will likely do is put legal pressures on the contributors to real conservative websites. That such actions violate the First Amendment may count for little in a society that believes the opposite of the truth about the Bill of Rights. Instead of understanding that document as an attempt to restrain federal power, it is now widely taught, especially in law schools, that the First Amendment and whatever is seen as relevant in the Bill are there to allow the national bureaucracy and judiciary to ride to the aid of progressive citizens against local reactionaries. While such revisionist views are laughable, they are also widespread, and since other federal attacks on the First Amendment have proceeded with little resistance, providing they bear the label “anti-discrimination,” the neocons and their leftist soulmates may get away with this one as well.

Note the major assaults on liberty in Western countries in recent years have not been on property. Social democratic reformers, understanding the material value of such things, have allowed market economies more or less to function. What they have gone after are political and intellectual liberties, for the sake of an escalating crusade against rightwing “hate.” Not surprisingly, neocon and left-libertarian journalists are engaged in the same crusade, while talking about deregulation or some other policy to make the economy more “efficient.”

April 28, 2001

Paul Gottfried is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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