Over the sunny Bank Holiday weekend a lot of people who had nothing better to do with their lives (such as drink lager, have barbecues, watch cricket, sit in the garden) assembled in London on a rally for free speech:
Protesters flying national flags and holding placards decrying limits to free expression rallied at Whitehall after marching through central London from Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, a location seen as emblematic of free speech that has been the scene of several recent far-right rallies.Now, while there's an irony at a march protesting free speech proceeding more-or-less without the authorities doing anything other than watching, there's a point to all this that matters. It's not about whether or not the mobb allows Tommy Robinson to get permanently chucked off Twitter but rather about the manner in which the idea that we should be free to speak our minds is now considered to be a mad, bad and dangerous thing. Not just by authoritarians but by people who probably lay claim to the title 'liberal'. It seems that expressing support for free speech can now be categorised as supporting the "far right":
Claiming freedom of speech as a value is something the American far right has been doing for years (aided and abetted by liberal dupes, naturally)Well I don't know about you but, for me, free speech is one of those inalienable right things and I thought that the left were committed to the idea that human rights merited vigorous defence? It would appear that today, in our crazed looking glass way, the centre-left - once the bastion of support for rights - has given up on the idea of free speech. In its place is a movable feast of allowed and disallowed ideas, concepts, theories and words - anything, presented by the wrong person in the wrong place can be described as 'hate speech', thereby providing the left its justification for restricting speech.
The problem is that one person's 'hate' is another person's considered criticism of an ideology, attempt at argument or humour - preventing Jordan Peterson from speaking on US campuses, banning of Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, and the trial of comedians for making bad jokes about blowing up airports or Nazi dogs. We are reminded, yet again, that free speech has to be fought and won with each generation. For much of the last 100 years, most of the left has been on the side of the good guys, the folk who think free speech - the chance to say things that might hold those in power to account - is worth a bit of offence and upset. Today this isn't the case, now most of the left - not just the fascist style left of Momentum but the whole spectrum from centrist social democracts to old unreconstructed communists - are opposing free speech. For sure, in this they're joined by other cowardly centrists in all political parties, but the thrust of the campaign against free speech is coming from the left, from its obsession with identity, with 'shutting down' voices that touch on these issues in what the arbiter of good speech determines as the wrong way - whether it's gender, race or religion.
We are still, in the main, a society where people can speak freely but the decision of mainstream - and left wing - politicians to stress identity and the prevention of 'hate speech' above the idea of liberty has meant the cause of liberty, the case for free speech, now sits with people who can be caricatured as 'far right' (in truth, for every actual fascist, there are thousands of libertarians of left and right). The left has given up on free speech:
Freedom of speech is no longer a value. It has become a loophole exploited with impunity by trolls, racists and ethnic cleansing advocates. They are aided by the group I call useful liberals – the “defend to the death your right to say it” folk.Like Thurber's very proper gander, today's left believes that anyone expressing any view they dislike must be hateful and, therefore, driven from civilised society. To justify this position, its advocates will seek out the most shocking examples of crass and offensive speech -"look!", they'll shout, "you're supporting this vile stuff". And us defenders of free speech are left spluttering - we're not fans of Tommy Robinson's views and think Milo is a dickhead, so our response is mostly to shuffle off to the side and say nothing.
The reason that the left used to defend free speech is because without it things like trade unions, women's suffrage, gay liberation and civil rights wouldn't have happened. All of these things required brave men and women to stand up, seize their right to speak, and tell the powerful that things had to change. This is why we have free speech - not to allow racists to be racist or sexists to be sexist but to give the powerless the right to their voice. I believe this is worth a few tears, a little offence, and I don't understand why the left has given up on free speech.