What happens when liberals embrace totalitarians.
Last week a ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court upheld a very broad hate speech law in the province of Saskatchewan, a law that exists in even more extreme forms in other Canadian provinces and perhaps in the most extreme form in the Canadian Human Rights Act, which makes it a criminal offense to preach something called “hate.” The Saskatchewan resident who was found guilty of this outrage was a religious Christian who had distributed pamphlets declaring homosexuality to be a sin. If this gentleman, William Whatcott, had expressed the same view over the Internet, he could have been arrested under a federal law prohibiting “homophobic” speech. In 2008 in the Canadian province of Alberta a Protestant minister was arrested for delivering a sermon that was critical of gay marriage; and the same fate befell an Evangelical printer in Ontario two years ago who refused to produce invitations to a gay wedding. In Ontario it is now a punishable offense to put up a billboard that “discriminates,” a grievous offense that courts have been left to define and decide.
I could easily multiple such cases of the suppression of politically incorrect speech in other “liberal democracies” throughout Western and Central Europe, having already published several books on this depressing subject. And this problem is particularly disheartening because Freedom House and other agencies that are supposed to monitor the status of liberty throughout the world don’t seem to care about these PC assaults on intellectual and religious freedom in countries they consider to be democracies. For example, Freedom House ignores a rigorously enforced French law making “Armenian-genocide denial” a crime while railing against Turkey for prohibiting the view that Frenchmen are required to embrace. Moreover, the suppression of free speech that we notice in Canada is proceeding even more dramatically in France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Sweden. In all these and other European countries EU requirements and national laws impose strict speech and writing codes in order to prevent (what else?) unauthorized hate. Needless to say, Muslim extremists are hardly ever touched by this draconian legislation and are usually quite free to rage against Christians and Jews.
The most extreme restrictions seem to be in Germany, which reveals an especially egregious degree of thought control. There the present problem started in the postwar period with the misguided reeducation of the Germans undertaken by their Western conquerors. The reeducation that the Allies, starting in 1945, imposed on the post-Nazism country stressed antifascism and antinationalism. Unfortunately it totally neglected other more important values such as free inquiry and the right of dissent. A war that commenced under the Occupation against such presumed evils as “Prussianism” and even simple German patriotism goes on today in an accelerated fashion, and it has contributed to the painfully narrow limits in Germany concerning what its citizens may say about politics, morals or history. Those who go outside those limits will be investigated by special agencies as a threat to Germany’s “democratic constitutional order.” As an added disincentive for politically incorrect non-conformists, those who land up on a widely available government list of suspected anti-democrats are typically dismissed from their professional positions as “extremists.” The German “center right” chancellor has openly congratulated her people for not having a rightwing party. The German political spectrum starts somewhere on the American left-center and then moves further to the left than either of our two national parties.
This relates in some ways to a more general European political problem, which has been the wholesale transfer of communist cadres from sinking or collapsing communist parties into what used to be the democratic Left. In Germany, onetime communist dignitaries were treated with remarkable leniency by the government and by the generally far leftist press after the fall of the communist state, and even longtime secret police agents, like the leader of the German Party of the Left (or, what is officially called the Party of Democratic Socialists) Gregor Gysi, went from being a Stasi-informer to one of the German Republic’s rising political stars overnight. Even the Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel had been a supporter of the German communist regime (like her still ardently communist parents) almost up to the moment of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Merkel’s continued praise of Stalin and the Red Army for “liberating the Germans from fascism,” one can still easily catch the echoes of her intense communist upbringing and education.
Communists who wanted to stay in politics once their formerly powerful parties in France, Italy and Germany lost their working class base and especially after the Soviet Empire imploded, had to make adjustments. Reinvented communists continued to represent “antifascism” and to call for punishing their traditional “fascist” foes. But the enemy went from being the capitalist owners of productive forces to those who expressed reactionary attitudes. One of the first steps in this transformation was getting out ahead of the crowd in tightening up or pushing through Holocaust denial prohibitions in France, Italy and other European countries. The communists or former communists invariably took the lead here, as in the Loi Gayssot, passed in France in July 1990, which made it a criminal offense to deny any part of the Nuremberg Court’s judgment concerning Nazi crimes, which was handed down in 1947. This, quite conveniently for the law’s sponsors, had the stamp of approval of Stalin’s judges, who had been involved in the trials of Nazi war criminals, and was based on evidence and testimonies that would merit historical reexamination, even from non-Holocaust-deniers.
The French Jewish scholar Elisabeth Levy (who at considerable social and financial cost has sustained the crusade against governmentally enforced PC in her country, mostly through her website Causeur) and before her, the genuinely disillusioned former communist and historian of the French Communist Party, Annie Kriegel, warned against criminalizing assumed Holocaust deniers. Such critics interpreted this move as the first step for French communists and their socialist allies in a campaign against free speech in France. After the criminalization of Holocaust-denial, the French Left demanded other restrictions on unacceptable speech, for example, making the denial of the “Armenian genocide” into a criminal offense, and then pressing (quite successfully) to punish other forms of “fascist” self-expression. (Antifascism in Europe is the equivalent of antiracism or anti-homophobia in the US or Canada.)
Lest I forget, I should mention another elephant that landed up in the European parlor and continues to cause havoc there: the Sixty-Eighters who turned into middle-aged European politicians without losing their taste for intimidating the bourgeois. Not only are most Western European governments full of these types but they have also ominously gone into the European media and European education. In Germany these antifascist activists have not kept the same major enemy over the decades, despite their continued disinclination for liberty for anyone but themselves. They turned their fury first against the Americans and the anti-communist side in the Cold War and then just as ferociously against their own country.
Indeed they have turned national masochism into a German state religion. German politicians in the Green and Socialist parties are perpetually expressing the wish that the area between France and Poland would cease to exist as a state. The new head of the Green Party, Jürgen Trittin, a onetime violent socialist revolutionary, expresses impatience that Germany has taken so long to disappear, given its evil past. Personally I have no idea why Germans vote for such creeps but remarkably enough millions do. Their strength lies primarily in the support of a public sector class that is much larger than ours.
German-hating, aging Sixty-Eighters do bring up periodically the Holocaust as a national disgrace, and indeed the former Socialist Foreign Minister and another, onetime murderous revolutionary, Joschka Fischer, who was involved in assassinations before his conversion to a quieter march through the institutions, averred in 1999 that “Auschwitz is [he meant, should be] the founding myth of the German Republic.” But state-supported remorse for Hitler’s crimes against the Jews was only a brief stopping point on the journey on which Fischer and his fellow Sixty-Eighters would take their country, and they would do so unfortunately with a democratic mandate. The imperative never to forget Auschwitz has led the all-powerful German Left in a number of dubious directions, including banning more and more politically incorrect speech, whitewashing communist crimes against their own people and against other nations, and favoring the creation of a “parallel society” for Muslims who are busily occupying German inner cities.
One might also note that the banning of “rightwing” hate speech in every form has allowed communists and their sympathizer to remove from public discussion any mention of communist mass murder. In France, Germany and Italy any awkward attempt to bring up this matter, particularly after the publication of the Black Book of Communism in 1997 detailing the grisly killings committed by communist governments, elicits charges from the entire left, and not just communists, about diverting attention from pressing fascist threats. In November 1997 French Socialist Premier Lionel Jospin rose in the French Assembly to commit a legally permissible genocide-denial. Jospin attacked those who would dare suggest “equivalence” between Hitler’s and Stalin’s crime. As a man of the left, the premier regarded Stalin as a true “antifascist ally in the war against Nazism,” and he refused to allow right-wingers to insult his communist coalition partners.
Three concluding points may be appropriate here. One, the current war against politically incorrect speech throughout the Western world is ultimately far more destructive than the attempts to quiet dissenters that are pursued under authoritarian governments like China. Authoritarian states wish to shut up those who seem eager to overthrow their rule. These governments sometimes behave stupidly and even brutally, but they are understandably interested in surviving in the face of growing opposition. What we see in Western countries is an organized totalitarian force attempting through repression and state-supported social engineering to restructure human nature. And this force moves along and conquers less violently than those overt dictatorships that may be sitting on a volcano of discontent. Those warnings about the cumulative effects of “soft despotism,” which extend from the social and political critic Tocqueville in the 1830s down to Robert Nisbet in the 1950s and 1960s, apply fully to the aberrant course now being pursued by Western governments.
Two, almost all political attacks on intellectual and religious freedom that I’ve recorded are directed against what is perceived as the “far right.” There is no other presumed threat that the government and leftist establishments in Canada and Europe are interested in silencing. But more significantly, this allegedly rightist enemy has come to embrace anyone who dissents from the left’s program of control or imposed ideology. “Fascists” now include victims of communist regimes who depict their former captors unfavorably, those “extremists” who protest Islamicist tirades too loudly, and those who voice religious objections to the projects of the cultural left. Although there are similar forms of intolerance that are evident in our universities and media, the American government, at least for the time being, had done less than other “liberal democracies” to impose PC with a jackboot. This of course may change, despite the First Amendment.
Three, there is no one-to-one relation any longer between governments that permit some degree of economic freedom and those that refrain from throttling politically insensitive opinion. According to the Index of Economic Freedom, Canada and Sweden rate higher than the US (Germany is just a bit lower) in their willingness to practice fiscal discipline and to keep the tax rate for corporate profits low or non-existent. Some societies with higher ratings for economic liberty have also, not incidentally, become models or cesspools of governmentally controlled Political Correctness.
Latvia, Lithuania and Israel, which fall in the low middle of the list, offer far more intellectual and political freedom than Singapore, which is in second place on the Index. Moreover, Eastern European countries were left with communist nationalized economies when the Soviet empire collapsed; and these former satellite countries have had to denationalize their economies while taking into account a large work force that depended on inefficiently government-run industries. These countries could not organize free market economies without having to cope with a bad system already in place. In any case the economic figures in question should not be given exaggerated importance, since all Western countries, including our own, have extensive welfare states. When we talk about economic freedom, we no longer think about exceedingly low taxes and very limited commercial and banking regulations of the kinds that obtained in most Western countries a hundred years ago.
Germans during the Second Empire paid less than a sixth of their present tax load in what was then an incipient welfare state. Moreover, while the amount of intellectual freedom under the empire was probably not more than what Germans later enjoyed under the Weimar Republic, that amount vastly exceeded what is available to them in what Germans now misleadingly believe is “the freest German government of all times.” The current amount of permitted freedom is also far less than what Germans possessed under the Christian Democratic government that succeeded the Allied Occupation. But that was before the Sixty-Eighters were joined by retread communists to impose thought control on Germany’s most recent democracy. And this situation resembles, in a more advanced form, what is happening in other Western countries. As I began this essay by pointing out, it would pay for self-appointed guardians of political freedom to notice what’s going on in their backyards. Allowing the PC Left to shut up everyone else does not prove the existence of a free government.
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