Racists and freedom of speech

Here’s a question I’ve been pondering for a while - the relationship between extremist political views (racists sprang immediately to mind, white supremacists, ultranationalists, neo-Nazis and the like but also extreme religious groups) who always cling to freedom of speech as a shield when told to shut up and piss off. Which is fair enough since that’s pretty much what it’s for - giving idiots enough rope to hang themselves with. Popular views don’t need protecting; it’s the unpopular ones that do.

Here’s the paradox - you know, I know, the world and his dog knows that if any of these extremist groups actually got into power and had dominion over a nation freedom of speech would be among the first things quashed. Just imagine Fred Phelps as President or the British National Party having a majority in Parliament.

I’ve yet to hear any defence of this obvious hypocrisy - what do they say in answer to it?


You *hypothesize *that they would quash freedom of speech after enjoying it themselves, and then immediately follow up your hypothesis with an accusation of hypocrisy? That seems rather presumptuous.

I’m not defending or agreeing with these groups, mind you. Just questioning your “straw dog” argument as specious and presumptuous in the extreme.

Dixie Chicks.

Ever try to argue with a bigot? Forget it. They shout you down if you try to talk. So much for freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech means the government can’t shut them up.

It says absolutely nothing about the right of private citizens to tell them to shut up.

There are enough real problems around that it seems to me a bit odd to work up much outrage over something hypothetical.

The same argument could be made (and has been) about Communists, ultra montane Catholics, and the like. It’s not a strong argument, because the counter argument is simple. Free speech is a founding principle of liberalism. It’s not a founding principle of Communism, Roman Catholicism, racial nationalism or anything like that. The liberal who denies freedom of speech to his opponents is by his own moral code a failure and a hypocrite. The Communist or the racial nationalist is not. There’s nothing necessarily hypocritical about demanding that the society you live in lives up to its own stated principles, even if those are principles with which you disagree.

You’re talking about hate speech. We have laws against that in my country because it’s so damaging to society, and can actually be quite dangerous.

That’s why when Coulter comes to town she gets a warning to watch her words. Which causes her to get her face on tv denouncing all of Canada as being oppressed by a dictatorial government.

When outrageous/hateful claims get spewed the focus shifts to, is it true?, is it hateful? This is an improvement, to my mind, over the publicity gold mine, that having all the news anchors fanning the flames with recreational outrage over whatever Phelps said today. If it’s demonstrably untrue, and you continue to repeat it, you’re going to likely be crossing the line into hate speech, and face charges.

I think we enjoy a slightly more civil public discourse, because these checks are in place.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume that extremist groups who depend on freedom of speech to espouse their views now if given power would quash dissenting views, such is the nature of extremism - that said, I’m not claiming a hard and fast rule or concrete fact.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t worked myself up over it, just something that seemed paradoxical to me. The groups I’m thinking of would never in a million years be in an actual position to rescind free speech, more of a thought experiment than anything.

It doesn’t really matter how hypocritical they are. What matters is that the non-extreme majority adheres to free speech rights and doesn’t try to quash them, no matter how uncomfortable expression of these views makes us.

I was just reading a book about McKinley and his assassin Czolgosz. It describes how Emma Goldman celebrated Czolgosz’s “heroic” achievement" and managed to continue promoting similar controversial and widely loathed views for a number of years, before getting busted and deported during the Red scares of the late teens (20th century). Ironically, she was appalled to find that the Soviet Union she had praised as a pillar of human rights, did not accept the same free speech principles she had long enjoyed in the United States (she moved elsewhere). Would Emma Goldman and her friends have established freedom of speech in the U.S. and Europe had they come to power, even at the expense of allowing such speech to “counter-revolutionaries”? Probably not - but that didn’t make all the restrictions and harassment ultimately directed against them justifiable.

Don’t fight the hypothetical

was banned :frowning:

But what if he hadn’t been?

Sorry - off topic, but I couldn’t resist.

Not if the liberal doesn’t think freedom of speech is all that. Most liberals (or conservatives, or whatever) don’t agree 100% with their doctrines views.

I for one am all for the hate speech laws, as long as it’s possible to vote on what those are. I see the primary purpose of “freedom of speech” as making sure that all political ideas can be expressed, as such is necessary to be able to vote on them and thus have a functioning democracy. I do not agree that every means of communicating those ideas should be accepted.

Racists have the right to make arguments that white people are inherently better, and try to get laws passed to support that. They should not have the right to shout “nigger” at every black person they see.