Power, Principle and Freedom of Speech

Prophet Cartoon Contest Shooting
Brandon Wade/AP

After decades of trumpeting free speech and the right to be endlessly provocative and insulting against the great religions of the world, the Left has suddenly begun hallucinating an exception to the First Amendment for “hate speech” – as if there’s some kind of “fighting words” law that says people who are really, really, really offended by what you’re saying can use force to silence you, including deadly violence. If you’re old enough to remember the liberal outrage against utterly non-violent censorship like the Moral Majority, it’s simply amazing to watch them collapse into a sniveling heap before the iron fist of Islam.

Of course, being the egotistical brats they are, liberals insist on portraying their craven cowardice as a soaring act of intellectual courage. They want credit for the enlightened mystical vision that allows them to see the muzzles, whips, and ball gags dangling from the First Amendment. Not many of them take this blend of arrogance and nitwittery as far as CNN’s Chris Cuomo:

As you might imagine, a large number of people who actually have read the Constitution (and more specifically, the Bill of Rights) stepped forward to point out that it’s quite a bit different than whatever scrap of paper covered with red-crayon doodles Chris Cuomo has been reading. There’s nothing funnier than a fool challenging people to review the evidence that proves him wrong. But amid the gales of laughter, Hot Air’s Allahpundit made a chilling observation:

To take Allahpundit’s point further, if you asked the standard conservative – actually, classical liberal – question of “Who decides which speech gets suppressed as forbidden hate speech?” most of these people wouldn’t be fazed in the least. They would express servile, childlike faith in their political leaders to properly define and destroy “hate speech.”  Some of them would respond with individual names, such as “Barack Obama.” All of them would be serenely convinced that nothing they could ever say would be targeted and destroyed by their wise rulers as “hate speech.”

What this all comes down to is the sacrifice of free speech principles for a crass power calculation.

A principle is absolute. It doesn’t matter if a large number of people wish to strip an unpopular citizen of her inalienable rights. It doesn’t matter if a small, but politically and culturally powerful group passionately believes that citizen should be stripped of her rights. It most certainly doesn’t matter if a violent totalitarian movement cares enough about suppressing her rights to kill her for exercising them.

But in the world our friends on the Left envision, all of those things do matter. There are no inalienable rights, because such rights frustrate political power. They get in the way of Really Smart People who have great ideas for how society can be remodeled, provided everyone is forced to obey them. Everything becomes political. The individual is crushed beneath the “will of the people,” which is commonly imagined as the will of the majority, although in practice it tends to be the will of the ruling elite, and whoever purchases or compels their attention.

Belief in a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment is a perfect expression of power over principle, because the power to define and suppress “hate speech” would be enormous. We don’t have to imagine its dimensions, because every totalitarian regime in recent history claimed such powers. They love to characterize dissent as “hate speech,” a threat to public order, and claim they’re living up to the highest standards of civilized conduct by crushing it. The modern American breed of totalitarian loves to portray himself as a valiant champion of free speech… except for those “hateful” people he disagrees with, or finds extremely inconvenient.

To put it bluntly, there is a tactical alliance between the Left and Islamic fascism. Leftist politicians want to harvest Muslim votes. They also have a long, long list of qualifications they would append to the supposedly heroic statement, “I support the right of free expression, BUT…”

Adding “… but no one should be allowed to offend Islamic sensibilities” to that list is a small price to pay, in exchange for political and ideological support. As we’ve seen for years, with especially vivid demonstrations after the attacks on free speech in Paris and Texas, liberals have no trouble constructing elaborate justifications and excuses for submission to sharia law. They can whip up all sorts of excuses for why they’re not interested in drawing cartoons of Mohammed, or defending those who do.

The heart of the alliance between the Left and Islamism is the compatible list of mutual adversaries. The Left thinks politically savvy Islamists will toe the Democrat Party line on the issues that really matter – women’s rights, gay marriage – as long as they’re marching together against the people they really hate.

Many liberals justify this alliance to themselves with standard Marxist analytical tools, as in Garry Trudeau’s infamous pronouncement that satire is only defensible when the satirist “punches up” at targets with great wealth and influence. Although liberals have invested considerable public-relations effort in claiming that Islam was a key element of Western cultural achievements and America’s founding, they don’t really believe that. Muslims rest comfortably within the Left’s “poor, oppressed people of color” box. That’s one reason mocking their religious faith is seen as unacceptably “hateful,” while the most vicious mockery of Christianity is fair game.

The other reason, of course, is that Christians won’t roll up to your public event with body armor and long guns to slaughter you for making fun of them. The Left won’t admit this in so many words, but they take the Islamists’ willingness to protect their sensibilities with violence as a demonstration of sincerity.

Much of the Left’s disregard for Christian objections to abortion and same-sex marriage assumes the Christians aren’t really serious. They’re foolish bigots who haven’t thought the issues through, or they’re hypocrites who invoke their religion for crass political or financial gain.

But the same liberals accept, without argument, that Muslims are completely sincere about the prohibition against mocking or depicting Mohammed. The claim is taken uncritically, at face value, even by liberals willing to grudgingly admit that Pamela Geller’s rights to speak freely, and continue breathing, have some value as well. Liberals accept the sincerity of sharia law even though they themselves tried arguing that Islam doesn’t actually forbid cartoons of Mohammed, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Remember that? It lasted for just a few weeks, but during that time, liberal media was swamped with “analysis” from liberals who claimed Islam had no injunctions against depicting Mohammed, and only the “tiny minority of extremists” who “hijacked the Religion of Peace” claimed otherwise.

In truth, the Left accepts that Islam means business with its speech code… and that sends a dangerous message about the reality of government by power without respect for principle. Violence is a form of power, after all; prominent left-wingers of the Twentieth Century argued that true power flowed exclusively from the barrels of guns. Terrorism is a great way to convince the left-wing elite to take your thoughts about unprotected “hate speech” seriously.

At the very least, you can easily raise the price of free speech they don’t particularly like, until they begin muttering that it’s not worth the cost of defending… which is exactly what a large percentage of the media and political class is saying about Garland, Texas right now, including the mayor of Garland. Politics is the art of compromise. When the response to violent oppression is anything other than fierce, unified resistance, negotiations are under way.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.